The Best Poem I Read This Month: Mia You’s “A Solar Visor And A Song To Sing, Preliminary materials for reunification”

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Picture of books on a shelf.As a result of several wars fought by the United States, North and South Korea have been divided since the mid-20th century. A further division was implemented through the creation of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, which, in an epigraph to Mia You’s piece, is noted as a contemporary “viable tourism resource.” Mia You, in “A Solar Visor And A Song To Sing, Preliminary materials for reunification,” published recently in The Offing, opens with an imperative: “Listen!”, an alarm to call forth those who are not paying attention. Typically, North Korea receives media portrayals that are cartoonish, sloppy, and condescending. Mia You, in this prose block slice, delivers up complex lines shifting the perception of not only North and South Korea, but also its demilitarized, tourist trap borderland.

The poem resembles multiple figures: a news ticker of information spurts, an aphoristic display case, and a shifting “I.” The speaker brings forth warnings:

Trust me, I’ve been there.
And I wouldn’t go back.

The poem’s location, while figured specifically as the Korean Demilitarized Zone, is spoken of generally so as to create a perception that the DMZ is, in effect, a no man’s land, a utopic “perfectly conserved ecosystem” that is “neutral” and conceals its own power structure. So when You writes, “Three in five netizens [citizens of the internet]” agree,” the focus of the poem becomes global and site-specific: the networks of power figure throughout all nations (for all nations have borders, and other nations have demilitarized zones), while also emphasizing the fact that some “internet” citizens do not feel affected by, or at least agreeable to, the situation. It’s three in five; a majority, but not a totality.

As the poem presents these shifts in tone and topic, the result becomes an unbordered space within “A Solar Visor And A Song To Sing, Preliminary materials for reunification.” A middle section runs:

The most delicious eels are those that
are neutral. This isn’t the same as bland. My
son is very handsome, my daughter very
successful, but of course this is all ideology.

To a certain degree, these are all distinct abstractions: handsome/successful = ideology, alongside neutral/bland as a delicious eel contrast. But the unbordered space still depends on material, and in fact these are the preliminary materials for a sense of breaking down a border and destroying a “utopic” demilitarized zone. The material is especially important to hold onto when the properties of time become so slippery within the space of “Solar Visor.”

“I could go on forever,” she writes. “So could you.” At the poem’s end, instead of an eternal going-on, we are reminded, “Don’t worry, this will all be over soon.” After all, as the poem begins (and itself displays): “so little is done in so / little time.” We are constrained by time and by abstractions as such powerful forces bearing down on the material world. One of the few mechanisms for reaching across these barriers is another question asked by the speaker: “What is a silent commotion?” Mia You’s piece presents a silent commotion, a movement of lips that materializes the abstract into a demarginalized space and, perhaps, allows us to rearrange our limiting visions, both politically and personally.