To further support Action Books’ growing community of writers and readers, we’ve decided to launch a new initiative on the Action Books Blog. Selected by our editorial staff, a recurring series called Action Fokus will highlight excerpts from 12+ radical manuscripts submitted by poets and translators during our 2022 Open Reading Period. Today we are featuring excerpts from Jimin Seo’s Furniture Music.
These poems are from my manuscript Furniture Music, a title stolen from the French composer Erik Satie, often described as a weirdo by his peers and something of a hack. He has lasted, of course, and how we get our endlessly looping minimalist music. Popular and everywhere. Music meant to be heard, not listened to. These poems are scored to my immigrant history, an Asian one in America.
The manuscript also exploits the private and public in translating. Some meanings are deliberately hidden. The ambient language is the foreigner’s language.
The first four poems are from a sonnet crown titled “A Crown for Peasant Heads.” The first lines of each sonnet are translated for the reader in Korean and English.
The poems “Richard Translates,” and “Richard Remembers Gide” are from a series titled “Three-Part Inventions.” The poems weave three voices. The stanzas with the address “Richard” are translated in Korean. Richard is the poet and translator Richard Howard. Gide is a French bulldog. Mildred is a stuffed gorilla.
The final two poems are Korean profanities with titles translated in their last lines. The title in “빨갱이 약속 편지” is translated in the last two lines of the poem. The English translation for “콩가루 집안” is the last line of the poem.
Crown for Peasant Heads
세0000000000Child plucked from a newish star I refuse
별0000000000you address, your bread, your citizenry.
00000000000)Play your friends your grim wizardry.
에0000000000Abracadabra I’m dead.
00000000000)00000000000000000Why believe refuge
온 000000000is the trunk of one husband. Recuse
0000000000))my will for bread. Why husbanded
나000000000)and besotted bride be good husbandry
00000000000when it’s my pony to ride. To refuse
아 000000000marriage. A house. This country’s
이 000000000ticker tape parade in endless red confetti
00000000000what do I make of you? A magic trick
00000000000where I’m sawed in twos, you, a dog
00000000000dead in a sack. Do I drop you down river, too?
00000000000Kill everything you eat. Understanding is ruin.
입)000000000Kill everything you eat. Understanding is ruin.
에00000000 00 Everything you eat is ruin.
00000000000Kill understanding ruin.
넣000000000 You eat ruin.
는 000000000Kill everything ruin.
00000000000Kill eat. Understanding
모000000000 you eat ruin.
000000000 0 Everything is ruin.
것00000000 You ruin.
은00000000 0Kill ruin.
죽 eat is
떨리는 우주가 내 마음에 아픔
언제 다시 내 삶이 빛날까
무덤앞에 마음을 바람 속에 풀으면 무슨 의미가 있을까
아! 아! 아! 길이 없네
천사를 붙잡고 흔들어도 아! 아! 아!
어려움 없이 길을 밟던 그녀가 어디 갔지
방마다 방마다 불빛시 피어나네.
니가 살수있게 어떤 짐승속에 집을 만드니?
발에 불을 띠고 누구한테 피해를 선물 할까?
그래 니가 없는 건 당연하지
그럼 내가 어디 갔을까?
가족된 백성들은 폐배 모르는 난제
세 별에서 따온 나의 아이야
입에 넣는 모든 것은 죽여라 이해는 파멸이다
Dear Child—My Trembling Universe—,
Did my life ever light, fire?
What wind dissolves kismet from a grave?
Ah! A road
or even an angel to pin down and shake, ah!
Where is she who breaks wild
room after room after room fireflies unfolding!
What animal do I house so you live?
To whom do I make a present of you, carnage?
Yes, of course you are not there.
Then, where is it I go?
A family united eats defeat—never. A riddle,
My Child—My New Star—,
Kill everything you put in your mouth. ____________________.
Richard Remembers Gide
My friend, I say one thing to do another.
The dog must go out and forsake his leash.
The ball fit his mouth like a new shoe
bothers my feet but I let him run the palace
of my brain. Gide curls into Mildred’s
stuffed arms, her glassy blues notched deep
into sight-slots as if a doll more than sees
the loneliness of an aging dog with a famous
author’s name. What makes for marriage (no,
not our kind) when Gide breathes his last
bark into a fake? But did I know any better,
lining my lexicon as soldiers of the république
when anything private fails? My mistake
was breathing into a real body. A minor voice
in a manor I am at best a wary guest. May I
never be recovered into marriage. This kind.
빨갱이 약속 편지
Here the red sun sinks. Aches
from pulling down the tent,
throwing back her unwanted good
into the truck. Aches for the money
she’ll have to make up, perfuming
her pillow as she breaks a dream
she’s too tired to take with her.
Whose life will she want to live
today? The clouds part:
A shirt she doesn’t mind
losing, a globe of red rice
for strength, driving back
into the same plot to work
her soft sons. Today,
there is a need for bicycles.
To hoist the aluminum
with her blood’s heat, bolt
her history into the wheels
of a glittering saleable machine:
Dear customer, in a city far
from here, a summer ride
meant collecting the rain
in my ears, and my eyes
find anything worth selling.
A thousand spins for nothing
more than hunger carried
like a sack of rain rich air,
or on a lucky day, finding
a red flyer to trade in
for a hundred paper won
telling me how living
ought to be, in a promise
penned by a communist.
And taking my body out of the house,
I empty into the street as gutter rain.
Store my mother in a reasonably sized
apartment and darken my dark room
to empty into a man and lock my rain
in his body and ask him if I can stay.
A boat in the river of my blood drifts
into a graveyard and there is little
I have to give in the way of offerings.
A bottle of soju, two legs of dried squid,
my landlord’s mums plucked in secret.
Liquor-rain on my father’s hair, I yank
the fish-cud in half with my teeth, split
the fare between the grave and the crows,
barking. I have married a man to become
a more troubled poet, a more honest man,
a house less than a dusting of curd.
Jimin Seo lives between Manhattan and Cochecton, NY with his partner Gabriel. He earned an MFA from Columbia University and teaches at Baruch College. He was a finalist for the Nighboat Book Prize in 2022 and his poems are found or forthcoming in The Canary, The Dark Horse, LitHub, and Pleiades. He is coeditor of Couplet Poetry.