A rich and paradoxical ecology in itself, Don Mee Choi’s third collection, DMZ Colony imagines the DMZ as an abundant poetic and intertextual landscape, and an axis in relation to which she carries out her trademark translational, transnational, and transliteral experiments ... comprises an imaginative and highly multimedia mode of accessing a space where human perspective is forbidden. In reality a restricted, literally marginal entity, the DMZ, in Choi’s hands, is like an accordion, expansive and multidimensional, even planetary in scale ... Such interstellar leaps can be dizzying, but for Choi, it’s precisely through contiguous transit and intertextual relations that meaning finds its afterlives ... The translational disparities, to which only a bilingual reader is privy, make up an invisible poem between the English and Korean, a kind of inter/meta/textual zone. Only in her closing notes does Choi reveal that she penned the letters herself, retroactively imposing yet another dimension, the realm of fiction, onto the 'critically-fabulated' archival documents (to borrow the theory of scholar Saidiya Hartman) ... as much an entity as it is a place, a meta-discursive domain wherein its throng of unlikely inhabitants—endangered birds, political prisoners, orphans, refugees, all colonized subjects and outcasts of empire—are alternately declared and concealed. Collectively, they indeed amount to a colony of sorts, one that thrives off its own premise. It is the necessarily speculative nature of the DMZ, which bars all forms of material access, that provides the opportunity and very basis for Choi’s translational mode. That mode, in turn, gives voice, and makes real imagined worlds.
[Choi's] her poetic work lies not in just presenting silenced voices, but reworking and amplifying them, which intensifies the absurdity of their suffering ... hinges on an active participation of the reader, who must pick up the fragments left after the partition of Korea and make meaning out of it ... Choi’s fictionalized accounts prove more intimate than if she had gone back in time and interviewed the children herself ... She does not pretend to own these voices, does not feign a Whitmanian, 'I contain multitudes,' but instead lets language breathe and cohere on its own ... wrestles with being a witness to oppression while not experiencing it directly, with creating art while borrowing the art of others. There is a hopefulness to her poetry, one that includes the possibility of transcendence and flight, but it is grounded in a deeply macabre reality ... Choi’s integration of her father’s photographs makes her 'postmemory han' legible and permanent. The photos sustain a cohesion to Choi’s familial memory while highlighting the fact that her family had been separated across the world due to her father’s exposure of government atrocities. The photos reverberate off each other, linking adolescent Choi with mass movements, her poetic eye with the photographic eye, visualizing the 'collective consciousness' her language arises from. The ending words of DMZ Colony utilize a first-person plural, both bringing power to collective language and recognizing its limitations as a form of resistance:
... intimidatingly messy at a glance, containing prose blocks, verse, something like a short absurdist play, sketches, collaged and annotated photos, images of handwritten Korean characters on ruled paper. The opening passages are written in a flat, approachable dispatch style ... I like books that feel notebooky, as if I were transgressing the author’s private property ... The horror in Ahn’s story is so compressed it’s almost darkly funny ... excess as a corrective.
... a demonstration of a poetry of knowing – all the more so for the ways in which it elides the category of poetry altogether, recognizing that no one genre can achieve Choi’s desired effect. But it is also a book that is brutally honest about what cannot be known, about the limits of the languages, about the need for new ones.
Choi translates several testimonies by Ahn. These translations are very jarring for a bilingual reader of Korean and English. On the one hand, the translations capture perfectly how the old man must have spoken in Korean; on the other hand, the poetic intention of the translator is palpable ... As a translator, Choi embodies the Benjaminian ideal: to perform a creative act whose aim is to discover what was already there, hidden. The question becomes not about whether the beauty was found or imposed, but rather about who is listening and who is writing.
The stunning third collection from Choi is a feat of docupoetics, collage, and translation that bears witness to unheard voices from the Korean War and the Park Chung Hee military dictatorship ... Choi creates a logic and language that carves a space for counternarrative, and that questions what it means to be human in the face of ongoing wars ... Virtuosic in its range and empathy, this is a book that shifts the reader’s understanding of historical narrative from one of war to one of flight.