Ji Yoon Lee, IMMA (Radioactive Moat Press, 2012; 20 pp.; paper; $5)
The cover of Ji Yoon Lee’s chapbook, IMMA, features a red-hot mushroom cloud blooming in stark contrast to the milky page—a fitting introduction to her compact but bombastic collection of poems. IMMA is slippery, it’s eely, snakelike and slithering as it transitions between different waters. Through the use of slippages of sound, images, and the mess and failures of the human body, these poems seek to understand contradictory worlds and languages by forging connections.
IMMA relies on and values the existence of multiple valences; for example, the title is a play on the English contraction, “Imma,” as in “I’m going to” or “I’m about to.” It is also juxtaposed against the Korean imma, or the contraction of inomah, or “hey, you bastard.” There are layers of play behind the Korean imma, too, as is it can be used with intents of both disrespect and affection.
But all of this prior knowledge is not necessary to understand the bombasity that is IMMA.
Lee’s poems are in conversation with today’s mode of communication, its slangs and electronic mess-age. The first two poems, “To:” and “RE:” adopt e-mail headings to address an off-screen “you.” It is this anaphora that functions throughout the book as its “mode of insistence”:
Give me straight:
Nobody wants to hear your tanglemoan;
Give it to me, Gimmick straight:
Nobody can commiserate your commingledlanguage;
In this excerpt, the speaker asks for an uncomplicated, “straight” language; for anything other than “tanglemoan” and “commingledlanguage.” IMMA ignores this plea and refuses to make it simple and easy, cobbling outside meaning out of what appears as nonsense and invites more complications of the “commingledlanguage.” We are then confronted with more jarring, glassy sound associations: “My frail disposition indicates diminution of nutrition / But the increment ammunition will take care of that.” There is no neatness or resolve for which the speaker in “RE:” pleads.
IMMA also addresses “problems” of the leaky, awkward female body that we didn’t even know existed until told so. Lee likens the idea of going on a diet to declaring war against one’s body in “Imma go on a war or two”:
The subway diet; The atkinson diet; The crohn’s diet; The parkinson diet
w/ my diet coke and tapeworm regimen…
w/ my self-induced vomiting
w/ my self-induced fever
w/ my self-induced grey-hair
w/ my self-induced consumption
The “pleading girls in pleated skirts” and their bodies become war zones when the line between self-discipline and self-harm become muddled with bad advice and self-demolition. By tracing the uses of anaphora and listening to the listing impulse, one can’t help but realize the oppressive, mounting evidence against the female body and the ways it is engaged in battle.
In “IMMA BLOODHOLE MY SINHOLE,” the speaker is hypervigilant against the lies told about the body and takes its agency back with violence:
GO DOWN ON MY BLOODHOLE; THAT’S WHERE THE SHIT GOES DOWN
GO DOWNTOWN GET THE TEST DONE
GO DOWN GET THE SHIT DONE
BLOW THE POPSICLESTAND UP & TASTE THE RAINBOW
With unapologetic pursuit of pleasure paired with a wink and a nod to the empowering gesture of a visit to the women’s clinic, the poem insists that change cannot occur unless some “SHIT GOES DOWN.”
IMMA calls for more than a Velvet Revolution; it is gurgling, ticking bombasity.