Friday, March 7, 2008

And Next Week, Poet Kimiko Hahn

Next week Kimiko Hahn visits us at SJSU.

Her most recent collection, The Narrow Road to the Interior, is a surprising, intriguing mix of prose and lineated fragments that weave together, to my ear, in a surprisingly holistic way.

She draws on, "and even reinvents, classic forms and techniques used by women writers in Japan and China, including the zuihitsu, or pillow book, and nu shu, a nearly extinct script Chinese women used to correspond with one another."

Hahn was born in 1955 in Mt. Kisco, New York, the child of artists, a Japanese American mother from Hawaii and a German American father from Wisconsin.

She is a Distinguished Professor in the English department at Queens College/CUNY and has won a ton of awards.

But let's cut to the chase. Here are two of her poems:

The Razor

I want to return to the moment
father and I brought the canister of mother's ashes
to the temple in some odd shopping bag.
We then dropped off the remains
to leave for a couple slices down the block
but the reverend pulled a robe
over her jeans and blouse,
picked up prayer beads
and suggested which was not a question
we say a sutra. Which one was it?
I only recall I didn't have a tissue;
that the incense which I so dislike
felt sweet wafting into my sweater
and hair; that my whole body
shook without pause
though I did not make a sound
and tears and mucus covered my face and
sleeves because father did not know
I needed the handkerchief
mother had pressed a week earlier.
At times the loss felt like an organ
one could excise with a razor.

Initial Correspondence to L . . .

I am looking for clues
on how to stay a woman, not
a middle-aged woman
who sings all those girl-group lyrics
over the dash
but a woman since
I've earned that title over years of (honey, you know — )
wicked repartees
among my girlfriends and boyfriends.
Here's the subtext:
the twenty-year-olds
at poetry readings
are so exquisite they might be
fashioned of wax, even
the blemishes. I realize now
how lithe I was when I thought
I was the ugly daughter — how
tremulous my beauty. I didn't know.
I just knew
I wanted to fuck my professor
(Chaucer 8:30 am M/W)
and boys from Chinese History
wearing blue caps. Nixon
was still President.
The war was nearly over.
And the young now listen
to fifty-year-old rockers.
No wonder they don't think
they invented sex. Fuckin-A
we did.
And what I want at some moment
in my forties
is not an affair —
that would rip my breast open —
I would like to wrap my arms around a guy
(I guess a guy)
for a lengthy kiss.
Standing up. In the dark.
Pulse at the boiling point
one recalls
from those irretrievable initial encounters.
L, send me advice quick.


I send these words to you
across the frozen continent,
through waning light
and steam rising off rivers.

(c) Kimiko Hahn. All rights reserved.

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