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Engine Empire: Poems

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Engine Empire is a trilogy of lyric and narrative poems that evoke an array of genres and voices, from Western ballads to sonnets about industrialized China to fragmented lyric poems set in the future. Through three distinct yet interconnected sequences, Cathy Park Hong explores the collective consciousness of fictionalized boomtowns in order to explore the myth of prosperity. The first sequence, called "Ballad of Our Jim," draws inspiration from the Old West and follows a band of outlaw fortune seekers who travel to a California mining town during the 1800s. In the second sequence, "Shangdu, My Artful Boomtown!" a fictional industrialized boomtown draws its inspiration from present-day Shenzhen, China. The third and last section, "The World Cloud," is set in the far future and tracks how individual consciousness breaks up when everything—books, our private memories—becomes immediately accessible data. One of our most startlingly original poets, Hong draws together individual voices at odds with the world, voices that sing their wonder and terror.

95 pages, Hardcover

First published May 7, 2012

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About the author

Cathy Park Hong

9 books739 followers
Cathy Park Hong’s book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings, was published in Spring 2020 by One World/Random House (US) and Profile Books (UK). She is also the author of poetry collections Engine Empire, published in 2012 by W.W. Norton, Dance Dance Revolution, chosen by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Translating Mo'um. Hong is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her poems have been published in Poetry, A Public Space, Paris Review, McSweeney's, Baffler, Yale Review, The Nation, and other journals. She is the poetry editor of the New Republic and is a professor at Rutgers-Newark University.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews
Profile Image for Nadine in NY Jones.
2,704 reviews207 followers
May 8, 2018
This is some weird shit.

That was my note to myself when I started reading. I thought about leaving that as my entire review, but that doesn't seem fair. It doesn't explain how wonderful this book is.

It's common, I think, when reading a new poet, to realize, this is unlike anything I've ever read before. At least, it's common for me. Poetry is like that, it's so individual, and yet it can speak to so many different people. The blurb on the book jacket is quite accurate: Hong is "one of our most startlingly original poets."

Engine Empire is about Boomtowns. And Bob Geldof has got nothing on Cathy Park Hong.

This isn't the kind of poetry that you can just dip into here and there. (Well, you could, but you'd be missing out on the full experience.) This book needs to be read cover-to-cover, and when you get to the end you may want to start over again.

When it opens, you are thrown into a frenetic, malarial, western goldrush series of ballads. Everything is violent and hard. You can't quite catch your breath.

From BALLAD OF OUR JIM:
While we eat up all their salt pork,
Our Jim sings for them in his strange high voice
of an Injun killing ranger who hitches up
with his Comanche guide.

She bears him a strapping son and is ramped
with another, when the ranger hives off
with a fair-haired sheriff's daughter.
He then banishes his squaw and his sons
like they're prairie beeves.

But she won't go quietly:
she poisons his new wife with a malarial dress,
and that ain't the worst of her sins, that tar-eyed witch
strangles her own newborn,
and the other son flees --

The ladies cry: enough of this devil song,
Then it done occurs to us, looking at his dusky skin --

Our Jim's a two-bit half-breed.


I don't think I've ever felt the dust and sweat and blood of the Old West so keenly as I did after I finished this thirty page, multi-poem ballad.

In part two, the boomtown is "Shengdu," China, in which people seem to frenetically hurry hurry hurry but never have enough, apartments are built without walls ... from "Adventures in Shangdu"
Every highrise lacks something. Highrise 11 has no heat, Highrise 22 lacks floors, Highrise 33 has no spigots, Highrise 44 lacks windowpanes, Highrise 55 lacks stove ranges, while Highrise 66 is lopsided. Highrise 77 is right across from 88 and it is dark as a tomb. It temporarily has no electricity. Sometimes, I see a flicker of candles, roaming flashlights. 77 watches us in the sullen dark, we with our brazenly exposed units. They watch us eat, quarrel, make love, sleep. They watch us watching them. Lately there have been more residents leaping to their deaths out of 88 and spooked 88 residents have been moving to 77, preferring the dark. Some residents of 88 have wrapped a weave of laundry twine in a frail attempt to create a rail. Someone has chosen to wall herself in with stacked urns.

