Civil Bound

By Myung Mi Kim, reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

A spare and energetic text, Kim’s latest collection reads like a radio set to seek, one made up of “boulders, mechanical parts, or persons // pledged to asunder.” Here, seeking is an action essential both to existence and to this book’s concerns: “if a species cannot find a sonic niche of its own, it will not survive.” With wide-ranging attention, this long poem probes, plunders, and destabilizes an array of colonialist texts and found materials that demonstrate degrading perspectives toward Indigenous populations. Bringing passages from Theodore Roosevelt, John Lankford, and others into dialogue with her own sharp, curious insistences and fragments, Kim enacts a productive defamiliarization, a kind of “debris architecture.” Finding English complicit in this country’s most oppressive systems but unwilling to give up the right to use it, this book interrogates the language it deploys, until language is “sounds produced by using air from the lungs // if the air is pushed out // if the air is sucked in.” As such, this is a work that is most meaningfully described using its own carefully chosen words. It is, at once, a “pronunciation key for suffering,” a “[worksong for ablation] // a whetstone // trying at pitch,” and a “rift immunology”—a monument to the crimes our language has committed, and to the acts of openness of which it may be capable.

This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Fall-Winter 2019.