I’ve written about Kimiko Hahn before for Big Other, but I couldn’t help but also write a little bit about this book, too, The Artist’s Daughter. Try this poem on for taste:
Not all insects but certain insects spiral above bodies of water in their courtship, the male carrying a stone fly or mayfly in his legs. The female will follow him, alighting on a petal or stem, then accept the prey and consume it during their consummation. How pleasant, though different from fellatio or kissing, to eat, say, a square of bitter chocolate filled with creamy nougat while the male pulses inside. How sweet. How exquisite a bribe for the bride.
This poem is from page 70, and is #4 of Hahn’s “Reckless Sonnets.” I include it here because I love the blend of sex and violence, nature and sensory detail. The poem is sexy. Dark. Makes me want chocolate.
The rest of the book is no less sexy throughout. For example:
The silkworm moth possesses no special designation apart from its renowned larvae treasured for two millennia. And ten days after the cocoon is spun the farmer’s wife gathers twenty-five thousand for a pound of silk, drops them in hot water to soften the gummy threads, and kill the chrysalid. The parents have no separate nomenclature and no mouths and do not eat in their three-day existence laying four hundred eggs. Across my bed I flare open a sheet, woven from caterpillar spit, for a lover. For saliva, blood and come. For two to three days of anonymous flight. For the sensation that this match will last hundreds of years; that it will end after a moment, wing-torn and starved.
I find myself more and more interested in lineation, after reading Hahn. Her lines make sense to me. These poems could be written as prose, but they seem to make sense lineated as well. It’s been a particular struggle of mine lately, trying to understand how lineation isn’t arbitrary when not formally imposed, or even when it is. In any case, I’m also in awe of how Hahn writes about so many themes but keeps them all so tightly controlled. Sex. Violence. Nature.
But also fairy tale. . . .
Lines like: “the grandmother remains dead / not hibernating in a wolf’s belly” (p. 15), “The bread. The furnace. We walk home / with pockets full of frightful gold” and “Elbows confess to splinters from the windowsill. / The daughter’s yellow hair will become a golden ladder. / As she twirls around her skirt swirls up” (p. 41).
And also, the death of her mother:
“It’s a month from the ninth anniversary of my mother’s death and we still can’t think of a place to set or release her ashes. My own — maybe off the Brooklyn Bridge except it’s so windy. What a thing to wish on anyone — a face full of ashes” (p. 26).
And this one, below, also about her mother. (I’ll end after section one, because I love this advice. I wish someone had told me this advice. I wish, even if someone had, I would have had the sense to follow it. Even though I know it now, I may never follow it. My burden, perhaps.)
When I think of mother when I was thirteen I think of a figure so despondent — her word — as she stood at the stove you could look through her back to the pot on the burner, pass your hand through her torso. You could not look into her face, it was so turned from light and people. If only someone had asked her what she wanted, it was bound to be small. A wisteria vine. Ten days in Kyoto. A kiln. And now she is gone so I cannot ask her if I am right about this though when I cannot turn my own face to the sun I feel I am suddenly her, slight, sinewy and clear, telling me the only advice she ever bestowed: don’t return to a man out of loneliness.