By Don Mee Choi
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
ISBN# 9781940696218 (6x8.5 112pp, paperback)
ISBN# 9781940696232 (6x8.5 112pp, limited edition hardcover)
Hardly War, Don Mee Choi's major second collection, defies history, national identity, and militarism. Using artifacts from Choi's father, a professional photographer during the Korean and Vietnam wars, she combines memoir, image, and opera to explore her paternal relationship and heritage. Here poetry and geopolitics are inseparable twin sisters, conjoined to the belly of a warring empire.
Choi’s use of hybrid forms—poetry, memoir, opera libretto, images and artifacts from her father’s career as a photojournalist in the Korean and Vietnam Wars—lets her explore themes of injustice and empire, history and identity, sifting through the detritus of family, translation, propaganda, and dislocation.
Kathleen Rooney, The New York Times Sunday Book Review
The book moves into prose blocks, slowly thins into more lineated poems, and finally ends with an opera based on interviews she conducted with her father about his war experiences. Choi’s Hardly War thus defies genre. The book is part poetry, part memoir, and part documentary/collection of physical artifacts... a complex exploration of both the speaker as an individual subject and as a part of a much larger inheritance.
Ansley Clark, The Volta Blog
Playful and complex... Choi's poetry operates within a tradition of Korean-American experimental poets that includes Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and Myung Mi Kim. Choi's zany take on militarism and the Korean diaspora may seem absurdist, but it is an inventive and daring waltz that upends what is commonly understood as the 'Forgotten War.'
While imperial history relishes mythmaking and triumphalism at the expense of the human and psychological costs of war, Choi revels in history’s untold spaces.
Lizzie Tribone, BOMB
Hardly War is harrowing to read, a full-bodied immersion into a stream of jagged, unharmonized voices. But it also offers comfort in its sly indictment of war’s ideological tools, the language of nationalism, militarism, patriotism, and the binaries of the Cold War. Perhaps the swaying hydrangeas and the declassified flowers of Choi’s cosmos may linger in our minds, propagating more disobedient vocabulary for talking about war and imagining a future beyond its ravages.
Sukjong Hong, The Margins
Hardly War is a category-defying, auto-ethnographic, strongly anticolonial book.
Rich Smith, The Stranger
This book's sort of rogue clarity hinges on the poet's relationship with her father. Essentially, we experience the destabilizing effects of US-ROK entanglement as coherent because this relationship sutures time and space. His award-winning photographs of the war suffuse the pages.
Caitie Moore, The Poetry Project Newsletter
Constructed from poems, chunks of prose, sheet music, photographs, collage, and even the script for an (incredibly short) opera, Hardly War is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Paul Constant, The Seattle Review of Books
Hardly War [...] is refreshingly strange, a hybrid of poetry, prose and photography [...] Assembling musical notation, Korean ideograms, photographs and, in one memorable instance, a Smokey the Bear poster, Choi grapples with a war that has receded from American consciousness but whose consequences Koreans continue to feel.
Alex Gallo-Brown, City Arts
This stunning book—this arrangement of recurring hydrangeas and chemical materials; of artillery rounds and detonating mechanisms; of rebellions against incendiary government-sponsored thinking—is a must-read. A truly difficult read, but a must!
Paul Cunningham, Fanzine
These lines claim no authority beyond that of the poet herself, juxtaposing voices and sources to invite re-interpretation…Choi deconstructs and recomposes her materials, consistently resisting conventional narrative logic.
Mary-Kim Arnold, Hyperallergic
Don Mee Choi details the interior of the life of a young girl in the middle of war. This is no mere reduction or retelling. The metaphor stands that we are all hardly adults. Perhaps hardly human…If Hardly War can teach us anything, it is that perspective is everything.
Benjamin Champagne, New Pages
She [Choi] calls attention to the murky cultural trance we live in. In writing it, she has committed an important act—one that disobeys history and severs ties to power: it shows us something different from what we think we know.
Michelle Lewis, Drunken Boat
Choi’s Hardly War provides a strong method…appropriate to current engagements and thinking styles. Not without art, not without some kind of representation that ties the ideas together, can we handle and process our understanding, our statements of identity and healing…find the mindfulness and reflection by taking that which is personal and bringing the entire world inward… It’s a book of process as much as it is a book of witness.
Greg Bem, Berfrois
Hardly War is a brilliant and layered collection that forces us to reexamine the codes of language and our conceptual notions of war. An act of protest in itself, Hardly War gives us a fresh and often complex perspective on a war that is often called the “forgotten war.”
Michael Browne, Angel City Review
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Don Mee Choi is the author of DMZ Colony (Wave Books, forthcoming 2020), Hardly War (Wave Books, 2016), The Morning News Is Exciting (Action Books, 2010), and several chapbooks and pamphlets of poems and essays. She has received a Whiting Award, Lannan Literary Fellowship, Lucien Stryk Translation Prize, and DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Fellowship. She has translated several collections of Kim Hyesoon's poetry, including Autobiography of Death (New Directions, 2018), which received the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize.