Book Review: All the Garbage of the World Unite

All the Garbage of the World Unite

Written by Kim Hyesoon. Translated, from the Korean, by Don Mee Choi.

“Therefore as woman, as poet, I dance and rescue the things that have fallen into the coil of magnificent silence; I wake the present, and let the dead things be dead.”
-Kim Hyesoon

All the Garbage of the World Unite is Kim Hyesoon’s second full-length book, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi. Hyesoon and Choi create a world that is full of sacred filth, an experience that is beautifully ugly. It is a world where mountains copulate, where pigs are gods, where people peel like onions. All the Garbage of the World Unite contains a collection of work called Your First (2008) and the nineteen page poem Manhole Humanity (2009) –and as you make your way through, each poem is a little more delightfully terrifying and disgusting than the one before it. It’s gold. Or it’s garbage. Either way, it exemplifies what contemporary poetry should be: fresh, exciting, and unpredictable.

Hyesoon’s writes nature poetry in a way we have never seen. In the poem, Seoul, Kora, the mountains are transformed into wild creatures:

“…The mountain gives birth
The mountain licks a mountain
The mountain’s litter sucks on its nipples
The mountain cold-heartedly discards all of its litter
The young mountains copulate in broad daylight, the stench
The mountain roams like the pack of dogs inside a maze…”

What we might believe to be peaceful and sacred is turned rabid and for some reason it feels very right. It is strange, but it is also exciting and fresh. It makes language feel new. Hyesoon also introduces us to characters and situations that at first we think we know: “that woman who walks out of the gynecology clinic” with her “legs […] like scissors” and with “blood scented dusk flooding out from between her legs.” People and places are suddenly grotesque but not completely unfamiliar as in Onion:

       “Under the faucet a man peeled a woman’s skin
The woman cacklecackled and peeled easily like an onion
As a layer of dark night peeled off transparent day soared
Blood draindrained down a pipe
like the mushy inside of a fresh egg…”

This strange moment between man and woman both sickens and fascinates me. The images stick to the insides of my eyelids and won’t let go. In Choi’s translation of Hyesoon, the work dances in and out of intimacy in a way that the same force that pushes us away actually sucks us back in.

Something that I was very drawn to in the title poem, All the Garbage of the World Unite, was its pace. Hyesoon’s lines are long and full of heavy consonants. However, they are lines that demand to be read aloud at a strong pace. There are literally no spaces to breathe. This poem does not apologize. This poem is a force that challenges not only poetry, but also the potential of translation. In this piece, Don Mee Choi seamlessly navigates the space between English and Korean. This poem reads as if it were originally written in English:

“…Do you know?
Eyesnavelgod. Forearmsearflapgod.
Sweetpotatokneesappleseedgod. Pigstoenailschickgod.
Dreamingdivingbeetlesashtreegod. Lovelygirlsheelstoenailgod.
Antsghostscatseyeballgod. Ratholescatsrottingwatergod.
Mrsdustingarmselephantgod. Salivadropexplodeslikefreongas.
Do you know all the dearest gods that are hanging onto our limbs?”

At this point, words become jumbled and become something entirely new bringing us to a place where poetry transcends language. Several words become one new word. These new words become gods, complete entities.

The book, All the Garbage of the World Unite, opens with an essay that Hyesoon had presented at the American Literary Translators Association in 2006. She compares poetry to a maze and “as the maze grows more complex, it contains the flexible logic of non-alignment. This logic of non-alignment demands from me a new experience with language.” This is certainly what Hyesoon is demanding of us in her book. The poems dance and create new experiences by celebrating garbage and pigs, by transforming mountains and turning people inside out. We have new experiences with language and through those experiences, we develop a new understanding of the potential of poetry and poetry in translation. What Choi has created here in this English version of Hyesoon’s work is a beautiful beast of a book.


Written by Kim Hyesoon. Translated, from the Korean, by Don Mee Choi.
Published by Action Books (November 2011).

Reviewer Allie Moreno recently received her MFA in Poetry from the University of California, San Diego.