baseball, poetry, and kim chi

Thursday, February 23, 2006

sinchon shinchon shinchun

Grapez does a nice thing, everyday there is a review of work. Takes a look at three sites and talks about the poetry. So a thanks for that. Problem is, what happens when the review makes claims for a poem that the poem does not make? In Langley’s latest poem Sinchon is misinterpreted by the reader to be Sinchun. Not a big difference right, well, Sinchun is a place in N. Korea where about 30,000 people were killed, and Sinchon is a great place to go and drink on a Friday night. Three Universities in walking distance and plenty of fun to be had. I believe the review mistakes one for the other. Puts a lot of weight on that aspect of the poem and that aspect of the poem does not exist. The thread of our short discussion is here.

The reality is this, I have seen both places spelled Sinchon. Sinchon in Seoul is often times spelled Shinchon. Just don’t know why the jump has to be made. Why the reader has to be so certain about his read. If we have to focus on Sinchon, isn’t it more interesting to not know if it is the place of the massacre or the place of lots of beer?


Feels strange talking about poetry like this. The geographic location means nothing to me. The read should take a different angle. The question, I guess, is this, now that you know more about the geography and history of Korea, do you know the poem in a more intimate way? Is it better now? Can you enter in where you could not before? Me, no, in fact, I think that this type of reading grubs up something. It introduces an element into the poem that has no business being there. It draws attention to a single word and through the attention gives it charge that did not exist before that read.

time for me to sleep


Anonymous Sean Mac said...

A massacre is one thing, and a bar is another. They have their own different contexts. I myself did not have the imagination to think of it as a bar, I saw it as a town or such, but was unaware of a massacre, so simply read it "to go back to" -a place of historical value one way or the other for the author. Now the mystery has been solved.

12:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


in my ignorance or nonchalance, I was merely thinking of "going back to" the train station in front of the Mcdonald's where we'd meet up in Seoul. didn't realize the horrific connotations. the last two lines ape lines from Souppault's "Horizon" which is a great poem by the way.


1:40 PM

Blogger JWG said...


not a bar. It is an area of seoul. all the areas here are named. maybe a 1.5 square mile area

4:15 PM

Blogger Jim Kober said...

Get em Jimmy.

4:34 PM

Blogger Scott Pierce said...

I'd say a reader doing some homework and being clear about a word is a sign of intelligence and respect for the writer who, one should suppose, meant something in particular by using the word.

4:52 PM

Blogger JWG said...

I hear you. But what if i said I’m going back to the South side, or I’m going back to Kentfield, Would it matter to your read if I said Los Angeles or Eugene. I think what matters is a return to a place. We all have our place to return. So if I say I’m going back to LA and you do a google search on La and find out about the riots (you choose the time), would you then decide that is what the poem is about? I don’t think you would unless there are major hints along the way.

7:06 PM

Blogger Greg said...

I've been thinking about this over-analysis on my part. I guess I'm guilty of it. If I had to build a defense I'd cite it's the damned nature of reviewing, not something I come to with much academic training. Thank god. But it does make you look at things in a different light. Although I try hard not to. And fail obviously. But, here's the thing. And this is where I look at the jury with those, what's her name, used to play Murphy Brown and now plays some lawyer in a TV show I saw several minutes of lately when flipping through stations, yeah, Candice Bergen. Anyways, very very very sincerely I'd say, the poem doesn't build any context for the last line and openly invites the reader to supply it. Which I did. Which in retrospect, and, more importantly, after context being supplied by those more in the know, was wrong. But ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I beg of you to consider the culpability of the poet, and let this lowly amateur reviewer free to make more mistakes of the same. Or something of the sort. In other words, I didn't do it. The poet did.

7:38 PM

Blogger Pirooz M. Kalayeh said...

I right off locations when I read. I right off things I don't understand. Until I know, I know. Then I do.

Even then, my read or critique could still be the opposite of what a writer/artist intends.

Isn't that the beauty of experiencing anything?

I love those accidents. I love the power this gives to critics and readers.

I create. Someone experiences.

They might say, "Absolutley sucks" or "That was about little people, right?" or they might just ask me to slow dance under a willowing cherry branch.

Who knows?

If someone gets something completely awry to what I intend in a piece, I usually blush and giggle.

What a compliment, right?

Someone's reading. Someone is addressing what they felt. The end.

Then I hear the willowing cherry branch. It's got a voice like a cricket. It tells me what I knew all along.

"No ownership, g-money. No borders."

And I agree. I smile. I lie underneath its shade. I smoke a cig. I write a line. It's seven 'o'clock. I'm in Albuquerque. I'm a cowboy. I don't carry a gun. I'm Kung Fu. And, like you, I know when to tip my hat.

1:44 AM

Blogger Scott Pierce said...


Specifically with place (or even proper nouns for that matter) maybe it isn't relevant to know. But in my mind a word is not just a placefiller, or it shouldn't be, and if you evoke a word or a name there comes with it connotations and facts and myths and projections, etc. I am not so interested in the reader's need for backstory or what have you but rather the writer's use of the word.