I felt like the narrator knew it was hopeless but yet never gave up hope, never stopped striving, never stopped moving forward, even if forward was just in a circle.

Part three is set in an imagined future, living in the clouds, if the Internet "cloud" of data became a real thing. The data is snow falling across everyone's world, allowing thoughts and data to be real things, read by anyone. From "Engines Within the Throne"

now we have snow sensors,
so you can go spelunking
in anyone's mind,
let me borrow your child

thoughts, it's benign surveillance,
I can burrow inside, find a cave
pool with rock-colored flounder,
and find you, half-transparent
with depression.


I think it is fair to say that this book is examining the human cost of "progress."

From the final poem, "Fable of the Last Untouched Town":
In this town, we are impervious to discomfort

such as the cold that crackles our blanket
and beards the loudspeakers with ice, freezing
the monthly bloody rags women dry for the night.

We are strong, not afraid to betray.
For instance, we rush our old.

I wrap my mother in blankets:
It's time now Mother.
I'm not ready.
Oh but your mind is going, your tongue
is loosening you will start to talk we planned this.
I'm not ready to go.

My brother carries her up the mountain of junipers.
I make a nest for her.
I dread that we will see other kin abandoned there
I already see her tongue
dotted with frostbite yet we leave her
as she calls and calls.

As we trudge back down, our breaths wild
we chant songs of our king.
Profile Image for jasmine sun.
128 reviews139 followers
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November 30, 2020
the second set (shangdu, my artful boomtown!) was my favorite
Profile Image for Iris.
312 reviews38 followers
December 23, 2020
First set: 2/5 — I don’t particularly care about the American West but I understand the role this collection plays in the overall collection of poems
Second set: 4.5/5 — Loved this collection. It captures the interesting intersection between tradition and modernity seen in many growing Asian cities where ideology has yet to catch up to the pace of economic development.
-- Faves: "Of the Millennial Aquarium Built next to the Ocean View Seafood Restaurant," "Of the Gamblers Den in the Back of 4 Turtle Alley," "Of the Mega C-City Supermarket," and "A Little Tete-a-tete"
Third set: 4/5 — I was most pleasantly surprised by this set. I’m really starting to like scifi-esque poetry, especially when it paints a certain forlorn mood. From “A Wreath of Hummingbirds”: Status updates flip from we are all / connected to we are exiles.”
-- Faves: "Ready-Made" and "Who's Who"
Profile Image for Kiran Bhat.
Author 11 books184 followers
June 30, 2020
One of the most fascinating poetry collections to have been written in the last few decades, Hong's Engine Empire would be the equivalent of TS Eliot's The Wasteland for our globalized era. It is the perfect melange of culture, heritage, language, and history. It does what Cloud Atlas did for the novel in poetry form.
Profile Image for b.
488 reviews19 followers
December 17, 2017
"we sulk into our loam"

Constantly engaging language. Clear imagery. This terrifying roar thru frontier history to industrial horror present to endlessly connected cloud futurity. I can't believe how well narrative and voice are married in here. How it moves from Cormac McCarthy-like deft language into such sincere and provocative reflection (that CM hardly ever circles near to). This is like what Cloud Atlas could've been like if Cloud Atlas wasn't an awful terrible novel. This is so so terrifying. It's so hard to believe how good this is. This was a gift from a friend and I'm glad I was given it. I can't remember the last time I read a book of poetry and didn't immediately think of whom to regift it—this book is mine forever; no one else is allowed it; I want it selfishly to return to as it continues to crackle on my brain like pop rocks for days as it already has following completion of each section of the "trilogy."
Profile Image for Simeon Berry.
Author 3 books158 followers
May 18, 2016
I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book (or could even follow many of the moves an individual poem was making), but this bafflement alone is worth an extra star.
Profile Image for Bennvy.
23 reviews
August 17, 2022
I’d never considered English to be a beautiful language until I read this book. English has never popped off the page and sounded this good to me before. “Engine Empire” is filled to the brim with some of the wildest, most disorienting writing I’ve ever encountered. I feel like I’ve been shot around a pinball machine. Very good.

