Saturday, September 23, 2017



COMORBID by Ginger Ko
(Lark Books & Writing Studio, Oakland, 2016)

Ginger Ko’s COMORBID is, among my recent reads, one of the more intelligent—thus persuasive—approaches to empathy-generation. The resulting empathy makes the reader care about the underlying messages in the poems.

“Comorbid” is defined by MW to be “existing simultaneously with and usually independent of another medical condition.” Thus, the word has to do with health—in Ko’s collection, psychological and not just physical health. And the word also relates to co-existing conditions.  Such translates to poems where, through the use of parenthetical phrases, different ideas or narratives co-exist. Here’s a short example:

What’s interesting then is to look at the underlying (perhaps primary?) message(s) in the poems by ignoring the parentheticals.  In “Feminism:,” for instance, the message is

I love men.
I do not hate men.
I think men are worthy
of being loved.

Going through some other poems, I came up with different themes from what are posited in the poems’ titles.  For examples, here’s a comparison of the poem-titles and what I gleaned from the non-parenthetical lines:

“Another:”: society (state of society)

“Affairs:”: time and cliché

“Consciousness:”: lack of self-awareness

“Cycles:”: the difficulty of being woman

“Representation:”: misrepresentation

“Dues:”: distasteful 

Other readers can interpret differently from my read. But just looking at what/how I interpreted exemplifies how Ko interrogates language, how we communicate, and (perhaps most importantly) how we create “Others.” Her interrogation is magnified by the use of colons at the end of each word-title, as if the poem-text is definition and seemingly to stress the onset of a (defining) text. Yet the text--with its parentheticals--is full of openings into other significances, questionings, and other subtleties.

Some poems are more complicated in structure than others with the use of not just parentheticals but double-parentheticals.  But there also is the occasional poem when not having to track the (double-)parenthetical(s) makes the poem more powerful, e.g. “Girlhood” which can be edited at one look.

With one sighting, the poem’s message can be distilled to its message: a repeated and emphasized

“of course you do”

And subsequently


Girlhood, indeed. If only subsequent living doesn't diminish the automatic or natural sense of capability that girls—or all children (though the use of "girl" presents its own significance)—don't yet know to edit. That’s part of the power of this collection—that it doesn’t rest on the laurels of technique but uses technique to emphasize the messaging of its messages.

There also are some interestingly compelling juxtapositions—rather, not juxtapositions but parallel existences. For example, from “Cycles” we have the phrase “I’m a woman” immediately followed by the parenthetical “(Not white)”. I find the combination arresting and historical—e.g. in the implied alliance of the marginalized that encompasses race and gender.

Last but not least, Ko shows how the parenthetical becomes a way to reveal something about which its persona may be nervous or shy or otherwise reluctant to admit—it’s this psychology of the parenthetical that probably can generate more and longer bodies of work than this slim, though, powerful chapbook. How can the reader not be moved, for example, at the poem “Subjectivity:” for beginning with

(I want something made

just for me, for me

and my history.)

In COMORBID, Ginger Ko shows she not only just made something for herself but (implies she) is just beginning to create on behalf of a larger world than the personal self.


Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea ResurrectsHer 2017 poetry releases include four books, two booklets and six poetry chaps. Most recently, she released MANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Paloma Press) and Love in a Time of Belligerence (Editions du Cygne/SWAN World). She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere for recent reviews of her work: T.C.. Marshall reviews MANHATTAN for The FilAm Magazine while Joey Madia reviews it for Literary AficionadoHer books have been released in nine countries and cyberspace. More info about her work at

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