So what I meant was something more general than just the names of places.

No ideas but in things. Who said that? Pound, WCW, one of those dead guys.

So if I said 'tree' would you know I was referring to a willow tree? A tree is a location. I guess it depends what image you intend to flash in the mind when the word is uttered/read...

11:33 AM

Blogger JWG said...

Hi Guys,

Been thinking about the tree idea quite a bit. Been working from it for the past few years. Does it matter what the writer is trying to evoke? my willow tree looks different from your willow tree.

In my mind poems are triggers. What does a word trigger in the reader? If I say Bird, what Bird do you see? You certainly see a bird. The word evokes an image. Lots of writers tell us to be specific. Say “Hummingbird”, or say “swallow”, don’t just say “Bird”. But I like it when the Bird is left alone. When the reader is free to see what type of bird she wants. It is not so much the writer’s intent that I worry about, but the way the poem works on me. If I say “tablecloth” would you rather I said “white table cloth”? As a reader, what if I want to imagine a red striped table cloth? Should the writer get in the way of that if the color of the table cloth is unimportant? If it doesn’t move the poem or story along?

I also think, that if the poem is really good, the reader will see what the author needs the reader to see. If the whole poem leads to willow tree and the writer just says tree, I think the reader will see that willow tree and bc the reader came to that image by himself, the image will be that much stronger.

5:12 PM

Blogger Scott Pierce said...

jim, so basically you are saying that all that is really needed in literature is a set of generic nouns? and the rest is up to the reader to conjure as they like? I'm not sure what the measure for "good" is when the actual words are less important than the reader's interpretation. i'm cool with less descriptors such as adjectives, etc, but is a rose is a rose is a rose?

3:42 PM

Blogger JWG said...

Hi Scott,

I’m not sure that any word is more than generic. So I say tree and you have a set of trees. I say willow tree and you have a set of willow trees. I say catastrophic willow tree and who knows what we have. As a reader I appreciate it when the author, unless it is necessary, gives me as much room as possible. All poems do occur in the reader’s mind. I think as a writer it is my job to help that, to give what needs to be given, then get out of the way. Of course, sometimes I do more than that.

Yes, a list of generic nouns, that follow in such a way as the reader can have footholds, that might be enough. I don’t know, it might get pretty boring. I’d rather not limit, just ask that if you do want a willow tree in yr poem, that there is a reason beyond this is what I want. If a reader saw a pine, would the poem (not yr poem) be less?

4:33 PM

Anonymous Sean Mac said...

You see, you said, Sinchon is a good place to go and get a drink on a Friday night, so I thought bar...

But funny that trees are being mentioned and this (un)necessary room to run; it of course leads me directly to the title of my book, A Room of Trees. Do I think the book would have been better served it was called A Room of Willows, or A Room of Aspens?

The nonspecificity here I think is in fact the appropriate factor. Not because I wanted to leave room for you to imagine what kind of trees were in the room, but namely, I suppose, to vaguely imply, in not so many words, the inability to tell the forest from the trees, or the forest from the room, or the room from our wooded hearts, or the trees from the trees, which many of us, to a large extent can't really do, literally, any way you look at it, and so a tree is a tree, only the leaves look a little different on this one.

11:15 AM

Blogger Scott Pierce said...

Jim, I hear you but I can't help but wonder why we have specific names for things if we do not use them. So forgive my stubborness here, it's a good topic.

In my opinion our gen doesn't seem to actually know the names for a lot of things and I think it's a copout to resist learning and evoking these specifics. someone at some point went through the trouble to give a thing a name and it seems important to me that the same accuracy be used when dealing with specific names. if it is indeed pertinent to the writing.

of course I guess it matters what a writer is trying to do. Your route seems very Steinian which is fine but at some point I like more.

Where we differ perhaps is this idea of "room" a writer gives the reader. I often prefer a writer that'll bring me to what I do not know. I am one of those that likes to read with a dictionary in my other hand.

Abstact adjectives and metaphors aside, a willow tree beside a lake to me is a much stronger precise image/idea than a tree beside a lake. Etc etc.


12:45 PM

Blogger JWG said...

Sad truth is I don’t know shit. I bought a few trail books when I moved to Colorado so I could name all the plants and animals. I learned brewer’s blackbird and that was about it.

This is not my reply; give me a few hours to get all ninja on your comment.

4:37 PM

Blogger JWG said...

Scott, thanks for keeping this alive, it is of interest to me also, learning more what I think.

Ok, yes, I’m back from my morning class and this is what I have. Like I said above, I don’t know shit, my vocabulary is severely limited and I am trying to work on it, if you have any good words, let me know, I am starving. I’m not sure we can call out our generation though, maybe, but ask Kyle, and I bet he knows the names for most plants you’d find on a hike in Boulder. But, this is not what I am talking about. I do know the difference between a Pine and a Redwood. This is in my vocabulary. And yes, they are named, and was it Adam we can thank for it? Thank you Adam. And if I am studying the dieses of a tree, it would be very important to know the names of all the necessary trees so that I don’t poison one when I think I am helping it. Hamburger helper and tree helper. In the case of redwood and pine, my vocabulary is sufficient.

