The summer issue of The Paris Review includes a series of poems by Cathy Park Hong. Hong has published two books of poetry, Translating Mo’um (2002) and Dance Dance Revolution (2007). She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.
The poems published in this issue come from a longer work, entitled “Fort Ballads.” How does it fit into your forthcoming book, Engine Empire?
“Fort Ballads” is part of the first section in Engine Empire. The poems in the collection range from a trilogy, ranging from Western ballads to love poems set in present-day industrial China to poems set in a virtual future. “Fort Ballads” follows a band of outlaw fortune-seekers who travel to a California boomtown during the 1800s. The boomtown isn’t real; it’s full of strange, violent, sometimes surreal happenings. It’s my own way of mythologizing California, which is where I’m from. The main character is “Our Jim,” who’s half Comanche Indian. In creating him, I was thinking of the typical iconic Western guys, like Billy the Kid, but his story is also reminiscent of Huck Finn and maybe a little of Faulkner’s Joe Christmas. He’s an orphan, a cipher, a boy trapped between identities, both innocent and vengeful. But the section isn’t all narrative—there are sound poems in there as well, where I let myself wallow in kitschy Western vernacular. Read More