Transmitting the Vertical Immensity of Coniferous Light

On March 23rd, I read a new work of poetry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in response to the exhibition “Diamond Mountains: Travel and Nostalgia in Korean Art,” which features “artwork from the 18th century to the present inspired by what may be the most famous and emotionally resonant site on the Korean peninsula.”

Thanks to Paolo Javier, Program Director at Poets House, for inviting me to participate in this event and for organizing and to Ann Meisinger, Assistant Educator in Public Programs and Creative Practice at The Met, for hosting me.

For this reading, I wrote a mid-length poem called “Transmitting the Vertical Immensity of Coniferous Light,” which, in the spirit of remixing and collage, only uses words from the exhibition catalogue, Soyoung Lee’s Diamond Mountains: Travel and Nostalgia in Korean Art (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018). The poem is in six parts and mimics the structure of the catalogue; below is the last section named after Ahn Daehoe’s concluding essay.


(In Praise of the Diamond Mountains: Literary Journeys)

         The sages are
                  awakening in the evening light.
      Through       the gravitational hinterland ,
         they are riding their donkeys
           backwards .
Passing the twelve thousand peaks
                    of the Diamond Mountains ,
    they are regretting
     that the modern-day bureaucrats of resentment
had purified literature
       when they had , in fact,    desired to make it
       both explicitly intensified      and more muddy.
One of them said  ,
          “   a poem is
an itinerant singer
            in wanderer’s clothes, whose
          most direct route
            to the glittering forge
is through a kind of
     open-air bazaar in which crowds of tourists, provincial
day laborers, and Buddhist devotees
                  are burning nineteenth-century encyclopedias.
Poems digest other poems as
   proof of the meaning      of the words
         realize and

       Another grumbled to the first,
           “Once I likened a poem
to a compendium
          of life’s unfathomable entourages.
  Now,     after I have glanced back at Mount Geumgang
     and glimpsed the otherworldly lyrics
           accumulating in the incense,
everything is doubt.

         Literature is what you have to lug around
         in one’s emotional         pavilion of insignificance. ”

The last said,
            “in spiritual terms,
      I dare not write a poem  , but returning
        to the secular world, I have
already written it.
             With each step, I bid farewell
     to the cold, spindly-boned footnotes
        without having seen the mountains’ common texts.
               Esteemed maestros,
     poetry     is
         a continuous eclipse;
              if you wrote a poem  roughly ,
or even systematically,
       it would have been
              the immediate,
                    incompatible afterlife of prose. ”

~ by Michael Leong on March 31, 2018.

One Response to “Transmitting the Vertical Immensity of Coniferous Light”

  1. […] You can find another section from “Transmitting the Vertical Immensity of Coniferous Light” here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: