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The Narrow Road to the Interior


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About the Author

Kimiko Hahn is the author of ten collections of poems. Her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a PEN/Voelcker Award, and a Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize. She is a distinguished professor in the MFA Program in Creative Writing & Literary Translation, Queens College, City University of New York, and lives in Queens.


In creating The Pillow Book, a tenth-century Japanese vernacular masterpiece that mixes court gossip, classical poetry, and literary appreciations in diary format, Sei Shonagon developed a writing style called zuihitsu. Hahn uses this style (comparable, perhaps, to today's blog) to great advantage in her seventh book (after The Artist's Daughter). Here, the dissembling of a destructive marriage becomes the structuring device for an unwieldy stockpile of emotions, places, and people, a collage of textures and tones: "My daughters were too young to understand the/ racism of the summer community and cried on the ferry going/ home, their wet faces sprayed by the waves as the captain sped/ onto his destination. The crab cakes in the little stand by the dock cheered everyone up for different reasons." List poems that recall those of Sei Shonagon, English versions of tanka (a Japanese poetic form), prose sections on Japanese literature, and meditations on a positive PAP smear and a halfhearted flirtation with a lesbian friend are all bundled into a journey that transforms master haiku poet Matsuo Basho's famous title into a startling metaphor. Hahn's work has received several prestigious prizes, including the American Book Award. This coherent narrative of textured intimacies is among her strongest; recommended for most collections. E.M. Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine LLP Law Lib., New York Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

A kind of poet's journal or miscellany, mixing verse with prose, considered ideas with spontaneous exclamations, notes to friends and even e-mails, Hahn's seventh book adapts the traditional Japanese prose poetry genre zuihitsu to modern American aims. The notebook form allows room for scenes in Brooklyn and on Cape Cod; the poet's feelings about her preteen daughter and her former husband; her thoughts on academia and on Asian-Americanness; her experience of her own body, in youth, in sex and in middle age; and her reactions to 9/11. Honesty has long stood among Hahn's strengths: "I want hands on my face the way no husband or woman has ever held me." Childhood recollections are also movingly evoked: "I need not write about those snow forts where I lay on my back looking up at the ceiling turning into twilight, my mother calling from the trite threshold." Hahn's self-consciousness about this cross-cultural form-a recurring theme-can become self-indulgent, and the development comes not from a change in Hahn, but from the terrorist attack on her city. No revelation emerges at notebook's end. And yet her individual musings retain their force, even in a form Hahn (The Artist's Daughter, 2004) calls "a kind of fragmented anything." (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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