Don Mee Choi and the Adverbs of War

‘Hardly War‘ is a linguistic battlefield.

Don Mee Choi. Courtesy of the artist

The title of Seattle poet Don Mee Choi’s second book, Hardly War, is a curious combination of words that seems innocuous enough if you’re, say, skimming spines on a bookshelf. But if you give it two seconds’ thought, those two words obviously belong nowhere near each other. War is a binary; you’re either at war or you’re not. There are no small wars, or halfway wars, or hardly wars. If you go to war and a bullet splinters your skull, there is never a moment when you are semi-dead. The lights are on or off; some words have no dimmer switch.

Constructed from poems, chunks of prose, sheet music, photographs, collage, and even the script for an (incredibly short) opera, Hardly War is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. As excellent as Choi’s debut poetry collection The Morning News Is Exciting was, Hardly War has taken an evolutionary leap of a generation or six beyond its predecessor. Choi assembled the book around documents from her father’s career as a photographer in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Stitched together like this, it could be shuttled from one bookstore section to the next, never quite finding its home: biography, anthropology, theater, history, poetry. … Read the rest of this review at The Seattle Review of Books here, or in the latest print issue of Seattle Weekly.

Don Mee Choi will be signing Hardly War at Open Books, 2414 N. 45th St., 633-0811, All ages. 4:30 p.m. Sat., March 12.

Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at

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