With her 2003 collection Notes from the Divided Country, Suji ("Sue") Kwock Kim became the first Asian American to win the Walt Whitman Award of the American Academy of Poets. In this volume, Kim explores themes of family, nation (the title refers to Korea), isolation, community, emotion, and politics. While her poetic voice is influenced by her experience as an Asian American woman, she strives to write about universal human truths. She draws those truths from the strangled and war-torn history of her family and their native Korea. To add authenticity to her telling of history, she takes on the voices of her parents and ancestors. Kim's poems describe the horrors of war, the struggle to overcome extreme circumstances, and the pain of loss.
One of the poems in Notes from the Divided Country is "Monologue for an Onion." In this poem, an onion expresses its thoughts and feelings while a person goes about cutting it up. In the hands of other poets, this premise would be a setup for a humorous poem; in Kim's hands, it is serious and even disturbing. Exploring themes of appearance, essence, truth, and seeking, Kim finds an unlikely speaker in an onion. Because of this poem's accessibility and its unusual subject matter, it is appealing to students who are new to poetry. More advanced students will be rewarded by a close study of the poem that reveals its depth of style and content.