cover image Volatile


Kimiko Hahn. Hanging Loose Press, $21 (90pp) ISBN 978-1-882413-57-7

Bold, brave and sharp, Hahns fourth and fifth books (her third, The Unbearable Heart, won an American Book Award) are large in the range of their concerns and the intensity of their passions. If Volatile sounds pointed in its political rage, it rages in a distinct womans voice. If Mosquito and Ant speaks from rolesmother, daughter, wife, lover, friend, student, teacher, writerit never fails to experience these roles politically. In poems like Volatiles If You Speak, Hahn delves into the terrible history of Asian women; she engages their literary legacy in Guard the Jade Pass and others in Mosquito and Anta book named, she explains in a note, for a now nearly extinct secret script used by Chinese women [a millennium ago] to correspond with each other. Clippings makes witty, topical metaphor: Save clipping:/ Secret Life of Jupiters Moons./ Their molten cores may allow/ enough change/ for life. We can see the cracks/ on the bald surface/ through the delighted telescope. The poems in Volatile, often rough and slack, can challenge readers to confront their political aesthetics via the poetical: And if you think this is not a poem/ because Ive ranted without benefit of a metaphor/ think again.... (The Glass Bracelets). Both volumes contain long poems in prose paragraphs. Volatiles Possession (reprinted in The Best American Poetry, 1996) and Blindsided are zuihitsu, a form Hahn has reinvented primarily after The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon: lyrical prose paragraphs, casually notational, incorporate lists, anecdotes, commentary. As they circle back on themes and images, they weave meaning and grow immensely moving. In Mosquito and Ant, Downpour and Sewing Without Mother are also zuihitsu, the latter a magisterial elegy and compelling vision of the poets working life, present and future. Both books call on a visceral sexuality to make their concerns concrete, but M&A is the tighter, more fully realized work, redefining a space where women write to each other in charged, clandestine code. (May)