I was delighted in reading Tobi-Hope Jieun Park’s poetry chapbook Meraki. Park defines meraki as meaning “to put a piece of yourself into everything you do.” That she has been able to put herself into so many reflective pieces at such a young age is quite an accomplishment.
Park is a three-time Gold Key winner and a National Gold Medalist at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Her poetry has been included in journals such as Chautauqua Journal, SOLA, Common Ground Review, and Cold Mountain Review. At age fourteen, her poem “The World” was included in Rattle’s 2018 Young Poets Anthology. Though I haven’t met Park, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss teen writing with her; she was one of the teen editors for the last teen issue of Inlandia, the online journal of the Inlandia Institute, where I am managing editor. Her understanding of creative writing and of teen goals in producing it was very helpful in bringing the issue together.
Park sees Meraki as an invitation to “step into the Korean-American identity” that “explores themes of food, family, and color through the eyes of a foreigner.” As the reader, I saw much in the progression from her family history to her own individual history. In Park’s poems, we have a child reflecting on the love of a grandmother and grandfather. The child grows into her teen years and an understanding of the value of friendship. Clearly, a friend has been lost (apparently to suicide) and the unanswerable question ‘why’ must be asked over and over. The poems that intervene honor the love of a father and question the color line in America.
Park takes up these important themes using such beautiful and fluid language that she is a joy to read. In “Persimmon Girl,” the narrator watches her ‘magic’ Nana bring “the little knife towards her/. . . like a shiny little tractor on a persimmon hill.” In “paraguayo,” the narrator’s father “squeezes the electricity of [his] native tongue,/presses it into English, and they drink it up like water.”
One of my favorite poems is “the way we fold.” It begins “In a dream, we rest in the woodpeckered hollow/of a white gumtree . . .” The sense of loss soon reveals itself. “Your smile used to be left handed, like a ripple, young and bluey/and drawn from the dark of a desert well.”
With Christina Miles, Park co-wrote “we’re still not over ‘92.” It’s a reflection on color and race in America. I think it would make a good read aloud in an English, history, or creative writing class.
Park’s website includes her Instagram posts, where you can watch her and Christina Miles read “we’re still not over ‘92.” Teachers and librarians can contact her through the website if they wish to have an online discussion between Park and their students about her writing process and how a teen becomes a published author. In my experience, she’s very giving with her time and energy and could enliven a class discussion, particularly as students are largely online this year.
High School Housekeeping: This is a great little chapbook for all high school students as it deals with teen themes and emotions. It’s also a fun little book to have in the library as an encouragement to teens who want creative examples.