Tuesday, May 22, 2007



Skirt Full of Black by Sun Yung Shin
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2007)

Millions of Koreans live in 140 different countries around the world. Sun Yung Shin is one of those immigrants -- a poet, writer, and teacher of Buddhist heritage and Catholic upbringing who often feels like she's in a cultural, racial, and linguistic limbo. Because of her unique situation, she makes sense of life through words, sounds, and meanings. Through her skill as wordsmith, English and Korean become a Universal language.

This excerpt from "Immigrant Song" is a poignant testament, a "hard lyric" sung by immigrants in every land, in all times:

This is our gene flow
How do you like our genetic drift
A riff, a rift, a raft…
Too rough for the second half

Take us under, take us downhill
Paint pangenesis all over your dancing body
The new party god
Keep the beat going, don't stop, you can't stop

I found most interesting and enlightening the segment titled "Vestibulary," where Shin created narrative images in English inspired by the shapes of Korean letters. The beauty here is in the reading, and understanding.  I can't replicate the actual letters as drawn, only the equivalent as written by the author, but you needn't read nor speak Korean to appreciate the message.  I chose two letters in example:

Niun --

Visual signals are sent to the brain about the body's position

in relation to its surroundings. Foreign fragments sewn. Shroud.

A borrowed shovel bit the soil while I beaded a prayer on bended
knee. Outside, a blackbird took a view of the church's corner.
Autumn brings the wet kiss of a deep red leaf.

Mium --

white room -- green field -- silk square;

single tooth, lonely tongue;

vacant cradle, empty pillow;

palm print on brushed steel.

These excerpts from "Until the Twenty-Second Century" courageously transform loss into hope and love:

I laid my childhood to rest at the end of the tracks of the twentieth century
Like Hansel's breadcrumbs
And they were eaten by birds and small, wild animals

If you wait for me, I will meet you in the twenty-second century
After the crumbs and pebbles are spent and lost in this one

Skirt Full of Black is a powerful commentary on Sun Yung Shin's own life and the lives of women and immigrants everywhere.  Her work is experimental, exceptional, vibrant, and highly recommended.


Laurel Johnson is a Retired Registered Nurse and the author of four books. She is Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review and Review Editor for New Works Review. Her poetry and prose can be found online in various literary e-zines. She lives in Kansas with her husband of forty-plus years.


At 10:21 PM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Another view is offered by Lisa Bower in GR #15 at



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