Suji Kwock Kim

Contemporary Poetry and Short Stories

Ehrhart, W.D. and Philip Jason (Editors). Retrieving Bones: Stories and Poems of the Korean War (Rutgers University Press, 1999).
Important literature has come out of the Korean War. These writings are well worth our attention. Many of the 12 stories and 50 poems assembled in Retrieving Bones have long been out of print and are almost impossible to find in any other source. The editors have enhanced this collection by providing maps, a chronology of the Korean War, and annotated lists of novels, works of nonfiction, and films. In a detailed introduction, Ehrhart and Jason discuss the milestones of the Korean War and place each fiction writer and poet represented into historical and literary contexts.


Kim, Suji KwockNotes from the Divided Country (Louisanna State University Press, 2003).
In her first collection, Suji Kwock Kim confronts a number of very difficult subjects—colonialism, the Korean War, emigration, racism, and love. She considers what a homeland would be for a divided nation and a divided self: what it means to enter language, the body, the family, the community; to be a daughter, sister, lover, citizen, or exile. In settings from New York to San Francisco, from Scotland to Seoul, her poems question "what threads hold / our lives together" in cities and gardens, battlefields and small towns.


 

McCann, David (Editor). Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry (Columbia University Press, 2004).
The only up-to-date representative gathering of Korean poetry from the 20th century in English, this volume presents 228 poems by 34 modern Korean poets, including renowned poets such as So Chongju and Kim Chiha.


O’Rourke, Kevin. Looking for the Cow (Dedelaus Press, 1999).
This anthology of 72 poets covers the whole spectrum of 20th-century Korean poetry, with larger selections from the best-known poets, including Midang So Chung-Ju, Kim Sowol, and Kim Suyong. Many types of poetry, from the classical shijo to free-verse forms are represented. Many subjects are covered, from love and the love of nature, Buddhist and Confucian traditions, the search for transcendence (which is where the book's title comes from), and contemporary political poetry.


Park, Wan-Sun and Sallee Hyuan-Jae Yee (Editors). A Sketch of the Fading Sun (White Pine Press, 1999).
Three short stories and a novella look at the lives of Korean women and the impact of the Korean War and the division of their country has had on their lives. A young woman beginning her medical practice, a poverty-stricken girl who is proud of how she manages to cope with her circumstances, a middle-aged woman who wants only a room of her own, and an elderly woman who broke with tradition by having her son's body cremated and now wants to be cremated herself all find themselves caught by a male-dominated society.


Shu, Ji-Moon. Brother Enemy (White Pine Press, 2002).
Twenty-one poets, male and female, North Korean and South Korean, well-known and long forgotten, appear in this collection, the first of its kind in English. The poems reflect the reality of living in a country torn in half by political ideologies. An introduction by translator Ji-moon Suh places the poems and the poets within a historical context that describes the suffering and despair of pitting brother against brother.


Shu, Ji-Moon. The Golden Phoenix (Lynne Reinner Publishing, 1999).
This collection of seven short stories provides a picture of Korean family life from the 1940s to the 1990s. Their themes include family and community ties, respect for tradition, survival in the face of repeated national disasters, and wrenching social upheaval.


So, Chongju. The Early Lyrics 1941-1960: Poems by So Chong-Ju, transl. by Brother Anthony of Taizé. Cornell East Asia Series, 90 (East Asia Program, Cornell University, and Seou, DapGae, 1998). 
The publication of a Korean-English bilingual edition of the early lyrics of Sô Chông-Ju, also known by his pen name Midang, marks a major step forward in Korean Studies. This book covers all of Midang's early poetic output which appeared in the first four collections of his verse:Flower Snake Poems (1941); Nightingale (1948); Selected Poems of Sô Chông-Ju (1955); and The Essence of Silla (1960). Spanning nearly two and a half decades of Midang's career as a poet, the Cornell East Asia Series edition enables the reader to trace closely the artistic development of perhaps "the greatest living Korean poet."


Korean Poets

 

 

 

 

 

Chiha Kim’s real name is Yongil. Chiha is his pen name. He graduated from the department of Art at Seoul University in 1966. As a voice of the people and bard of the oppressed, Chiha not only holds a significant position in the sphere of literature, but in contemporary Korean modern history as well. He made his voice heard despite the government's efforts to silence him by imprisoning him in the 1970s and 1980s. He has championed the cause of a people oppressed under dictatorial regimes during the latter half of 20th century, relying on his poetic prowess as a weapon for his battles.