The book is broken into three sections:

The first is a string of ballads set in the western United States shortly after the civil war. Cathy Park Hong does such a good job bringing the cruelty and violence of that era alive. I had to take many breaks. It was so refreshing to read a story set in this time period that wasn’t just “sweaty cowboys who like horses and guns and horse guns.” Though I do imagine everyone in this section as really really sweaty.

The second section takes the reader to modern day China. I don’t really know how to describe this one, even though it was my favorite. It feels much more familiar to me than the other two. You’ll just have to read it for yourself. Similar to the first section, everybody’s rushing around all the time and nobody seems very happy but there is a sense of meek hope which winds it’s way in and out of each poem.

The third and final section takes place in the distant future. Not totally sure how the technology works but there appears to be “smart snow” everywhere and also the (possibly) disembodied voice of Gregory Peck. The way I have come to understand it, everybody’s minds are linked and there’s no privacy and at the same time nobody works at all. Contrary to the other two sections, nobody seems to have anywhere to be, anyone to talk to, or any material worries. In addition, everybody is utterly hopeless and/or trying to sell you something and just really deeply bored? Despite the obvious differences, this section feels very thematically consistent with the rest of the book (in case you were worried) and I enjoyed it a ton.
Profile Image for Steph.
Author 4 books6 followers
August 5, 2022
Cathy Park Hong writes a new timeline of past, present, and future that is both unfamiliar yet timeless—from the American Wild West, to Shenzen reimagined, to the future world of the data cloud, every poem strives to bursting with their races towards prosperity. The urgency and frenetic nature of this book builds as we progress through each boomtown, and I found myself recognizing a warped portrait of our present in each place, no matter how ambiguous they were. A marvelous collection of poetry that maps out a new world—CPH is brilliant.
Profile Image for Vincent.
102 reviews3 followers
August 5, 2021
I have never read a poetry collection like this. The reason I usually enjoy reading poetry is for the strong emotional space it puts me in. It's a form that is able to concisely and specifically trigger my emotions in a way that very few books can. The feeling it creates is most similar to how I feel when listening to good music, but even then the emotion I feel from poetry is notably different.

That said, Engine Empire didn't really put me in that emotional state at many points. Instead, it had pretty incredible wordplay, form, and imagery. Along with a heavy dose of anti-capitalism that gets progressively stronger as the collection goes on. It also stages in future-pessimism (is this a term?), China, and the American West. Altogether, it's a pretty weird group of poems, but I think it's brilliant and ties together extremely well.

