July 30, 2007

Review: Dance Dance Revolution

Dance Dance Revolution
Norton, $23.95 hardcover

"In the Desert, the language is an amalgam of some three hundred languages and dialects imported into this city, a rapidly evolving lingua franca," so scribbles the Historian of Cathy Park Hong’s second book of poems Dance Dance Revolution, an unusual journey into a post-apocalyptic landscape that grows more and more familiar with each visit to a different site.

To translate and facilitate the tour, the Historian enlists the help of a Guide, a speaker of this Desert Creole who proudly proclaims her authority as a navigator:
O tempora, o mores! I usta move
around like Innuit lookim for sea pelt…now

I’mma double migrant. Ceded from Koryo, ceded from

‘Merikka, ceded y ceded until now I seizem

dis sizable Mouthpiece role…now les’ drive to interior.
Virgil-like, the Guide spins her poetry and politics into revelations of global conflict, racial tensions, economic instabilities caused by terrorism, corruption and internal uprisings—devastations that resulted in a “dead scald world full o rust puddles, grim service men, / y ffyurious mekkinations.” And though a second world has been built to conceal the broken one, its attraction exists only at surface level. The damaged psyche seeps through very easily via the stories of the “guides who ache for their own/ guides / who mourn / who lead / men from human rinds of discontent.” Here, law is “the sin of choice.”

The Guide weaves the history of the troubled city with her own participation as a revolutionary (“to fightim me yesman lineage”), which compels the Historian to write down her own strained father-daughter relationship set in a more safeguarded, but no less alienating, childhood. She too must come to terms with superimposing truth over deception, reality over memory, and language over language.

By the conclusion of the tour, from the karaoke lounge of the St. Petersburg Hotel to the New Town detention center (a cursory glance “lest ye covet a forkin sinus punch on ye gob”) to the Grove of Proposals where one can toast “to bountiful gene pool, / to intramarry couple breedim beige population,” the Historian (like the reader) has become attuned to the din of Desert Creole and to the spin of “stingy” history. By then, the Historian’s personal connection to the Guide has been disclosed and indeed, the reader can identify with the irony and layered meanings in the Guide’s final statement: “If de world is our disco ball, might I have dim dance.”

As a vision of the present Babel channeled through a futuristic one, Hong succeeds with stunning inventiveness. Dance Dance Revolution is a forthright critique of U.S. meddling (and fumbling) in world affairs, and is unafraid to take a heavy step into the lightly tread arena of American political poetry. This cutting-edge book is a warning to the complacent populations, as well as a “guide” to survival in the apocalypse the world is experiencing at the moment:
You can be the best talker but no point if you can’t
speak the other man’s tongue. You can’t chisel, con, plead,

seduce, beg for your life, you can’t do anything, because you

know not their language. So learn them all.
by Rigoberto González