Mary-Kim Arnold’s book was published at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The worst April Fool’s ever. What I remember was the fear, what I remember was how bereft of answers we were. If medical professionals were dying trying to help the many of us who were dying, what hope was there for any of us?
The answers would come in time from the past (the Pandemic of 1918) and the future (the vaccines). In this time when life seemed to stand still, when Zoom events for book launches were not yet a thing, I was startled to find how desperate I was to read. I found that poetry was especially comforting when nothing seemed comforting. I felt enormously fortunate then to learn of Arnold’s newest collection of poetry, an audacious and brilliant push back at often repeated narratives of war and survival: “Isn’t girlhood in America a life-threatening condition/all the fields you skip through are laced with broken glass/girl next door who keeps the front gate open/always visible/always knowable/to be entered/They didn’t call me angry but I was/They didn’t call me desperate but I was.”
Arnold’s poems are enthralling. They reach back to the past, ancient and recent, and span the globe. They ask questions no one has answers for, but asks them anyway on their own terms. During the bleakest hour, they knit us to a continuum of voices that remind us of courage, mythic meaning-making, to tell us that we can put words to devastation, loss, and reclamation.
Jimin Han was born in Seoul, South Korea and grew up in Providence, Rhode Island; Dayton, Ohio; and Jamestown, New York. She attended Cornell University and Sarah Lawrence College. Her writing can be found at NPR’s “Weekend America,” Catapult Magazine, Poets & Writers Magazine, Electric Literature, Entropy, The Rumpus, Hyphen Magazine, and elsewhere. A Small Revolution, her first novel, was among Entropy’s Best Fiction of 2017, Pleiades Editors’ Choice 2017, Redbook Magazine’s 20 Books By Women You Must Read This Spring, Buzzfeed’s 6 Binge-worthy Literary Books of May, CNN’s Summer Beach Reads, and Electric Literature’s list of Ten Galvanizing Books About Political Protest. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and Pace University.