In Interrogation Room, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs's second collection, poems that restore redacted speech and traverse forbidden borders suture together divided bodies, geographies, and kinships to confront the unending Korean War's legacies of forced distances and militarized silences. Kwon Dobbs powerfully entwines uneasy, tentative reconciliations among South Korea's relatives in the North, her birth family in the South, and the transnational diaspora to which she belongs to resist the war's deprivations of language and imagination.
CONTENTS I confess I traveled | 8 Here are notes rolled into plugs | 9 Insert children into crates | 10 Take young men as coal miners | 11 The Origins Inside Kim Dae Shik | 12 A Forest in Jeju, Southern Korea | 14 Northern Korea Postcards | 16 Reading Keith Wilson’s “The Girl” | 22 Birthfather | 24 This— | 25 /// Notes from a Missing Person | 30 /// Parasitic Twin | 45 반 갑 습 니 다 | 51 /// White Horse | 55 A House in Nicosia | 56 A Small Guest | 58 Moon Jar | 60 Fox | 61 Birdsong for Ten Thousand Years | 62 Beetle | 63 Yi Sang’s Room | 65 /// Birthmother | 69 Note Left at a U.S. Camptown Brothel for My Missing Imo | 71 Orphan Rescue | 72 Red Baiting | 73 How to Eat Your Love | 74 Korean Heritage House | 80 The Telling | 83 /// Acknowledgements | 85 Notes | 87
“How to connect to the past, imagined, researched, and lived? This is the question that Jennifer Kwon Dobbs asks in her haunting new book, Interrogation Room. And the answers she offers, in both poetry and prose, in lyrical meditations and stories and erasures, build a bridge to the lost world of her Korean ancestors, where families feed on absence, dreaming of reunification. Her search for her birth mother thus becomes a lament for the lost souls of the divided Korean Peninsula, reminding readers that wherever we come from each of us "dwells at the border,/ adopted by all four directions" of the wind. This is our shared homeland.”
--Christopher Merrill, author of Necessities
‘Readers of THE INTERROGATION ROOM by Jennifer Kwon Dobbs quickly realize that the "room" of the book's title is not a place of questioning-by-force. Rather we see that these poems are a profound "cordon sanitaire" space in the consciousness of a poet who is "interrogating" her own lost history, her stolen past, most dramatically enacted in her devoted search for her Korean birth mother. The unrestrained human imagination has no DMZ's, no "North/South" borders: in this spirit Jennifer Kwon Dobbs crosses hidden frontiers of the self as she overcomes restricted travel. restricted speech, in a divided country. Her un-redacted revelations lead to extraordinary discoveries - epitomized by these words of direct address to her mother:
"You definitely were, because you gave me life, yet you lie beyond narration." The mysteries of the past may be "beyond narration" yet they are not beyond this poet's powerful precise and intuitive revelations: annunciatiory "answers" to unanswerable questions of the heart.”
“Jennifer Kwon Dobbs writes visceral and intelligent poems about an unending war and its many consequences, for Koreans and Americans, for women and children, for orphans and adoptees. Her work is a painful, eloquent reminder about how dividing a country also divides families and selves.”
—Viet Thanh Nguyen