Kimiko Hahn

In poems dense with curiosity and a self-proclaimed “desire to blur,” Kimiko Hahn’s unique voice haunts as much as it is haunted. Her “daring, exciting poems,” notes the poet Ai, “take us into the dark woods of our own psyche.” Hahn’s work, “large in the range of her concerns and the intensity of their passions” (Publishers Weekly), invites readers to re-imagine traditional notions of gender and selfhood.

Freaks, daughters, lovers, and monsters are all subject to Hahn’s unrelenting attention and honesty in the dark world of circumstance and desire. Fiercely intimate and utterly fearless, these are nonetheless, as Evan Boland writes, “poems with a zest for everything.”

In her most recent book, The Narrow Road to the Interior, Hahn adapts the ancient Japanese artistic technique of zuihitsu (“running brush”), to create, as Marilyn Chin writes, “a high mockery of Basho’s classic diary.” Formally innovative and informally contemplative, incorporating lyrical prose pieces, on-the-fly notations, lists, anecdotes, striking images, accounts of quotidian activities, and sudden confessions, she uses the tools of fragmentation and paradox to drive her examination of the intimate intersections of memory, body and identity.

Born in Mt. Kisco, New York, to a Japanese-American mother and a German-American father, Hahn is the author of seven volumes of poetry and the recipient of the American Book Award for her 1995 collection The Unbearable Heart. She is a Distinguished Professor of English at Queens College-CUNY and lives in New York.

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 2007

Reckless Sonnet #7

Maybe only your closest confidante
can know where you’ve landed. Maybe
your survival depends on laying low,
twisted up in several blankets in front of the TV
or else—what? The return call to your ex
looking for his distressed leather
or the deadline for indexing a book on jade antiques—
will consume you like a shadow opening its beak.
Maybe it’s necessary to blend into a corner of the
corner café
so you dress in a beige sweater and chinos. A hat.
Not dissimilar
from the cherry tree ugly-nest caterpillar
who chews up leaves then rolls in its own shit,
nestles with others in that same foliage.
For an inspired quiet.

From “Reckless Sonnets” THE ARTIST’S DAUGHTER (W.W. Norton, 2002)

Things That Make Me Cry Instantly

a baby crying in a diner booth—

the final paragraph of the child’s story where the father and little
girl turn home having finally spied a great owl, pumping its great
wings in the brilliant moonlight—that book—

giraffe

your gravity on mine—your sweaty pulsing inside me, your beard chafing, your
lips on mine telling me in an artificial respiration how dear I am—that
weight—

the thought of the word, train

my two daughters dancing momijinohana, the drum’s slow beat, the
turning around to face the backdrop then the audience again—

even as the youngest drops her fan, giggles till she shakes but con-
tinues, that—my body quakes because my mother is dead and she
watched me dance this dance in her peach-colored kimono in 1968.
Yes, it was that long ago.

From THE NARROW ROAD TO THE INTERIOR (W.W. Norton, 2006)

Gowanus, Late Summer

(2000)

2
The trees flinch in late summer air over Boerum Hill. We already
miss scorching on that Salt Marsh Road.

3
The summer was about rage. Will recollection fall dead off the trees?
Can it? I am the one who left.

4
Did my daughters hike to the Sunken Forest with their father this
summer? Is to immagine, to imagine regret?

5
When father took me fishing in a rowboat in the Catskills, a wall of
rain came over us. Were there cicadas?

14
No dejection on returning from this vacation—this man so deeply
attentive we might be lingering still, under the cicadas uproar.

9
If only I could know a plover—or warbler. But a suburban girl
learns little more than red and brown—or brown and brown.

8
Home from vacation, no fuzzy seeds soften the air. The former hus—
band’s studied neglect has suddenly quit—is that it?

10
All the harsh remarks about him that he himself reported to me, I
now believe and repeat to those who made them. Torrential.

12
At any moment I can recall that downpour walking home from a
visit with my daughters—mostly the heart, the louder beating.

18
When the leaves shudder, despondent is the season. Soon I’ll rise in
the window’s dark light.

19
Isn’t it true that the leaves on certain trees turn suddenly, before the
others? As suddenly, all the red is brittle. What if the lover
moves closer?

26
Thankful the former husband does not return in my sleep—to my
dream pillow comes the lover’s plum preserves.

28
Will the Gowanus Canal look less leafy in the fall or more so—I do
not know since I’ve lived here so few seasons. Away from men.
With daughters.

29
The daughters’ complaints escalate over anything. A breeze for
example. Happily the leaves scatter.

From THE NARROW ROAD TO THE INTERIOR (W.W. Norton, 2006)