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The Six Tones of Water is an experimental, collaborative poetry manuscript co-written in real time in one document by Vi Khi Nao and Sun Yung Shin. It began with the idea to use Vietnamese and Korean as a kind of lattice for textual intercalation, by which both writers would be free to zipper merge into the other’s lines and stanzas, often making the distinction of authorship invisible, erased, and/or submerged into a dual/collective voice of Asian female diasporic tri-lingual speculation. Word play, translations, and other chimerical births and rebirths of language ride the waves of spontaneous, even divinatory writing, as the borders and blurriness of consciousness make marks on the page. Language’s opacities and transparencies and un-translatabilities create a sort of stickiness, in the throat, the mind, the body, the text. A text, a book is a kind of pavilion, a shelter with openings on four sides to allow the wind to speak through the bodies and spaces under that curved and tiled roof, Light moves across its structure and shadow follows, pretending to be solid and permanent in the moment. Words are like this, too, here. Words are also like water, like our bodies which are mostly water, the bodies of contiguous oceanic Ur-body. Sounds move through air like heat moves through water. With this experiment, we wanted to let the languages lead us, to rise like thoughts in the meditating mind. A group meditation in the sitting hall. 


Also as illness and death made themselves known in the lives of the writers during the writing of these pages, the transparency and impermanency of everything colors the images with the breath of time, and the brevity of intelligibility. Language and mutual understanding is made of and rent in pieces by asymmetries, gaps, noise, silence, lacunae, and also wonder, sounds, tones, violence, forgetting, memory, and beauty. 


Here, English, a colonial language, is a medium, a plasma, a fourth state of matter, perhaps. On the page, if not in socio-politics, life spans, and uneven distributions of suffering, there is a kind of restive equality. 

Cover design by David Wojciechowski

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