Dance, Dance Revolution

December 6, 2007

Curtis Fox: A quick announcement before we get started: Poetry Magazine has a new podcast. Each month The Poetry Magazine Podcast features poems and articles from the upcoming issue of the magazine. In the new December program, poems from the home front by Fiona Sampson and the mysterious Atsuro Riley.


Atsuro Riley: Nary a one of the brung homes brung home whole


Curtis Fox: Also editor Christian Wiman and senior editor Don Share talk about Ezra Pounds and Clyde James’ brutal evaluation of his greatest poem.


Don Share: He really sums the thing up by saying maybe what the Cantos is or are, and this is Clyde James’ great phrase for it, “a nut job blog before the fact”. That’s terrific isn’t it.


Curtis Fox: Check it out on, or better yet, subscribe on iTunes. Just go to the iTunes store and type “Poetry Magazine” in the search bar. This is Poetry Off The Shelf from The Poetry Foundation, December 5th, 2007. I’m Curtis Fox. This week, English as you’ve never heard it. Some of you may have heard of the video game called “Dance Dance Revolution”. It’s also the title of a book of poems published earlier this year. Herb Leibowitz, editor of Parnassus: Poetry in Review, says it was eye opening.


Herbert Leibowitz: When i started reading Dance Dance Revolution, I knew after a page that I was in the hands of an original artist.


Curtis Fox: That artist is Cathy Park Hong. She’s a young poet who grew up in Los Angeles and who now lives in New York. Dance Dance Revolution is a collection of poems and features futuristic fiction with a fairly complicated plot. The main character is a tour guide who used to be a South Korean dissident. She works at a resort city called The Desert in the year 2016. She speaks in dialect.


[text not available]


Curtis Fox: Cathy Park Hong says that this character and her dialect just kind of —


Cathy Park Hong: Popped up in my head. I actually grew up thinking Konglish, Korean and English, so it wasn’t so far off for me.


Curtis Fox: Hong got to thinking about what English might sound like in the future, and out came the guide’s mash up of American slang, archaic English, Spanish, Korean.


Cathy Park Hong: It’s really not so far off from what I hear in the streets. My book was basically a hyperbole of that.


Curtis Fox: The book isn’t all in dialect. The second voice is of the historian, who tells us what’s going on in a very somber voice, in prose.


[text not available]


Curtis Fox: That really happened, and the Gwangju massacre forms a backdrop of violence and oppression in the poems, which makes Dance Dance Revolution political poetry. According to Herb Leibowitz, political poems are not so easy to pull off.


Herbert Leibowitz: Political poems, especially in America, are not successful, because they are either too didactic, too full of bromides … It’s like the imagination is absent.


Curtis Fox: Not so in the case of Cathy Park Hong. Leibowitz says you can’t overestimate


Herbert Leibowitz: The audacity of a poet who takes on so many different tasks and so many different subjects and manages to hold all of them, to juggle all of them without any of the balls toppling.

Curtis Fox: Here’s the narrative of Dance Dance Revolution that helps keep all those balls in the air. The historian has gone to the desert to meet the guide, who back in Korea was a lover of the historian’s father. The book is part tale of the guide’s past life in Korea, and part tour of this weird city. For this podcast we’re going to hear just a few poems of the book as a kind of sample. The first one is a description of the fancy toilets in the faux Russian hotel where the guide works. Don’t worry if you don’t understand every word, you’ll get the gist. It’s called “The Washrooms of St Petersburg”.


[text unavailable]


Curtis Fox: “The Washrooms of St Petersburg”. The other poems in the book aren’t all so earthy. They range from comedy to elegy. In the next poem we’re going to hear, the guide tells the historian about her birth in Korea and somehow manages to be funny, political, and elegiac all in the same lyric. Some quick background: the guide’s mother was a famous Pansori singer. Pansori is a kind of Korean flamenco or blues that could go on for many hours. Her mother died a few days after she was born. This is in 1960, just as the dictator Rhee was being forced into exile in Hawaii. This poem is called “Song that Breaks the World Record”.


[text unavailable]


Curtis Fox: “And unyoung I rest”, what a great line to end that poem. That was “Song that Breaks the World Record”. The last poem we’re going to hear is a hymn of sorts to racial and cultural intermarriage. The guide is describing to the historian various couples they’re looking at in some kind of public park. The poem is called “Toasts in the Grove of Proposals”.


Cathy Park Hong:

Lo, brandied man en rabbinical cape

dab rosy musk en goy’s gossamy nape,

y brassy Brahmin papoosed in sari’s saffron sheet

swoon bine faire Waspian en ‘im wingtip feet,

les’ toast to bountiful gene pool,

to intramarry couple breedim beige population!


Lo, union o husky Ontarian y teacup size Tibetan,

wreath en honeysuckle y dew-studded bracken,

lo, union o Cameroon groom kissim ‘e gallic Gamine’s cheek

en miscengnatin’ amour dim seek to reek

les’ toast to bountiful gene pool,

to intramarry couple breedim beige population!


Clap away, Greek chorus o gay sashayim crowd,

clap away, chatty flackmen y pre-nup hackmen,

bine fort, ruby-lined pachyderms who trundle here proud,

bine fort, madders who nag fo proposal enactment,

les’ toast to bountiful gene pool,

to intramarry couple breedim beige population!


Curtis Fox: I think we could all toast to that. That’s Cathy Park Hong, the book is Dance Dance Revolution and it’s published by Norton. In addition to the Poetry Magazine Podcast I mentioned at the beginning of the poem, the Poetry Foundation is also debuting another new podcast. This one’s hosted by Kenneth Goldsmith, the creator of Ubuweb. The podcast is called “Avant-Garde All The Time”.


Kenneth Goldsmith: And in this series of podcasts, we’ll be giving you a tour of the more obscure gems buried deep within this trove of Ubuweb at This week we’ll be focusing on John Jorno’s poetry systems and a series of LPs he put out, beginning in 1968 and going all the way up into the mid 80s.

Curtis Fox: Snippets of Patti Smith, Eileen Miles, Frank O’Hara and many others featured in the debut podcast of Avant-Garde All The Time. Look for it at and on iTunes. Thanks to everyone who’s reviewed this podcast on iTunes in the past few months. You can write your own review in the iTunes store. Do let us know directly what you think of this program where we try to create a place —


[text not available]


Curtis Fox: Email us at The music used in this program comes from the Claudia Quintet. For Poetry Off The Shelf, I’m Curtis Fox. Thanks for listening.

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