I read this book in segmented chunks over the course of sixish months, so my feelings on it aren't as cohesive as I would like them to be. Anyway, this is really great and something I feel the need to return to more than maybe any other poetry I've ever read.
6 reviews3 followers
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March 4, 2017
Engine Empire spans centuries and continents. It blurs the boundaries between myth and history, poetry and fiction. It’s difficult to talk about the poems in Engine Empire separately because so much of their meaning derives from context. The poems in the first section, “The Battle of Our Jim”, form a narrative. The sections, “Shangdu My Artful Boomtown,” and “The World Cloud” build a world through a collection of poems. In addition to connections within sections, there are connections between sections. In the last line of the final poem, the narrator swallows some artificial snow containing the internet cloud, “And this is what I saw.” That line implies that the whole book may be some kind of vision induced by smart snow. The interconnected narratives spanning centuries are somewhat reminiscent of Cloud Atlas.
Hong explores the theme of empire in a surprising way. The three settings- the wild west, modern China, and future silicon valley- are not what immediately springs to mind when thinking of empire but Hong shows these societies as imperial. She finds beauty in the violence of empire: “Blood bursts from Earth’s throat/ in a mighty tornado and speckles itself across/ the soil, hardening to ruby poppies. A might empire arises.” On my first read, I thought that Engine Empire was anti-imperialist but now I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Hong’s rebellious characters are nearly as violent as the empires they oppose and she doesn’t make them sound particularly righteous. This moral ambiguity was part of what made the first section so brutal- it was hard to root for any of the characters. The combination of violence and repetitiveness (the poems had similar imagery and themes and often the same voice) made that section difficult to get through although poems in unusual forms (abecedarians and lipograms) created a little more variety.
The second section, “Shangdu, My Artful Boomtown” contains poems set in a fantastical version of present day Shangdu China (unsurprisingly given the title). These poems are much more varied in both content and style and do not tell a single narrative, although they all have a fairly similar point of view about the city (a sort of futurist present). My favorite piece in this section is Adventures in Shangdu, a collection of short, fabulist pieces, in between poetry and flash fiction.
The final section, “The World Cloud,” slowly pieces together an imaginary world through poetry. As far as I know, Hong is the only writer to employ this technique. (Her first book, Dance, Dance, Revolution created an imaginary Creole to describe it’s imaginary world.) In her world, “smart snow… seeps everywhere, / the search engine is inside us/ the world is our display.” This future, with its constant surveillance, its high unemployment and the ability to visually “enhance” reality, is just removed enough from our own to feel plausible and frightening. “Get Away From It All,” is one of the poems in this section that stands alone the best. It makes use of alliteration and assonance, “did you mean numerous no/ numinous/ when minds flood into minds/ yet one creed molds.” The repetitive sounds create a humorous effect, as do the line breaks: “are they UN forces no/ they are nudist bathers.” These two lines demonstrate one of the poem’s many shifts in tone. The persona is both sarcastic about the nudist bathers (“they call out like walruses/ these loafing rebels against/ the enhanced”) and drawn to their old fashioned lives (“yet go, go into the unknown, / smell the salt… /… and listen”). Engine Empire is filled with nostalgia, from this poem to “Fable of The Last Untouched Town” to “Gift”, in which the persona’s lover, “is the last surviving mannerly hearted archaeologist.”
Profile Image for E..
Author 1 book20 followers
April 17, 2020
I didn't care for this collection. A line like "the room thrums with zither/ the thip of pick against rack of strings" feels too clever, and thus inauthentic. I really didn't care for the first section, set in the American West during the Civil War. I feel as if the work could have benefited with a good study of John Neihardt's Cycle of the West before being written.

There were these fitting lines in the poem "A Wreath of Hummingbirds:"

I am afraid
I will infect you

after a virus clogs the gift economy:
booming etrade of flintlock guns sag,
Status updates flip from we are all
connected to we are exiles
What bullshit
Profile Image for Craig Werner.
Author 12 books154 followers
May 6, 2012
Like Cathy Park Hong's previous book, Dance Dance Revolution, Engine Empire imagines her way into the human meanings of our globalized techno-dystopic present. EE is divided into three sections, each with a distinctive set of voices. THe first section reimagines the history of the American frontier; the second a contemporary Chinese industrial city; the third a future/present world inundated by "smart snow," modeled on today's "cloud." The final poem, "Fable of the Last Untouched Town," stands outside the triptych, presening Park Hong as a Dantesque visionary ruminating on three versions of Hell. (If there's any sense of working through our sins or attaining paradise, it's heavily laden with irony.)

I had a lot of trouble finding the flow in the first section; there's a collective "we" in the voice that I found difficult to locate. I respect Park Hong's work enough to suspect that there's something here I'm missing. (If it's simply the American imperial consciousness, then the section feels uncharacteristically flat.) The second and third sections work beautifully. The Shangdu section reminds me of recent Chinese cinema--24 City; Last Train Home--bringing The Grapes of Wrath into the globalized present. I liked the final section even better, maybe because it echoes my suspicions that the increased access to information we've been experiencing for several decades is destroying (or at the very least challenging) our ability to connect with our environment, other people and ultimately ourselves.

