Woman Carrying Thing
reviewed by Dara Cerv
The phenomenon of entrainment can be described in various ways across several fields. In engineering, it refers to the entrapment of one substance by another. In physical geography, it refers to how sediment is incorporated into a fluid whole. In psychological and therapeutic circles, entrainment speaks to connectivity and to the interweaving of life forces: the rhythmic attunement of things like lunar and solar cycles, breathing, brain waves. Jae Choi's Woman Carrying Thing is an account of this very phenomenon, both in content and form. This chapbook is meshings and mergings: between the reader and the poems, between the poems and a collective consciousness around human interaction and relationships.
Choi achieves an immediate synchronicity of thought and feeling between narrator and reader via the sheer push of language. The simple and pure draw of Choi’s rhythm enters the brain and invites us to flow. Repetition drives us immediately into the thought process and the emotional sensation inherent. We easily attach to the plunging into, the standing back from, and the cyclical nature of inspecting a situation; the situation, presumably a relationship between two people. During a first read of this sectioned long poem, I was so caught up in the repetition of the words “resist” and “risk” and “insist,” that I sped through it, lost to the sounds and the loose narrative items (the sediment) that get collected by the rhythmic (fluid) whole. During a second and third read, I began to notice the delicate details and the subtle music and symbols, as well as the self-awareness involved: “to resist repeating her symbols // to resist intelligence / to resist the intelligent animal / combed down to her ankles.” In this way the work is doubly impressive and surprising. Choi not only creates the environment of a relationship, but also makes space for the reader to get inside the mind of it. The poems mimic thought processes in a clean and quick way, and this manifests symbolically in the wide and windy peeks of landscape. Similarly, when we have rushing thoughts around relationships, we can fall into a sort of simple, rhythmic trance. Only in the re-inspection or re-thinking, do we allow ourselves to anchor and hold on to the details, whether they are warning signs or things we whole-heartedly embrace.
In the hammering toward and away from purposeful decision-making, Choi meditates on the ways one chooses to lose and to not lose oneself:
to insist this was not commonplace to insist on carrying in hand peonies home from the market to insist on setting them in a blue jar to insist on leaving the door ajar to insist this was common
Herein we find a thought reversed in action. There's the impulse to think of something as special, then, in the meditative acts of holding flowers and focusing on the position of a door, we translate a feeling of the commonplace. As if focus and reflection on the concrete, physical object prompts a metaphysical transition. Many of us have experienced this type of psychological movement in the face of our daily objects, or in the face of environmental change. Some of us go to bodies of water or the desert to gain perspective or clear our heads. Some of us pour coffee into the same mug we do every other day, and it causes us to change our mind about something specific the day we look at it differently. In several places throughout the work we experience this broadly intuitive, natural re-thinking. On a microscopic level, we find it in ingenious line breaks that present ideas and then rapidly pull them into other realms: "to resist the particular / god to resist information." Here we resist the particular and the particular god, and also find "god[,] to resist information."
There are many moments in which to breathe, think, and move with Choi throughout this graceful, concise poem. Truly, her approach is one of vast welcome to change, angling toward the metamorphosis of cognition and emotion. The verse appeals to the collective sense of internal effort, self-awareness, and self-revision; it exists to "insist on open-endedness."