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Whiting winner Don Mee Choi profiled in The Seattle Times
Don Mee Choi was profiled in The Seattle Times this weekend, in an article that explores how she balances her work as a GED instructor, a translator, and a poet. She spends her weeks helping students through pages of math equations and her weekends writing: “Poetry frees me up in the most magical way,” she says. “I can be inventive — with the language, with the syntax, with the grammar.”
Born in South Korea, Choi’s poems explore the country’s history and politics:
…in her book [The Morning News is Exciting], she writes about the “shoeshine boys” — young children, orphaned in the Korean War, who were forced to make a living shining shoes in the streets. During an uprising known as the 1960 South Korean Student Revolution, these children joined the protest as a last resort, and many were killed.
“They threw their lives to the revolution because they had nothing more to lose,” Choi said.
It was her father, a wartime photojournalist, who witnessed their despair.
“They made themselves into a single mass by locking their arms and shoulders and moving like a tide. Hence bring down the world,” a poem in her book reads.
But South Korea is as much an absence in her poetry as a presence, as she left the country at 19 to study at the California Institute of the Arts:
It was here that a professor first urged her to give poetry a try. Her life poured out onto paper. Themes of cultural displacement, isolation and power struggles, drawn from her immigrant experience, are woven throughout her book.
The Whiting judges praised “The Morning News Is Exciting” as “a wildly surprising work describing the collapse of empire — bracing and invigorating. Its anger glows.”
Choi said, “It contains emotions associated with being displaced from one’s home. Loss, longing, loneliness and anger. Those are the primary emotions.”