Review of The Flood

Review of The Flood, a book of poetry by Chiwan Choi
Book review by Nathaniel Kostar
Los Angeles based poet Chiwan Choi’s the flood from Tia Chucha Press is a monster of a first book (181 pages) that ultimately embodies its title. The ambitious result of ten years of writing, the flood is a momentous tidal wave of poetry that cannot be swallowed all at once. Prepare yourself for a flood of language and images that are at times chaotic, violent, and loud and at other moments soft, sensitive, and tender—but that as a whole reveal the dynamism of this veteran poet who claims to have begun his literary career years ago by selling chapbooks out of the trunk of his car.
The flood is a brave unraveling of self, a stripping down of the elements that simultaneously make and haunt this writer. It touches on themes of identity, place, multiculturalism, and family—but perhaps above all the flood seems most driven by the relationship of father and son.
Images of a father who appears elderly and sick and the lack of communication between him and his son haunt this collection. In the poem eternal uneventful things Choi writes:
as/ he remains standing there/ at the window,/ washed in sunlight,/ his eyes closed,/ letting the heat take him/ far enough back,/ I imagine, / to the years/ when there was more/ than just this waiting/ to die.
And perhaps one of the most beautiful and sad poems of the book, pure reads:
i wish i knew/ what it was that my father/ had to say to me that day/ when he chose to remain silent/ by my side/ if it could have been about/ the secret to fishing/ or why the scales shine/ in the dark/ on the belly/ of a fish/ or/ something about/ giving birth/ to a life/ that you watch/ struggle/ root/ bloom/ bear fruit/ wither/ and die.
The way Choi explores the breach in communication between father and son is both honest and real. No sugar-coating, no sentimentality, no overly poeticized language. Instead Choi’s style throughout is Bukowskian in clarity, accessibility, and at times even grittiness, but it is also innately lyrical and conscious of the qualities of breath and sound.
Nowhere else is this more true than in the final section speak to god in accents, which consists of one long poem (70 pages) that bears the collection’s title the flood. Here Choi is at his best and though he retains his accessible voice the work becomes extremely imaginative and even surreal, written with an intensity of emotion and honesty exemplarily of a writer who has found his stride and is not afraid to tell everything.
Even though Choi tells us “only cowards can write this poetry,/ terrified that nothing/ will remain of us.” In his case at least, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

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