cover image Ward Toward

Ward Toward

Cindy Juyoung Ok. Yale Univ, $20 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-0-300-27392-2

Winner of the 2023 Yale Younger Poets Prize, Ok in her refreshing debut uses language to push against the staid edges of the status quo, exposing the tenuous and often contradictory beliefs that seemingly undergird reality. With their capacious perspective, these verses bear witness to the hypocrisies of convention on the personal and global scale. A concrete poem titled “Before DMZ” takes the shape of the Korean peninsula before its split into North and South, formally echoing that geopolitical bifurcation in the piece’s two halves, while also exploring the speaker’s complex family ties and calling into question the forces continuing to ensure such a split: “My/ moth-/er sent/ a photo of/ the federal build-/ ing she was/ being naturalized in,/ writing Boring I/ love you. That winter,/ her father revealed he left/ behind a first wife, two kids, north/ before the war.” Ok regularly makes startling connections that invite readers to reexamine their circumstances: “My country is broken, is estranged, is trying, we write,/ as though there is such a material as a country, as/ though the landlord doesn’t charge rent for life lived/ outside the house.” Ok’s brave and idiosyncratic debut challenges institutionalized reality as it gestures toward the possibility of freedom. (Mar.)