by Olivia Van Wey
Poet Jae Choi is a master of positioning words to the tempo and vibe of her pieces as she admits during her lecture, “I like sound obviously.” Behind her playful, courteous nature is a methodical mind that considers the power of language as she channels it to convey a love of familiar landscape while also pushing her reader to join her in jumping off the cliff of comfortable terrain. This comes as no surprise given that Choi admits to students that she was born in Korea and has since continued to move across the southern US before making it out to the west coast.
Her love of the land however, transcends a mere keepsake of adventures experienced and sense of place conquered. Space to her is the intersection of the exterior with the interior; the meeting point in which the position the speaker occupies or performs an activity is met with full force from the emotion that is felt inside. In her piece, “Like Lilac” the lines, “the person I am in full conflict/ with the person i’ve established/ myself to be historically” display an unnerving confrontation of self and questioning what makes up one’s identity. During Choi’s reading of poems like this, the duality she sets up of location/action and emotional tenderness kept the audience of 18 through 22-year-olds waiting for her “next.” The next word, the next thought, to guarantee that the journey through the poem was worth it; and like their currently changing lives, a happy ending awaited them. Choi makes no promises as she, like the rider in her poem, “The Repositioned Rider,” does not end. Instead, “she set all the clocks back to midnight took two aspirin and didn’t stop.”
Audience response following Choi’s reading was immediate with students asking questions trying to understand where she gets this energy and how she maintains this quest to capture who she is and what she does not know. Finally the inevitable question came in which Jae Choi was asked when she decided she wanted to write poetry. Her joking response: “I still haven’t decided.” It is there that Jae Choi’s audience is made aware that the past is a landscape she carries with her and the future she is searching for is unknown. She has made peace with this fact and allows her many readers both locally met and distantly discovered to interpret the journey she has been on and continues to pursue. For now we can use her method on writing as she states, “you never know where this is going to go. Just know it can go somewhere later,” as an inspiration to keep writing and a motive to keep going no matter where we are in our college careers. Because, really? You never know.