Kyu-dong Kim, is one of Korea’s most revered poets. Born in 1925 in Chongson, North Hamgyond Province, in North Korea, Kim’s writing career spans more than 60 years. Kim has written about how he believes that there is a poet in each person. For Kim poetry comes from the heart. In the poem below Kim writes about the tragedy of “two Koreas” and the failure to unify his country.


 

 

 

 

 

Suji Kwock Kim won the 2002 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for her first book of poetry, Notes from the Divided Country. Her poems have appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, Poetry, Yale Review, Harvard Review, Threepenny Review, DoubleTake, Ploughshares, Asian-American Poetry: The Next Generation, and other journals and anthologies. “Private Property,” a multimedia play Kim co-wrote, was produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and was featured on BBC-TV. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown: The Nation/”Discovery” Award, and grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, California Arts Council, Washington State Artist Trust, Korea Foundation, and Blakemore Foundation for Asian Studies.


 

 

 

 

 

In his lifetime, Suyong Kim published only one volume of poetry, A Game Played in the Moon, in 1959. After his death in a car accident in 1968, further collections of poetry and of his critical essays were published.  Kim’s later works focus on the most ordinary events of daily life. His poems are often prosaic, since he consciously rejected techniques of rhythm. 


 

 

 

 

 

Inwhan Pak tried his hand at several occupations, medical school, running a bookshop, and journalism. His poetic career spanned a brief ten-year period. Born in Inche, Kangwon Province of Korea in 1926, Pak died at the age of 30 in 1956. The main subject of his poems was the Korean War. Pak’s poems speak more to the spiritual confusion left by the war than brutality and human suffering.


Chong-Ju So (Midang), also known by his pen name Midang, was born in 1915 in Sonum village in the North Cholla Province of Korea. His first poems were published in the late 1930s and his first collection of poems dates from 1941. He has published many volumes of poetry and has edited a number of anthologies and published works on literary history and criticism. Midang was for many years a professor at the Buddhist University, Dongguk University in Seoul. He was awarded many of Korea's most prestigious literary awards. Translations of selected poems by Chong Ju So have previously been published in France, Spain, Germany, and the United States.

 

Suji Kwock Kim

Suji Kwock Kim won the 2002 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for her first book of poetry, Notes from the Divided Country. Her poems have appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, Poetry, Yale Review, Harvard Review, Threepenny Review, DoubleTake, Ploughshares, Asian-American Poetry: The Next Generation, and other journals and anthologies. “Private Property,” a multimedia play Kim co-wrote, was produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and was featured on BBC-TV. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown: The Nation/”Discovery” Award, and grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, California Arts Council, Washington State Artist Trust, Korea Foundation, and Blakemore Foundation for Asian Studies.


 

 Borderlands
    for my grandmother

Crush my eyes, bitter grapes:
wring out the wine of seeing.

We tried to escape across the frozen Yalu, to Ch'ientao or Harbin.
I saw the Japanese soldiers shoot:

I saw men and women from our village blown to hieroglyphs of viscera,
engraving nothing.

River of never.
River the opposite of Lethe,

The opposite of forgetting.

Dividing those who lived from those who were killed:
Why did I survive?

I wondered at each body with its separate skin, its separate suffering.
My childhood friend lay on the boot-blackened ice:

I touched his face with disbelief,
I tried to hold his hand but he snatched it away, as if he were ashamed of dying,

Eye grown large with everything it saw, everyone who disappeared:
Pupil of suffering.

Lonely O, blank of an eye
Rolled back into its socket,

I was afraid to see you:
last thoughts, last dreams crawling through his skull like worms.


 

Questions for Reflection: “Borderlands”

  1. How is “Borderlands” a personal and historical record of the poet’s family life? What memories are brought forth through the poem? How does the poet suggest that these memories are a treasure? 
  2. In Greek mythology the River Lethe is one of the five rivers in Hades. It is thought to be the river of forgetfulness. What is the poet saying the poem about her own life as compared to Lethe?
  3. What thoughts about death does Kim leave with the reader?
  4. How does “Borderlands” present the complexities of the moment?

 

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