By Staff Writer Kylie Cooper.
Poet, essayist, and visual artist Mary-Kim Arnold shared her work with the UMass Dartmouth community on April 17 to celebrate National Poetry Month. The poems she read celebrated women, reflected on war, and found roots in her adoption from Korea.
Arnold began the reading with her poem to Semiramis, King of Assyria, who has taken on a mythological quality because people couldn’t believe a woman was a ruler—and ruled well. She continued with poems about the Korean War, nicknamed “The Forgotten War” by many in the West.
“You can wake in your bed from a nightmare and still not know where you are,” Arnold read.
In addition to historical and war poems, Arnold also shared more personal poems, including ones titled “Life Choices,” “First-Gen,” and “Circle Game.”
One of the most notable poems was “American Name,” which focused on what has emerged from Arnold’s adoption. Her rapid, almost-monotone delivery felt like the audience was inside her racing mind as she considered what it meant to be adopted and not quite American “enough,” but not quite Korean “enough,” either.
Arnold was born in Seoul, South Korea and adopted when she was two years old. Her most recently published work is Litany for the Long Moment, deemed by her website as a “book-length experimental essay.” It combines her essays with photographs, documents, and other visuals to comprehensively express her thoughts of what her life could have been had she not been adopted.
Tying into the exploration of her cultural roots and life as an artist is how she began to learn Korean. During the Q&A session after the reading, an audience member asked what Arnold believes is poetry’s role in public life.
“I think it would start with a discussion of language,” said Arnold.
As someone who speaks English and whose poetic and literary works naturally follow the English syntax, she wondered how other languages would affect her writing. Thus, she decided to learn Korean.
“Even in terms of what we can know is limited by the parameters of language,” Arnold continued. “What gets communicated and embodied—in the way it’s used in poetry—that can teach us about social lessons, cultural contexts, [and] understanding?”
When asked about her writing process, she shared that her process is experimental and varied. Sometimes she stays within the “tight little world of structure and syntax,” while other times, like for larger structures, the process has to be visual.
“I have to lay everything out and sometimes I have to see either sounds, words, or ideas, or something—even the shape of words—that seem to want to be closer together,” Arnold said.
Much of the event was dedicated to the audience Q&A session, and was English department lecturer Tom Hertweck’s favorite part.
“One of the most exciting parts about being in an English department is getting access to people who are doing fantastic, interesting, intellectual work,” said Hertweck.
Ashley Furtado ‘19, English (Writing, Rhetoric, & Communication), typically doesn’t like poetry, but thought it was interesting to hear Arnold’s work. She was, however, one of the only students in attendance.
“I think more people should come see what other English scholars have to offer,” said Furtado. “It’s better than just hanging out in your dorm room by yourself, when you can come here for an hour and expand your mind.”
Arnold’s work has been featured in many literary and art journals, and Litany for the Long Moment won the 2016 Essay Press Open Book Contest.
Her latest poetry collection, The Fish & The Dove, will be published in 2020.
Arnold is currently a professor at Brown University and the Swearer Center for Public Service.
This National Poetry Month event was hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences, which holds many events each semester with notable professionals from various fields.
All are welcome to attend and may find events on the university calendar and weekly programs and events emails.