cover image Hardly War

Hardly War

Don Mee Choi. Wave (Consortium, dist.), $18 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-940696-21-8

The poetry of war is often laden with depictions of atrocity, but in her second collection, Choi (The Morning News Is Exciting) veers away from such material to offer a playful and complex Korean War song of flora, food, and fatherhood. In “trying to fold race into geopolitics and geopolitics into poetry,” Choi succeeds mightily. The book, divided into three sections—“Hardly War,” “Purely Illustrative,” and “Hardly Opera”—is a collage of reproduced photographs, musical scales, and formally innovative poems. She bases her work on historical research and intimate interviews with her father, a photographer during the Korean War who shot only flowers as he aged. Choi refuses to translate the history of the Republic of Korea as a readily accessible narrative. Additionally, her refusal to translate passages from Korean to English and her prominent use of the diminutive little set up explicit contrasts with Western literary traditions and the tragic nature of war. “I, Lack-a-daisy, born two miles from here,” she writes, “Here is DMZ.” Far from lackadaisical, Choi’s poetry operates within a tradition of Korean-American experimental poets that includes Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and Myung Mi Kim. Choi’s zany take on militarism and the Korean diaspora may seem absurdist, but it is an inventive and daring waltz that upends what is commonly understood as the “Forgotten War.” (Apr.)