Dissonance(s): Kenji K. Liu’s Craters - A Field Guide

Craters — A Field Guide by Kenji C. Liu, Goodmorning Menagerie, 2017. 28 pp, poetry

Self-colonizing as a survival mechanism comes at a terrible price that not everyone is willing to admit to or even acknowledge, duplicating the same patterns in sequences that will always be instrumentalized to the same end: the erasure of the colonized, be it by an empire or by herself. Published by the same press that released another little gem of a chapbook, namely Automanias by Sara Tuss Efrik, Kenji K. Liu’s Craters — A Field Guide is a striking, visceral attempt at recording how institutional repression leaves its invisible imprints on one’s body, only for them to be revealed in various forms of bodily resistance to colonial violence.

It’s a hybrid text that mingles electronic time displays, I-Ching divinations and figures with Japanese transliterations, updated versions of oneself trying to camouflage in natural settings that defy the obscene power displays of the conqueror with graphic representations of the colonizer and its empire (“the republic walks with my legs now”).

What animal and where. Has an origin
story. A flag, a postage stamp.
The history of teeth.
What country doesn't have teeth?
This is the animal age. We scab each other with
knowledge. No nature, only information and formations.
A bomb, an animal. Wings in inappropriate places,
lungs like islands. Luminescent iris of the sea.

Craters overpours with animal (including Godzilla), vegetable, and minerals but of an unfamiliar nature that’s already got radiated and changed its patterns and behaviors — it’s an adaptation that borders monstrosity, speaking a contorted but high register language that tries to resist colonial rules while also doing its best to get rid of any scabs left by them. To navigate the fields of oblivion haunted by the specters of colonialism and patrolled by cisgender white male bodies doing the work of prophetic patriarchy, the non-conforming has to become unrecognizable, unnatural, a radioactive monstrosity opting out of competition and refusing cooperation, production modes and, ultimately, assimilation.

Impressive, the enemy.
It smells like reason.
Though fruitful in the southwest
we bequeath mistakes to each other.
We suffer from
the well-mannered totality of bureaucracy.
It is advantageous to recover
a wide-tongued thirst
and lick the cocoon
clean

By recalling the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and its disastrous effects (including the contamination of bodies and soil) that are still being felt today and the current obsession with the future, the text also points at the ruthless economy that will most likely rule even the end of the world as we know it but without becoming one of the apocalyptic scenarios that seem so fashionable nowadays. Even if there seems to be no foreseeable end to bureaucracy as even death has to be categorized and filed and necropolitics gets implemented at a dazzling rate, the languages and means that are deployed to naturalize hierarchies at the expense of erasing everything else must still be interrogated and exposed while prepackaged “knowledge” should suffer the same faith.

Rejecting pity and the culture of white supremacy and entitlement, Kenji C. Liu’s Craters — A Field Guide advances new modes of bearing and communicating one’s fractured self while moving through the historical and contemporary terrains of colonialism, patriarchy, and capitalism.

I recently posed three questions to an AI learning bot whose avatar is
William Shakespeare. This is the conversation:
K. How do we destroy racism?
W. By becoming corrupt ourselves and infecting and changing
the corruption.
K. How do we destroy patriarchy?
W. I know not, but please inform me at which hour thee
find out?
K. How do we destroy capitalism?
W. So what dost thou ponder the philosophy of us two
kissing together?

Kenji C. Liu is author of Map of an Onion, national winner of the 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize. His poetry is in numerous journals, including American Poetry Review, Action Yes!, and Split This Rock’s poem of the week series, as well as several anthologies and a chapbook, You Left Without Your Shoes.

Goodmorning Menagerie is a chapbook press committed to publishing bilingual, translated editions of contemporary voices under-represented in English.