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Litscope: Gemini & ‘Exit Thru the Afro’ and ‘Kim Jiyoung Born 1982’

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BmoreArt’s Picks: June 9-15

With the transition of spring into summer, and the gradual lifting of stay-at-home orders, we enter into airy Gemini season. Ruled by the planet Mercury, this sign is symbolically represented by Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Leda. Geminis are chatty, witty, and often the life of a party. They love to collect and consider information, which leads some to think they are indecisive. However, that quest for intellect also makes this sign a jack of all trades. Give them a call if you want to know about various types of clouds or what the independent party candidates can add to an upcoming election—they’ll have answers for both. In their negative expression, Geminis can be characterized as childlike, non-committal, and restless. Speaking of restless, that’s how I felt attempting to identify this month’s book selections before landing on two books that highlight gender inequity and identity, intersecting in imaginative and realistic and always-necessary ways. 

First off is Baltimore-based Jalynn Harris’s debut poetry collection, Exit Thru the Afro. Published in April by the writer’s own independent SoftSavagePress, this chapbook holds poems about primarily queer African American figures from history, literature, music, film, and elsewhere. Exit carves out room for Black, queer stories of the near and distant past, curating them under section titles such as “Modern Art” and “Sculpture Garden,” and making the reader feel as if they’re on a lively exploration of a museum. With the upbeat spirit of Gemini, Exit folds in personal and intimate narratives among investigations of important yet oft-forgotten figures, such as Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel, ex-Surgeon General Joyceleyn Elders (forced to resign in 1994 for her pro-masturbation stance), comedian Moms Mabley, and early 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley, just to name a few. 

One of the many standouts is the vivid “Wildflower,” dedicated to Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender activist and central figure in the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Readers can tell Harris is an expert at working metaphor when she writes about Johnson: “she gives good face and doesn’t intend/ to stay long, so make sure you save the seeds.” This line alludes all at once to Johnson’s early death at age 47, her ability to “serve” face, and her critical role advocating for gay rights. In order to fully satisfy Gemini curiosity, Harris includes a “Museum Map” at the end of Exit (commonly known as a glossary), to ensure readers are properly acquainted with all these resonant icons. This playful and informative queer feminist read is an ideal way to kick off Pride month.

At a time when America is so divided, Kim Jiyoung expands our perception of what plagues women everywhere. 

My second pick for this month is Kim Jiyoung Born 1982, a novel written by Cho Nam-Joo and translated by Jamie Chang. Originally published in Korea in 2016, Kim Jiyoung was finally brought to the US this April, after becoming the first Korean book to sell over 1 million copies and helping spark the 2018 South Korean feminist protests. Centering on 33-year-old Kim Jiyoung, the novel illustrates all the ways that gender discrimination has affected this woman’s life, from childhood into adulthood. The protagonist, who suffers from postpartum malaise and dissociative episodes, recounts her life to her psychiatrist in a no-frills, third-person point of view. But the story offers a riveting, dual split between personal narrative and hard-hitting statistics about gender inequality. 

Provoking that Gemini restlessness, Cho includes many details that deepen readers’ understanding of gender discrimination in Korea, like how “Abortion due to medical problems had been legal for ten years at that point [the mid-1980s], and checking the sex of the fetus and aborting females was common practice as if ‘daughter’ was a medical problem.” Cho continues to examine how oppression starts early for female children by describing how, as a young child, Jiyoung and her sister shared everything, including food, clothes, and even blankets. Meanwhile, their brother never shared and got the best of everything. Jiyoung’s response? “There were times when she had an inkling of a situation not being fair, but she was accustomed to rationalizing things by telling herself that she was being a generous older sibling.” Rationalizing away discrimination isn’t isolated to a singular experience, and Jiyoung’s personal struggles challenge readers to see how women across the world struggle with similarly restrictive systems. Now, at a time when America is so divided, Kim Jiyoung expands our perception of what plagues women everywhere. 

When shuffling my Rider Waite deck this month, both the Knight of Swords and the King of Swords came out together. I wasn’t surprised that two cards emerged at the same time, given the season. The suit of swords usually references words or ideas and typically represents the Zodiac’s air signs. When the Knight of Swords emerges, we tend to think of a swift notion charging in. The white horse depicted here generally symbolizes purity. However, the King of Swords sits on this throne with absolute authority. King of Swords seems to represent a stoic current leader; meanwhile, the Knight of Swords represents a moving, passionate leader of visions. I won’t speculate on who these two leaders might be, but what’s important here is to examine these messengers and the validity of their words and actions. 

With two astrological eclipses happening in June (last weekend, on the 5th and again on the 21st), and one in July (on the 5th again), it’s important to examine what information precipitates afterwards. Eclipses are heavy emotional times for everyone, but they always bring news. So watch who shows up as the King and who shows up as the Knight. Be careful of those who use their words like a prison, as opposed to a pathway to justice. 

 

Header image, covers for Exit Thru the Afro and Kim Jiyoung Born 1982, Rider Waite tarot cards, Gemini the Twins from Guido Bonatti Liber Astronomiae

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