All take and no give.

I did it again, didn't I? I apologize. But I wasn't kidding when I said that things for me here are really veering off in another direction.

One big thing that's going on right now is that I'm beginning to try to educate myself about Korean literature in general, and Korean poetry in particular. Do you know how unbelievably stupid it is trying to get your hands on Korean poetry books in English in Korea? Really unbelievably stupid.

General kinds of anthologies or the really basic big names are easy enough. But. When you're ready to dig into American poetry, you don't want to just read Leaves of Grass, do you? Leaves of Grass is fucking incredible and American and epitomizing and complicated and all that junk. But I can't just read Leaves of Grass and know American poetry. You can't even just read Leaves of Grass and know Whitman.

The issue, I think, is that I generally learn about poets based on their oeuvre. When I start reading a new poet, it consumes two or three months of my focus. I don't just read one book. I read every fucking book. I want to see the whole story, from beginning to end. I want to read the biography. I want to read the philosophy. I want to read the essays and the personal letters. I want to see who their contemporaries were, and read their shit. I want to see who their mentors and their proteges were, and read that shit. I've been trained to think of poetry as occurring in schools. I have this obsessive compulsive need to look at the entire school, before I can say I understand the poet.

Try doing that in English in Korea. If you can get your hands on two books in translation by the same poet, you should count yourself lucky. Finding a comprehensive biography written in English? A fucking unicorn.

I'm pissed off about it, but also excited. I'd be more excited if I were fluent in Korean. Or even conversational in Korean. Right now, excited is kind of looking more like frustrated. But big tasks are always frustrating in the beginning. That's what makes them exciting.

Yeah. I know you don't give a shit. I've avoided talking about poetry in this blog for three years because I know nobody gives a shit. But if you want an update, right now, this is what it's going to look like.

What are you expecting, right now? Some big claim about how I'm going to become fluent in Korean and then single-handedly bring Korean poetry to the English speaking world? Fuck off. You should know better than that. Just becoming fluent in Korean is enough of a decade-long task for me at the moment. But there's a lot of shit to be done in the area, isn't there?

This is the part where readers I didn't even know I had come out of the woodwork and solve all my problems for me by pointing out all the places where I can easily find books and biographies in English by/about Korean poets. That's the real point of making this post. Ready, set, go.


쏘냐 said...

Um okay I know I'm bothering you a ton about this already (hah) but since I'm doing the same thing with translated books, I would recommend:

-Bandi & Luni's and Kyobo. I am not kidding. Find the second "Books about Korea" section in either store, which is usually hidden. They have a few university-published series that go into detail on the backgrounds of different kinds of artists and cultural people. I think they'll have poets too.

-Sources of Korean Tradition. I used the Japanese & Chinese books in this series during school and they are boring as shit if you don't have the primary sources to go along with them, but if you *do* have those sources, they are awesome. You would have to choose poets based on whatever is in those books, though. Which is why Bandi's and Kyobo are good, cause they let you read books in the store for free.

-The YP Books at 고속 Terminal. Actually don't go there because I've been slowly clearing out their entire stock. No really though, they have a ton of stuff.

I'm also heading to Seoul Selection across from Gyeongbokgung soon because I heard it's cool.

The Korean said...

I'm gonna spoil you with this one:


And here is my favorite modern Korean poem:

창(窓)을 내겠소.

밭이 한참갈이
괭이로 파고
호미론 김을 매지요.

구름이 꼬인다
갈 리 있소.

새 노래는 공으로 들으랴오.

강냉이가 익걸랑
함께 와 자셔도 좋소

왜 사냐건

-"남으로 창을 내겠소", 김상용 (1934)

Anonymous said...

http://www.ktlit.com/ you might want to follow this site if you don't already :) If i hear of anything I'll be sure to let you know.

I'm no Picasso said...

Sonia -- The list you sent me was a huge helping step in the right direction. There is a lot of information there that would help me get my hands on the books if I really wanted to, such as the publishers that print them, but I'm basically trying to avoid having to order a load of books from the US and have them shipped over. Because books are heavy.

The trouble with B&L and Kyobo is definitely figuring out where the fuck I'm meant to even be looking for something. Also, the stock NEVER CHANGES. Also, men men men men men men and more men. You know there were like two women on that whole huge list that you sent me? Not a Korea-specific problem, that, obiously. But fuck sake.

I had forgotten about YP at Gosok. I found that one completely by accident one day and was like, what? Why are there so many fucking English books here and no one ever mentioned it? That's where I found my Dorothy Parker collection, which I never expected to find on a shelf in Korea. A bit out of the way, but definitely worth going back and having a look. Let me know if Seoul Selection is worth checking out, because I might make a trip out there anyway to hit B&L and Kyobo in one go.

And you aren't bothering me at all. You're helping me to do something that I've been meaning to get around to doing for a long time. Thank you.

