Mother’s Dawn, Black Swamp

Soonja Kwon

Publisher: Xlibris Pages: 87 Price: (paperback) $15.99 ISBN: 9781465356116 Reviewed: January, 2012 Author Website: Visit »

Divided into four parts, Soonja Kwon’s third poetry book is a mature appreciation of a mother and father’s struggles to raise a family in a South Korean fishing village. Part I focuses on the mother, at times an abstract conception, at other times a specific individual. In “Rubber Gloves,” Kwon plays with the imagery of a mother’s hands as they suffer under years of manual labor. A mother is as a mother does, and she will live on in the memory of her sacrifices for her children, as well as in her children themselves. And yet, there’s guilt in the recognition that, under less poverty-stricken circumstances, her personality could have blossomed in its own right.

Part II focuses on the father and on fatherhood, and contains the poem “Snake.” In this ars poetica, Kwon expresses her theme that we must write “under excruciating pain” to shake off “all of the darkness from your body,” and “Only then can you and finally indulge in the / Long kiss of the warm, spring breeze in the air.” “Clay Pot” and “Cutting Tool” in Part III are hymns to the transformative power of art. The more immediate concerns of selfhood and adulthood take center stage here and in Part IV.

A strength of this book is Kwon’s ability to capture abstractions in physical imagery, as in “Salmon Dance”: “Fumbling through the genetic code passed down from her mother’s mother.” A weakness is her occasionally imprecise language. For instance, in “Rubber Gloves” and “Wave” “submersed” should be “submerged.” In “Wave,” the line “the sky is thunders” should either be “the sky thunders” or “the sky is thundering.” The occasional footnotes are not particularly useful, and could have been omitted. And yet we must admire the imagination displayed here, as represented in: “If she came back as a snowman, her body covered in snowflakes, / Green sprouts would spring up.”

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