This is an easier book than Dance Dance Revolution, which requires a willingness to deal with a Joycean density of language. It's still very demanding, but it's worth it. Cathy Park Hong has established herself as one of the very best contemporary poets. I'm going to circle back and read her first book soon, and I'll read anything she writes from her on out.
Profile Image for Jain.
214 reviews55 followers
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February 2, 2014
I don't read poetry often, and this slim book of interconnected poems in three parts was too abstruse for me to really get a handle on. I didn't hate it. (It would be hard for me to hate a book set in the 19th century American West, an alternate present Chinese industrial city, and the far future. And Hong's use of language was frequently breathtaking, when I wasn't finding it inscrutable.) I think I'll have to let the book percolate for a while and then reread it, if I want to respond to it with more than a simple absence of loathing, though.
Profile Image for Dylan Zucati.
166 reviews1 follower
January 28, 2022
Three sections and an epilogue, all soaked in a sense of loneliness facing an expanding society. Engine Empire felt disconnected from itself technically and narratively while holding to similar thematic ideas through each section. Like spinal columns laid in a row and strung through with film. The first section, Ballad of Our Jim, was my favorite, set along the trail of the Wild West, it plays out an odd story of a dysfunctional “family” of outlaws. It’s never so literal that I can say what the exact relationships of the narrator is with his “brothers” or “Old Jim”, but the arc is entertaining to follow and the poems are pleasant to read. The second section, Shangdu, My Artful Boomtown!, was rich in melancholic imagery. I could feel the air of Shangdu as I read, bringing sensation to a modern wasteland. I lost track of purpose in the ennui, which really led perfectly into the third section, The World Cloud. The World Cloud was more confusing that Shangdu and unfortunately lost the fantastic sense of place that last section held. I didn’t know if it was being preachy or touching on a concept I just wasn’t getting, but it made sense to stretch the ideas present into a weird Meta-verse-y future apocalypse. Fable of the Last Untouched Town capped the poetry collection with a framing device that defined the prior sections, turning them into a series of dreams, which highlights her poem A Little Tête-à-tête, a response to Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Ultimately I was unbothered by how I wanted more from Engine Empire. I might have liked it more were it different, but I didn’t dislike it as it is. It was an easy read with substance that gives her other poetry a sharper edge in my mind.
Profile Image for Cait.
958 reviews22 followers
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October 22, 2021
I read this because reading minor feelings made me think I would probably dig hong's poetry, but I am sorry to report that this wasn't up my alley! a little too writing-for-an-audience-of-yourself level of 'I might need a cryptex to decipher this' inscrutability on a number of these for my taste. as someone who is often tempted to the do the same as a writer, can relate, but as a reader, can't abide.

"ballad in a" and "ballad in o" will probably serve as good and pointed examples of assonance for my ap lit kids

and I liked the line "my lint roller can defur a pomeranian dog" and the thing about the woman keeping apples under her armpits before selling them "so customers can luxuriate in both the scent of fruit and her ripeness" was horrifying in a delightful way and "my password is weak/ like your abs" also tickled me and I liked the change of pace of "fable of the last untouched town"

in sum: definitely did not hate it, but it ran contrary to my personal preferences in poetry in a number of ways. glad to have taken it into my brain, though!
Profile Image for Hannah Scholze.
82 reviews1 follower
June 26, 2021
I was introduced to Cathy Park Hong's poetry in a Global Sci-fi literature course at my university as a freshman. We read the last poem from this collection, "The Fable of the Last Untouched Town". I love this poem; it creates a totally novel sci-fi setting, establishes plenty of intrigue (crucial for sci-fi), and leaves you wanting more. Unfortunately, no other poem in this collection touched me the way "Fable" did. I am new to poetry collections and put in great effort to take my time reading and re-reading these poems; so I don't think it's from a lack of trying. I think that arrythmic poem structures and consistently obscure vocabulary might not be for me. Overall, I am still glad I read this collection and very much enjoyed dipping into the poeticism of boomtowns from all eras.

