Poetry is emergency room, poetry is oxygen tent, poetry is red blood inside a cold apple,
sorrow is like fertilizer
that must be sprinkled here and there on poetry,
poetry is a pregnant woman’s day,
the day of delivery nobody knows when it will be;
poetry comes racing embracing a bomb,
racing over the clouds.
Yet in one tiny paddy-field,
yellow heads of rice are ripening.
A field the size of a bowl of rice, small enough for a conical hat to cover,
a tiny bowl of a hat-field,
a gruel-bowl sized, rice-bowl sized gruel-field, rice-field,
Ordinary patients recover energy thanks to a bowl of gruel,
so by the power of a small strip of autumnal paddy
I am saved, you are saved,
so once again we lie flat on the field gleaning ears of language
then sow seeds of language
so that golden paddy-fields rise in tiers,
one of your poems,
a steaming bowl of rice, your collection of lyric poems.
Usually avantgardists are shot and killed first,
probably because they have thousands of butterflies flying about inside them.
There are times when saying I’m alive feels obsequious.
It’s when a problem arises about eating and living.
Would it not be all right to live without eating?
Just as Kim Su-Young, having done some translations to earn pocket money,
went and sat down in a magazine publisher’s office,
where he was told by the editors, “We feel afraid when we see you working,”
and heard that kind of insult, ridicule, painful words,
so if avantgardists are shot and killed, that’s cool,
but if they live like actors changing lamps, that’s servile.
An actor can change lamps forwards and backwards.
Avantgardists have to be butterflies with their bodies, their whole bodies.
They have to be soapbubbles.
Only look, butterfly wings are tattered.
If soapbubbles hit the wings of a fan they burst.
The front and back of a fan are utterly different.
Wind like a waterfall is something that does not turn.
It clearly separates the front and back of a fan.
Avantgardists have to face the future then fall straight
into a fan’s revolutions.
They absolutely must not live with an actor’s heart.
They have to stand on the gold thread known as a one-off.
There must be no reserves or repetition in courage. Choice
is seen as a form of suicide
Avantgardists are dreadfully fierce though they do not mean to be.
Because they are so lonesome.
Like the last scene in a western,
avantgardists always blow away like the wind,
like a faint whistle
drawing a line between heaven and earth with a very sharp knife,
people living with bodies full of butterflies,
people slowly dancing ahead as rainbow-hued soapbubbles,
until avantgardists go away.
Translated from the Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé
Kim Seung Hee (b. 1952), graduated from the English Department of Sogang University (Seoul) before entering the Korean Department’s graduate program in the same university for her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. She is now a professor in the Korean Department there. Her life as a poet began when she won the New Writers’ Award of the Gyeonghyang newspaper in 1973; in 1994 she also gained recognition as a novelist, with the short story “On the Way to Santa Fe.” In addition to 2 volumes of fiction, a collection of short stories and a novel, she has published nine volumes of poetry (titles translated): Sun Mass (1979), Concerto for the Left Hand (1983), Love Song for Incompletion (1987), Life in the Egg (1989), How Shall I Get Out? (1991), The Heaviest Struggle in the World (1995), Laughter Speeding Away on a Broomstick (2000), Pots Bobbing (2006), and Hope is Lonesome (2012). She has received several major awards, including the 1991 Sowol Poetry Award and the 2003 Go Jeong-Hee Literature Award. Her volume Pots Bobbing was awarded the poetry award in Korea’s 2006 This Year’s Art Awards.
Brother Anthony of Taizé has lived in Korea since 1980. He is currently Emeritus Professor, English Department, Sogang University, and Chair-Professor, International Creative Writing Center, Dankook University. He has published more than 30 volumes of translations of Korean poetry, and of several novels, for which he has received a number of awards. He has published 10 volumes of work by Ko Un, as well as recently published volumes of poetry by Lee Si-Young and Kim Soo-bok, and the novel Son of Man by Yi Mun-yol. His Korean name is An Sonjae.
Read more from Korean: