A year ago, during the one of the runs of the award-winning play Kim’s Convenience, I had the chance to talk to Ins Choi about one of his other works: Subway Stations of the Cross.
Subway Stations of the Cross has its roots in a conversation Ins had with a homeless man in a park in downtown Toronto. Puzzled by what seemed to be ramblings at the time, Ins eventually found himself intrigued by what was said and began writing poems and songs based on it. By 2009 he began performing a song or poem in church services during Lent, a project that ultimately grew into a 20-minute performance.
“Over the years it started to grow and grow and now it at about an hour long,” said Ins in the interview.
Now, this work of the stage has been transformed into a work of the written page with the House of Anansi Press publication of Ins’ spoken-word poems and songs, beautifully illustrated by artist Guno Park.
The book opens with an illustration of Ins in character as the play’s nameless vagabond who is both beggar and seer. The poem “Repent” sets the tone for the book with lines that seamlessly meld social comment, humour and theology:
“Compare/Laissez-faire/Up in the air/On a whim and a prayer/Neither here nor there/Neither hide nor hair/Multi-million dollar home five car garage private jet plane mega-billionaire/MDiv PhD summa cum laud professor director member fellow published text book nicky picky air tight I’m right doctrinaire ye the way of the Lord.”
My personal favorites are “Bread” and “Wine” (two poems that look, separately, at the elements of the Last Supper), “Birkenstock Jesus” (which asks “If Jesus came to visit us today/How would he react to the church?”) and “A Field” (the parable of the hidden treasure from Matthew 13). But I also find a new “favourite” every time I read through the book again.
The beauty of Ins’ words is matched by Guno Park’s wonderful illustrations. “Guno and I grew up in the same church in Toronto, Toronto Korean Bethel Church,” writes Ins in the Author’s Note. “For an immigrant Korean church, or any church for that matter, it had an unusually disproportionate amount of artists.” In the same note, Ins says Guno’s drawings were “the perfect visual companion to my poems and songs.”
And they are. The publisher has formatted the book so that Guno’s pen and ink subway scenes can fold out in a panorama of human drama. Or as Ins writes: “like lost travellers on a holy pilgrimage who, after many years, forgot where they were going and why.”
While Subway Stations of the Cross can be a quick read, its complexities will draw the readers back to it time and time again for new insights into human and divine natures. It’s going to be in my re-read pile for a long time.
For the complete interview with Ins Choi, which looks at Kim’s Convenience and Subway Stations of the Cross go to: http://selawministries.ca/content/arts-connection-monday-april-7-2014-ins-choi-kims-convenience-and-subway-stations-cross