Syntax that seems like mistranslation gives way to a psychedelic atmosphere, like a
queer Alice in Wonderland. Up is down, down is up, the Earth is a mass crematorium for
androids. The author seems bent on making you mad. You trip through the book, finding that the only way to understand is to not. The words carry you from sentence to paragraph, and you cling to them, knowing that they are all you have in a brilliant sea of confusion and storytelling.
Glory Hole, by Kim Hyun, is the first Korean queer poetry collection. It is a wonderfully
strange production, made ever stranger by its translation into the English language. At worst it is a jumble of words and English grammar, nonsensical and completely devoid of all semantic meaning. At its best, however, Glory Hole is a vibrantly colorful collection that transcribes (and translates) the strangeness of the world and the queer experience into words. Each poem seems to exist in a world that could be: a window into the inhabitants of these strange worlds and possibilities. Most of the poems are written in a prose style, which adds to the oddity of the book. The façade of uniform paragraphs and punctuation quickly gives way to a jumble of dream-like realities full of innuendos and American pop culture icons like John Wayne. The footnotes at the end of each poem don’t help much either, seeming to only exist to further discombobulate your sense of orientation.
Glory Hole is a queer poetry collection of a different sort than I have come to experience
in mainstream ‘queer’ American media. Though occasionally explicit in its choice of words, the book doesn’t make a spectacle of queerness throughout—queerness is an intrinsic part of the experience of the reader: it is an all-present assumed understanding of the content as opposed to a combative experience. Glory Hole presents queerness as natural, strange, assumed, outlandish, which is a secondary concern to the reader’s primary objective of orienting themselves to each new piece.
This book will confuse most, repulse some, and daunt others. I know I was confused the
entire time, similar to my own experience with queer identity and all the entails. My identity still confuses me. But I found that (as with my identity) when I stopped forcing understanding and began simply accepting the strange and wonderous nature of the poems, the book became far less of a struggle.