Review: Kim Koga’s LIGATURE STRAIN and Margaret Rhee’s YELLOW YELLOW

Ligature Strain by Kim Koga and Yellow / Yellow by Margaret Rhee | Tinfish Press 2011 | $3.00


In typography, a ligature is the conjunction of two or more letters into a single glyph.

In typography, an index is a punctuation mark indicating an important part of the text with a pointing hand.

Margaret Rhee’s Yellow/ Yellow and Kim Koga’s Ligature Strain meet in a typographical terrain of conjugation and decomposition, where fists appear in the margins. These texts saturate their pages to such a degree that I wish these words could stain my fingers—pink, brown, yellow.

These works are first chapbooks for both Koga and Rhee, and are #5 and #6 in Tinfish Press‘ yearlong Retro Series. Since April 2011, one chapbook has been released per month, each designed by Eric Butler.

In Ligature Strain it’s winter; in Yellow / Yellow I want to believe it’s spring. In the way that Koga lays down planks of text and then proceeds to gnaw, Rhee threads Tila Tequila and her father’s ashes, nectarines and arithmetic with critical discourse on race and gender to index the margins.

fi typographic ligature (via Wikipedia)

In the title poem, Rhee’s ligatures of “yellow” and “yolk,” “yellow” and “net,” “yellow” and “butter,” “yellow” and “cunt,” “yellow” and “other” become single gestures, single imprints. Koga’s blocks of text appear as rudders, rungs and slats, creating structures of strangulation and suture that “file practice rant,” “pilot up a hill” and “loll and roll like glass misbehaving.”

Koga is talking about baby beaver fetuses; Rhee is talking about radical feminism and queer sex. Their textures and colors conjoin and birth poems of the body. I am reminded of Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-Ups (Tender Buttons, 2001), a feminist re-figuring of the male form of the “cut-up” and the male realm of porn. The rodent on the cover of Bellamy’s book might live well in Koga’s structures, as it might be indexed by Rhee, somewhere between “Pussy” and “Public/Private spheres.”

Dodie Bellamy's Cunt-Ups

In an excerpt in Stretcher, Bellamy writes, “I show you the photographs and they’re wet. I’m huffing as I’m trying to pack a considerable punch, I’m just going to think about it throughout, expelling a cloudy medium, faintly this time like we’re teenagers. I’m kissing you, emerging like a baby in fluid…”

These are wet texts. In Koga’s, placental goo and mucus drip and leak. In Rhee’s, snot, discharge and poo ooze and stain like yolk. Koga’s damp decomposition, fetal mouths, teats and webbed feet echo Rhee’s hybrid mesh of fruit and file downloads that is a correspondence of fleshes—their proximities flush and flash in the plural. “I pull my fingers through / and through” slips into “I drown   gulp   salt ashes & mermaid hair   the waves…” in Rhee’s ocean, while “the pink fleshes / squirm in shapes of congealed / raspberries” in Koga’s caves, wombs searching for release.

In the poem “Nectarines,” also published in the Spring 2011 issue of Kartika Review, Rhee splices cross-sections of historical research with the pleasure of the fruit. She examines the Korean American “invention” of the nectarine, the peach with plum skin, and crosses it against her own Korean American identity. Her line, “The flesh is delicate, easily bruised in some cultivations,” performs a similar gesture as “The innards of lesbians are the same as yours” in “219% x (a+b+c) x A I R =,” what Rhee refers to as her coming out poem. Comings out are runts of the litter in Koga’s work: “brown oiled fur in / water to repel or release your pink child / into water or wood” and “…new pink fleshes float and wait / inert for birth.”

"Index Cuts" (via callumjames.blogspot)

In “Index: A Poem About Sex,” Rhee builds personal and socio-cultural points of reference into a den where Koga’s beaver babies might “echo locate” or “paw and gnaw.”

Foucault, Michel, 88, 98, 2002, 100,000,000
Family, 000
Fiona lightly touched my cheek, 27
Femme, 578; see also beautiful femmes of color …
Identity, 1-100,000,00
I saw her in West Hollywood playing with Glow Sticks, it was then I knew I was gay, 77
Lawrence versus Texas, 265-66
Loving Lydia was my biggest mistake and my greatest dream, 105
Loving versus Virginia, 45, 98, 100,000,999 …
Yellow, 6, 57; see also Yellow Fever, Yellow Cunt, [nu rang nu rang], and why does someone in my seminar / respond to my poem by drawing an Asian eye?

In this last entry, Rhee might also have listed “Yellow Apparel: When the Coolie Becomes Cool” (2000), a short film made by UC Berkeley students that “explores the commodification and appropriation of Asian cultural elements into mainstream America and examines the effects of this trend on Asian Americans.” Interwoven into the film is footage of Anida Yoeu Ali performing a piece that was recorded with the spoken word group “I Was Born With Two Tongues” on the album Broken Speak.

Excuse me, ameriKa
I’m confused
you tell me to lighten up
but what you really mean is whiten up
you wish to wash me out
melt me in your cauldron
Excuse me if I tip your melting pot
spill the shades onto your streets
I don’t want to lose my color […]

(Anida Yoeu Ali/I Was Born With Two Tongues, “excuse me, ameriKa”)

Rhee ties a suture around the color yellow until it stains everything that comes into contact with it. Pink, brown and gray strain to surface behind the black and white of Koga’s scaffolds:

a scintillating beaver she was—she
sheds her skin her skin pink and
new streaked with blood and left
without its protective fur. a whole
molting process for winter and each
season the pink comes through.

the pink fleshes attach and drink mothers
milk from your pink teat bits of red
blood cells pass too. pink gums and gray
lidded eyes paw and gnaw.

pink squirming fleshes and new pink skin
streak your blood and appetite.

These books break the skin and streak the appetite. Spines spill. Outside, it’s raining. Inside, I’m surprised that my hands are still dry.

* * *

Koga and Rhee’s chapbooks can be purchased online at Subscriptions to the entire Tinfish Retro Series are also available for $36.

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