Ballad of Our Jim: 3/5, loved the rhyming in this section and enjoyed the story as well. Setting was visceral.
Shangdu, My Artful Boomtown!: 4/5, wove a tangible atmosphere and picture of life in Shangdu. Loved the little "story" snippets
The World Cloud: 2/5. Despite future settings being my favorite, this just didn't click for me and felt like a slog. A few very cool verses here and there, but then I would lose the rhythm again and have to start over.
Profile Image for Liv .
586 reviews59 followers
April 29, 2021
Engine Empire was a difficult read for me, I really didn't enjoy the first part focused on old Western America. The second section focusing on an industrialised China was interesting but at times I felt like the meaning of the poetry eluded me. It slipped through my fingers and I wasn't sure what I was reading. The final section focusing on the future felt the most lucid and direct, and I could seemingly follow a more obvious meaning in this section.

This isn't to say this poetry was bad and I think Cathy Park Hong has a very fluid and distinctive style. There felt like a real rhyme and rhythm to the poetry which would be great for reading aloud.

However, I think I want to return to this collection again and pick a poem or two to read and really think about to see how I may absorb it differently or engage in and whether that makes a difference to my reading experience.

Overall, not a bad book, but just not one I'm sure worked entirely for me this time around.
Profile Image for E.
1,124 reviews2 followers
December 30, 2022
Read in March; GoodReads ate the review at some point. Here are a few notes I had, slightly fleshed out.

The poems arrive in three sections dressed in wildly different kinds of linguistic styles and voices. Many of them describe deeply ugly bits of humanity. They are hard to read, but formally intriguing.

The first section, "Ballad of Our Jim," is set in the Old West. The poem "Abecedarian Western, a Hardscrabble Life Told in 26 Lines from A-Z" begins straightforwardly with

Ate stew, shot a man,
Bandy body spraddled, so full of lead

and cleverly tells the rest of the Old West story by starting each line with a word that begins with the next letter in the alphabet, describing the narrator's adventures in a matter-of-fact style until he is shot and dies.

Woven throughout the poems in this section are tales of “Our Jim,” a boy whom a band of criminals kidnap from a fort full of parentless children whose fathers have gone to war and mothers lie dead covered in lime. The kidnappers later realize Jim is a “dusk”-skinned “half breed," a Janus: both ballad-singing bard and sharp-shooting angel of death called on to wreak vengeance on enemies until he grows tired of “finishing your games.” The Law puts a “mighty /bounty on his head” and his brethren decide to “do him in” to claim the reward. But he manages to get away.

"Ballad in I" reads like the voice of a Western Whitman in chaps.

In the second section ("Shangdu, My Artful Boomtown!") I wasn't always sure sure what specific lines were about, but I loved the hard-jammed sounds of her lines and her created words such as “hisshurled life.”

