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Catching Up with Tobi-Hope Jieun Park: Meraki

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

One of the great pleasures of working on Chautauqua is the opportunity we have to work with young writers. Our “Young Voices” section features work by poets, fiction writers, and essayists aged 12 to 18. Tobi-Hope Jieun Park is one such writer. Her poem, “Star Child,” appeared in Chautauqua: Invention and Discovery (2014). She has continued with her work with great success. Her collection Meraki was published by Atmosphere Press in 2020.

Her title pulls on a modern Greek word that means “to leave a bit of yourself in your work.” Park has certainly lived into this notion in her collection.

In her work, she invites readers into her world, her lived experience, her family history, her passions. Park’s poems are leaping and lyrical and thought-provoking. In the opening poem, “Persimmon Girl” we meet Nana.

Whenever Nana cuts gam

she brings

the little knife towards her

over it like a shiny little tractor on a persimmon hill

and whenever she gives a piece to me

my mouth is always stick

but her hands are always dry

Family is a thread in this collection. Complicated and loving and rich in its history. Readers enter the world of Korean-American identity and become richer for it.

The complications of life extend to personal history. From friendships to school experiences, the rich imagery and tight use of language allow the reader fresh and searing insights. In “we’re still not over ’92,” Park writes:

I ask my teacher,

“Did anything happen in Korea?”

and she tells me,

“Probably, but it’s not important.”

Korea only existed on pantry shelves and

between my Nana’s teeth,

amongst scorched grains of rice in

tupperwares of nooroongi,

We never saw Korea in the classroom.

This close look at life continues in a short prose poem, “The Neighborhood” where readers meet nine neighbors including a girl who “looks sickly in lace” and “a boy who is less of a boy and more of a man, but neither of the two.” For me, this piece compels me to think about the houses on the streets where I live or have lived and to catalog the people there and to notice how our shared humanity brings us closer.

The penultimate stanza in her collection asks this question: “Are you still writing?/ Are you happy?/ Have you found peace?” I feel certain that Tobi-Hope Jieun Park is still writing, is still finding the way to happiness and peace through introspection and creativity.

You can find her book in bookstores and online. May you too be caught up in the wonder of Meraki.

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