But, in the example you give, you say that willow beside the lake is stronger than tree beside the lake. yes, I agree, it is stronger; it tells me what to see. It points as best it can, though it is still far from sufficient, unless I come to yr home and we stand in yr yard and you point to a tree and say willow, we have a different willow, and even with the point, yr willow will be different than mine.

Ok, now, you (not you) say “fir beside the lake” do you want me to think about Christmas, that is where my first thought goes with fir. So if you want to evoke Christmas, give me fir, however, if you don’t, don’t. We all have different experiences, different trees make us sad, others make us happy, some recall a victory in a football game. we have these memories. so let’s say you are going towards a remembrance of yr football victory, and you want me to feel it for myself, not yr victory, but mine. you give me fir and I am off to Christmas on Santa’s lap, you give me tree and we might still be on the same page.

Being vague does not necessarily entail the inability to voice a word, it entails the open hand of allowing the reader to get where she needs to go. I think there is something to do with ownership here also.

I like big words when small words will not do, I like words for the sound they make, I like them for what they convey. I just like words and am not about limiting words, just he place of them, just being aware what being more specific can do, that a reader can get lost in specifics as easily as they can become lost in vagaries (is that a word)?

Have I accomplished anything in this long flap? Felt good to type. might be about it.


7:22 PM

Blogger Pirooz M. Kalayeh said...

Well said, Jim.

Another possibility for word specifics would be soundscape. I agree. For me, word choice also communicates style.

Will Alexander will construct words like 'harmalodium.'

Ann Waldman jumps from anatomy to metal: "cognitive switch' vs. 'the iris scan exposes a cold glass eye.'

You say, 'Elephant' or 'X number Big Macs.'

None of these is better than the other. Just as 'willow' or 'tree' is the same.

It becomes a question of the writer's meaning and intention.

I might get very specific about conifers or Redwoods in poems about dinosaurs, because I use the specificity of these objects to couterpoint the simple language of dinosaurs i.e. "Mmmm. I eat grass. Mmmm."

I like have having multiple levels of language in a poem. Not just one.

Again, this becomes an issue of taste.

Do I think one should use a specific vs. a vaguary in a certain situation?

Who knows?

Not for me to say.

The microscope is a bit too close to the sample, eh?

It makes sense for me, personally, and maybe to offer an option to a fellow writer or student, but, all in all, these multiplicities will show themselves, if that becomes the object of one of the levels of the poem.

Otherwise, I feel it is a very personal issue for the poet. And if we are talking about our personal stories on this topic, I would say that 'tree' will stay 'tree' depending on how deep I am into the visual aspect of a poem. If I mean to evoke a particular image for myself, then I will try to describe the 'tree.'

Now this is where it gets funny. For me, I much prefer getting specific about pop culture references than trees. For these are the trees of my life. They are the pillars of what I either hope to cut down, burn, or re-plant in a different field.

This is where I feel it is important to connect historically and poignantly to the culture in which we live.

I truly feel this is where language takes root.

Your poems in Korea evoke a spaciousness. They turn and stop. They wind. They have language or none. They sit or stand. How wonderful. Is this what Korea is for you?

For me, Hollywood is the stars. It is cartoon sketches. It is visual poems of the homeless.

My choices are simple when I touch this environment.

Is this where 'tree' can be re-planted?


Are poets who are hyper-specific about tree classifications connecting to the canon before them?

Sure, maybe.

It doesn't really matter. Does it?

At least not for me.

I am clear what word choices lead me into a poem and how they will shape a piece. I understand how my environment and mood play a role in this. I also know that I don't know a thing about why they line up in a certain way.

This string of words is everything though. It can evoke a war, protest, calm serenity, or the simplest mathematical schema to perform rational diagrams as the meta-discourse fades...


No idea. Except this one now.

Yo, dig it. Straight up to the flip, P.


12:24 AM

Blogger JWG said...


Had to take a break from 24 to read yr post and now the break gets longer bc I want to reply. Yes, it is the oscillation of language. Juxtapositions. So much in yr post, but I want to talk about location. Poems are very place specific. I write in a different way when I am in a different location. writing does not travel. Some people will utilize the surroundings by naming it. I might do this in the future, but it is not how my work has come so far. I internalize and turn the environment. keep it alive. there is no static. I am not sure if this is what I want to say at all. maybe it is the flood of details each instance holds that makes the distinction between tree and willow seem small. It hardly differs at all and maybe in that slight difference, it holds me in place, stops the imagination from exploring more fully. When I have to create that tree from scratch, when it is not even in the poem, the image is that much more detailed. Can vagaries add to detail? Do we inspect something more closely when we have less information about it or when we have more? I am not sure. but back to location. I think part of my moving about has to do with the well running dry. feel like I have run a course here in Korea. sucked from it what I could. made good poetry. Feel a change in place equals a change in poetry. ready for that change.


12:59 AM


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