Poetry is more important than History Before the Razor of "If I Feel Physically As If The Top of My Head Were Taken Off"

Click here to read “‘If I Feel Physically As If The Top of My Head Were Taken Off” by Ed Bok Lee.

This piece is part of a prose poem series I’ve been working on and off on for years about moments in Korean history, in this case, the Japanese colonial period. I’m interested in several aspects of that period, maybe first and foremost how it shaped the psychology of my father, who was born in and lived through the militarized Japanese occupation (1910 – 1945) of his homeland, at a time when students were forbidden to speak their native tongue, and were even assigned colonizers’ names. I’m especially interested in my parent’s personal histories now that I’ve recently become a father. Humans are so deeply shaped inside and out by the forces of history that created us. My mother’s history, though she is also ethnically Korean, is very different: she was born in China, where her family lived until they were forced to flee as refugees first during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 1945), then once again during the Pacific War (1941 – 1945). Eventually, they re-settled a third time in what is now known as North Korea, but then yet again were uprooted as refugees during the Korean War (1950 – 1953), fleeing this time to the newly created (and soon to be invaded and contested over) South Korea. . . only to arrive a decade after the war in America. Most if not all family and political histories are complex and convoluted, or have been elided, often banally. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I think this has something important to do with why Aristotle offered that, in the final analysis, Poetry is more important than History. I suspect this is because everything else is something still not yet accrued to even the semblance of a poem—an authentic re-making—and so lags in a far away land of arbitrary and extensive decorations of and for the dead. In this piece, dedicated to our daughter, I’m also interested in the role that poetry and poets (as key purveyors of language and thought) play in political resistance movements, sometimes in the smallest of ways. How the most benign, even forgettable poem recited by, say, a bespectacled math teacher, can become a life-and-death act of insurrection that lingers through generations. How poetry can be a window to see both beyond and into the self, during the darkest periods of a nation, a civilization, or a person’s life.

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