There’s an inspiring life story at the heart of the poems in Mi Sook Park Westman’s book, 40+ Love.
Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, Westman studied English, moved to Sweden where she earned an economics degree and began a career with IKEA where she has worked for 18 years. Along the way, there has been heartache and turmoil: marriage, children, divorce.
In her poetry, Westman seems to be grappling with feelings of abandonment, loss and rejection that began with a frightening occurrence from her childhood that haunts her: “When I was a little girl, / My father abandoned my mom / And his four daughters… We lived in a shelter and I was just 7 years old…”
Flash-forward three decades and Westman’s world crumbles again: “”Life was not as it looked like / Her love found another love and she became all alone with her children / She didn’t know what she wanted in her life any longer /… She was by herself and she was walking on the moon.” There’s a profound sense of loneliness and isolation in that final image of being alone in a lunar landscape.
Despite the poignancy of Westman’s story, there are two serious problems with the writing. First, she relies far too much on telling rather than showing readers what she is writing about. In one poem she notes, “We had some talks and enjoyed meals and we looked around the crowds. / Interesting people.” Readers need to hear that talk, taste that meal and see, vividly, those crowds. Secondly, she delivers a profusion of cliches that render the poems banal and trivial, and some lines are completely indecipherable: “Your ribs are authentic with one is on duty in other place.”
Westman obviously has a powerful story to convey, but she needs to work much harder at getting the grit of the lived experience into her writing before producing a book that readers can appreciate.
Also available as an ebook.