TK -- That link is ridiculous for so many reasons. Thank you. And also you're a dick for posting that in Korean. But it does remind me to ask a coworker about the 소 ending because Busan's explanation this weekend was, "Just don't use that." Helpful, as always.

Saharial -- It is actually in my sidebar already. A great resource to keep up with stuff. Thank you.

Sarah said...

I live in Australia and just discovered the book depository. Cheap books and...wait for it...FREE SHIPPING! World wide! Couldn't hurt to check it out.


I think that's the link. Good luck!

matt said...

Brother Anthony's site has a ton of poetry in translation:

I also enjoyed reading his recollections of his time in Korea, which includes some translations:
(Looking through his site should turn up more short stories, etc).

Korea Journal used to have a lot of translations printed in it, especially decades ago. You can look through past issues here:
University libraries might help be helpful to search through for out of print or hard to find stuff.

National Assembly Library:



I use the National Assembly library all the time (close to the subway, well organized, easy for foreigners to use). SNU was easy
to photocopy at as well, but Yonsei's photocopy system is pretty much useless for non-students.

LadyX said...

I second Brother Anthony's website. He's published countless translations of Korean poetry and his website is full of random pdfs of Korean literature (as well as a lot of early writing from Westerners in Korea...which is what the second link from the person above is from).

However, he tends to translate a lot of male poets, so here are my suggestions for contemporary Korean women poets:

Kim Hyesoon: she's amazing, feminist, surreal...totally writing against the tradition of Korean women's poetry that emphasizes beauty, passivity, etc. I met her two summers ago! She's been translated into English by Don Mee Choi (a Korean American poet whose work is also feminist, awesome, etc.) I'd suggest her book Mommy Must be a Fountain of Feathers.

Here's a link to a few of her poems:

Kim Seung-hee: Bro. Anthony translates her (they both teach at Sogang U). Her work is also strongly feminist, witty. Check out Walking On a Washing Line a collection of selected work published this year.

Don Mee Choi also published a collection of 3 Korean women poets called Anxiety of Words. It has work by Kim Hyesoon, Ch'oe Sung-ja, and Yi Yon-ju. Each of these poets have particular concerns related to gender and tend to write in ways that are very much about challenging restrictive norms.

--Choi Jeongyre: I just discovered her (and just met her!). She's got a book in translation with Brenda Hillman called Instances (Just published two months ago). She's very surreal, philosophical, and a very nice lady. Her style is a bit different than Kim Hyesoon and Kim Seung-hee, but it's very provocative work.

Here are a few of her poems:http://iwp.uiowa.edu/writers/archive/2006works/Choi_june.pdf

For a more general smattering of Korean women's poetry, you might look at Echoing Song, an anthology edited by Peter Lee.

All of these women are more or less from the generation of writers who started writing in the 80s and publishing in the 90s. I don't have a huge tap into the women who might be publishing right now, but I really wish I did.

I should also say that the big problem with all my suggestions here is that you'll probably have to bite the bullet and order these books from What the Book or Amazon. I don't know about Seoul Selection, but they may have some of these books.

Umm...I could go on with a list of Korean American women poets, but I'll spare you unless you ask. (But, if you haven't read Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, do so now.)

I got interested in this subject because I was like you: a poet living in Korea, working as an English teacher. I went home to go back to school for poetry, and now I'm back in ROK for a bit on a fellowship.

Long time reader, first time commenter. I enjoy your blog! Hope this long ass comment helps you out!

I'm no Picasso said...

This is all just completely brilliant. This blog seems like the best idea I ever had in moments like these, when I realize a lot of my readers are way smarter than I am, and willing to help as well. Thank you thank you thank you. And Lady X, I see no contact information, so if you wouldn't mind, may I have your email address? You don't have to post it -- you can send it to imnopicasso@gmail.com Otherwise you run the risk of coming across an entry called, "HEY LADY X PLEASE TELL ME MORE ABOUT KOREAN/KOREAN AMERICAN WOMEN POETS PLEASE!"

al said...

You might find this helpful:


al said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LadyX said...

I saw from your tumblr you tried to find some poetry books, but didn't meet with too much success. If you found more fiction options in English translation, you might look for the names Bruce and Ju-chan Fulton. They've translated a lot of cool Korean women's contemporary fiction. There a petal Silently Falls by Ch'oe Un and Wayfarer anthology are things I've read and can recommend.

I sent along an email the other day to your gmail, but I forgot to mention Korean Americans...not that I think you'd be able to find many of those books (apart from Chang Rae Lee's Native Speaker...which is like the go-to KA novel in Korean bookstores, at least from my small forays), but if you want a list of KA author/poet names, let me know.

I would have posted this over there, but I'm 100% clueless about all the log in options. Must be getting old.