"The World Cloud," the science-fictiony third section, was my least favorite, but I'm still glad I read the whole collection. After having read her nonfiction book Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning and this volume of poetry with its very different three sections, I can easily say that Hong exhibits a grand range of styles and perspectives on what it is to be American - on all sides of the "Law."
Profile Image for Dusty Roether.
29 reviews16 followers
May 4, 2017
Unlike anything I've read before. I decided to read each part of this trilogy one at a time on three consecutive days. The narratives in each successive part is so drastically different that doing this helped me to keep each part both separate and together. Honestly, the first part, Ballad of Our Jim, confused me with its western theme. Clearly, I never watched old western movies! The second part, Shangdu, My Artful Boomtown!, was really where I got the most from this collection. I particularly enjoyed "Of the World's Largest Multilevel Parking Garage". In the last part, The World Cloud, I saw shocking parallels between this distant future and our own present in terms of the technology. Throughout this collection, I felt the tension between the authorities and the common people. I might have to read this collection again later to better understand it.
Profile Image for Madeline.
648 reviews54 followers
March 6, 2020
I've not read any poetry in AGES but I figured I'd pick up one of Hong's collections since I loved Minor Feelings so much! And these poems did not disappoint. Hong crafts an interesting collection of narrative poems, centered around 3 interpretations of society (a western, a Chinese boomtown and a futuristic imagining of what our lives might turn into). I enjoyed the narrative aspect of these poems, where you could at least vaguely follow a story or action. I especially admired how Hong's language changes drastically through each of the 3 sections, to best represent the environment or idea she is trying to capture. The language in the final section is the most poetic and surprising, in my mind, yet I found it a nice balance to the slightly more concrete structures of the first two sections. I'd definitely give this collection a shot, and I'm very curious to get my hands on Dance, Dance, Revolution now!
Profile Image for pierce geary.
61 reviews1 follower
May 18, 2022
Made me feel like we might actually be witnessing the end of things and also affirmed how every one has felt that way for all of time. Also, it made me feel like I might have forgotten how to read poetry because Hong’s exquisite abstractions baffled me so much that I thought maybe I was accidentally holding the book upside down or something. It was such a treat to wade into and get utterly dispossessed from reality with these poems that yarn some eerie, hilarious, cold and also very very hot scenes of maybe radical antagonism or at least disconnection. These poems are extraterrestrial in their semantics yet so human in their preoccupations and musings. I adored the journey. I don’t know what I learned though.
5 reviews
January 8, 2023
Fascinating! A novel-like collection of poems that proceed, in subject and tone, from a surreal Western to a contemporary (imaginary) China to an innovative sci-fi. The use of inventive language styles (like poems where the only vowels were O's) and comedic aspects (like a poem titled "Market Forces Are Brighter Than The Sun" and "Of the World's Largest Multilevel Parking Garage) made it easier for me to process the deeply cynical commentary on empire and destruction. I think I preferred the Western the best (honestly I sort of struggled with the third section, though I should give it a re-read) because of its variety in rhythms and easy-to-follow narrative, but really enjoyed all three overall.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
759 reviews8 followers
December 4, 2018
A 2013 volume of poetry by Hong , the Korean-American poet and professor. This work
is not for everyone, but if you want some outrageous, wierdly inventive poems, you are
at the right place. There are three sections of broadly speaking narratives, which visit
a dystopian West, her home of Shangdu, My Artful Boomtown, and The World Cloud.
The pyrotechnics of her language leave the reader nearly breathless wondering what in
the world is coming next. Some of the poems are nearly unintelligible, some are very
funny, and insightful, and downright odd. A curious book that was rather fun to experience.
Profile Image for Sam.
113 reviews11 followers
November 16, 2020
Adding this to the "read" shelf because it's the corona times and I'm not sure if/when I'll get this book again to re-read/finish what I didn't read the first time.

I found this book in my local poetry bookstore / coffee shop last year, and read a good chunk of it over a few hours. It' s full of beautiful language, striking imagery and inventive structures. It strongly succeeds on a conceptual level, and most of the time succeeds on an emotional level. If you're looking for some poetry to wake you up before making you ponder/making you sad, this is a good choice.
Profile Image for Angela Lim.
180 reviews
August 5, 2022
3.5 stars

This felt to me like one of the more inaccessible collections that I’ve read during this streak. Not necessarily a bad thing! It’s helping me learn about what I like in poetry—definitely prefer the lyrical to the narrative. There’s a theme of conquest that runs through the collection, and Hong definitely has a conqueror’s grasp on poetry. There was some very impressive word play going on. I was particularly a fan of the series of odes in the Wild West section where only a single vowel was used in each of the poems.
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