Myung Mi Kim

Myung Mi Kim is an avant-garde poet and Korean immigrant. She mostly works in the objectivist mode. Some of her work, like Under Flag is largely biographical and focuses on her experience as an immigrant.


Myung Mi Kim (December 6, 1957-) is an Avant-Garde poet. She was born in Seoul, Korea, and immigrated to the U.S. at age 9. She had an extensive education; earning a B.A from Oberlin College, an MA from The Johns Hopkins University, and an MFA from the University of Iowa. Her collection of poems Under Flag (1991) won the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Award of Merit, and is her most noted work; other collections by Kim include The Bounty (1996), DURA (1999), Commons (2002), River Antes (2006), and Penury (2009).(Kim bio) Her poetry refers to experiences with immigration, feelings of alienation, and other issues experienced in the transition from one culture to another.

WorksUnder Flag 1991
The Bounty 1996
Dura 1999
Spelt 2000
Commons 2002
River Antes 2006
Penury 2009

Myung Mi Kim reads from "Commons" and "Penury"


Myung Mi Kim's poetics are objectivist in a number of important ways: Kim uses figurative devices like metaphor and simile fairly sparsely, instead she relies on metonymy. Her language is terse; for instance, in The Bounty, she says:

Clearly, the perceptible language, the use of words and sounds, is very deliberate and unadorned. At the same time, this passage highlights her use of indentation. Here specifically, the indentation seems to suggest a subordinated part of the line above them which the lowercase letters beginning these indented lines seem to agree with. Most striking, however, is her use of white space. Right after the quote above, Kim writes:


Kim separates the two columns by the white space between them. At the same time, it is unclear whether the columns are to be read like regular columns, left to right, top to bottom with one column and then to move onto the next column. Moreover, the column on the right always begins with a lower case which may highlight subordination like it did in the previous passage. This kind of undecidability is characteristic of indeterminacy which Kim seems to be working under. The spacing between columns and the indentation of lines is not her only spacing technique, but she also the uses spacing between lines. For instance, further down the poem, Kim writes:


Here Kim's use of negative space overwhelms the verse: there is more white space than ink. Kim does this throughout the poem, sometimes between more traditional stanzas, sometimes between chunks of columns like in the second passage, and sometimes between individual lines like this current passage. For Kim, the negative space is as important as the filled space; they both function towards meaning making. Therefore, Kim's poetics and technique varies wildly in types of display: from terse use of language to liberal use of white space

Critical Response

In Zhou Xiaojing's Possibilities Out of an Impossible Position: Myung Mi Kim's Under Flag, Zhou argues the cultural and linguistic "interrogation"[4] that Kim portrays in her work, Under Flag. Zhou argues that her use of language shifts within her poetry creates a dialectic between experiencer - both of the poem and within the poem - and the language of contact.[5] Moreover, this dialectic relates metonymically with the kind of "othering" that occurs during assimilation. More specifically, Zhou argues, Kim's use of language suggests an irreducible part of the individual that maintains during assimilation.[6] The dialectic mentioned above opposes hegemonic constraints on identity; indeed, as Xiaojing states: "She interrogates the encounters between cultures and languages, including the ways in which language reproduces or unsettles power relations."[7] Kim's project, it seems, is to use the language of the poem as a means of dislocating the naturalized colonizer language - English. Similar to her critique on language and assimilation, Kim also investigates historicism and questions "the questions of translation between cultures and languages and in particular the kinds of resemblances and contaminations that inform how language(s) systematize and engender notions of power."[8] Therefore, Kim's subject matter often takes a Foucaltian lilt, in that, an important concern of hers is the use of language to naturalize unnatural hierarchies. At the same time, she sees language - using the image of the immigrant - as double edged in the sense that her rendering of accents signifies the inherent malleability and subjectivity of language. So, in examining the ways in which language seems to fossilize power structures, she also foregrounds the way language disturbs them.

In Michael Cross's essay, Becoming-Subject in Myung Mi Kim's Dura, Cross examines the way Kim represents legibility. He argues that in the work Dura, Kim juxtaposes listening with the eyes with the way we learn legibility: it is a maintained expression.[9] Casting listening and understanding under the light of legibility suggests that it is something that an individual must bring to attention and at the same time can decay or improve. This further colors her analysis of language in Under Flag, in the sense that listening becomes multisensory and more importantly more than language; language itself features as an important power but at the same time is subject to our bodies and our phenomenal experiences. Cross argues that Kim's work relies on this subjectivity. Indeed Dura focuses on the give and take between subject and object: the individual language user and the language(s) that they are subject to. In doing so, Kim highlights dialectics rather than binaries and oppositions; the subject matter on her poetry relies on the give and take between two interacting cultures and languages. Moreover, Kim uses white space liberally which suggests an unspoken subject in her poetry: what cannot or will not be said. Again, Kim's work focuses on language in use and those who use it or have it used on. Therefore, her use of negative space suggests the unspoken emptiness of the words. That it is us - or possibly them in the pop culture sense - who endow language with its power.

External Links

Myung Mi Kim readings and interviews


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  1. ^ Kim, Myung Mi.Myung Mi Kim "The Bounty". Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
  2. ^ Kim, Myung Mi.Myung Mi Kim "The Bounty". Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
  3. ^ Kim, Myung Mi.Myung Mi Kim "The Bounty". Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
  4. ^ "EPC | Myung Mi Kim | Zhou Xiaojing." Electronic Poetry Center Home Page. Web. 06 Mar. 2012. <>.
  5. ^ "EPC | Myung Mi Kim | Zhou Xiaojing." Electronic Poetry Center Home Page. Web. 06 Mar. 2012. <>.
  6. ^ "EPC | Myung Mi Kim | Zhou Xiaojing." Electronic Poetry Center Home Page. Web. 06 Mar. 2012. <>.
  7. ^ "EPC | Myung Mi Kim | Zhou Xiaojing." Electronic Poetry Center Home Page. Web. 06 Mar. 2012. <>.
  8. ^ "EPC | Myung Mi Kim | Zhou Xiaojing." Electronic Poetry Center Home Page. Web. 06 Mar. 2012. <>.
  9. ^ Kim, Myung Mi. "Becoming-Subject." Web. 5 Mar. 2012. <>.