Letter

Ko Un
Translation by Don Mee Choi


 


My bother
a wounded soldier brother
of Vietnam War


I’m drunk
Today I detest lies
hate lies


I never worked
at an office or candy factory


That was all a lie


Seven years ago, as soon as
I arrived at Seoul Train Station
I went on my road
I went on a road of a Jap’s whore


My bother
my brother
crippled brother


I got drunk
Only when I’m drunk
I have a home


Even a whore, a whore has a home


Translated by Don Mee Choi


 


 


Ko Un was born Ko Untae in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province in 1933. He was at Gunsan Middle School when war broke out. The Korean War emotionally and physically traumatized Ko and caused the death of many of his relatives and friends.  In 1952, before the war had ended, Ko became a Buddhist monk. After a decade of monastic life, he chose to return to the active, secular world in 1962 to become a devoted poet. 


Around the time the South Korean government attempted to curb democracy by putting forward the Yusin Constitution in late 1972, Ko became very active in the democracy movement and led efforts to improve the political situation in South Korea, while still writing prolifically and being sent to prison four times (1974, 1979, 1980 and 1989). In May 1980, during the coup d’etat led by Chun Doo-hwan, Ko was accused of treason and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. He was released in August 1982 as part of a general pardon.


After his release, Ko married and moved to Anseong, Gyeonggi-do, where he still lives. He resumed writing and began to travel, his many visits providing fabric for the tapestry of his poems. Since 2007, he is a visiting scholar in Seoul National University, and teaches poetics and literature.
Don Mee Choi see bio in previous poetic translations on in the Author’s page.

Cucumbers

Ko Un
Translation by Don Mee Choi

 

Retail price of 30 cucumbers is only one thousand won, it’s dumbfounding
Our cucumbers taken to Karak Street, Orak Street in Seoul go for
400 won for a bundle of 50. It doen’t even make the transport cost
Even big round melons are 500 won for 10
a flat of garlic, 100 bulbs, is less than 2000 won
This is our crop, this is our crop

Smash this dog-craziness
let’s go to Seoul
let’s go to Seoul to live or die
My daughter can become a whore or factory girl
my wife can go as a maid
I’ll rise to the drum’s fury, climb to Mount South
scream once and kill myself!

Let’s go to Seoul
Let’s go to Seoul

Let’s go to Seoul to wreck life

Translated by Don Mee Choi

 

Ko Un was born in Gunsa, North Jeolla Province, Korea. Un became active in the democracy movement and led efforts for democracy in South Korea, which resulted in four imprisonments. After his prison release, he continued his writing, and since 2007, he remains a visiting scholar at Seoul National University where he teaches poetics and literature. His works include The Sound of My Waves, Beyond Self, Little Pilgrim, Ten Thousand Lives, The Three Way Tavern, Flowers of a Moment, and Songs for Tomorrow: A Collection of Poems 1961-2001, among others. Ko Un has won several literary awards including; Korean Literature Prize (1974, 1987), Manhae Literary Prize (1989), Joongang Literary Prize (1991), Daesan Literary Prize (1994),  Cikada Prize, and Griffin Poetry Prize Lifetime Recognition Award (2008), among others.

 Don Mee Choi for complete bio please see other translated works in CWPJ and on Author’s Page.

 

Frog

Ko Un
Translation by Don Mee Choi

 

Crying all night long
crying kaegol kaegol
That potent cry
makes a rice paddy

Make a rice paddy to give to the poor
Sang-soe, good to see you again
Here, a patch of paddy for Kum-sun too

Look at the morning fields
such a colorful bride
All the frogs are asleep
from crying all night

kaegol kaegol

Translated by Don Mee Choi

 

 

Don Mee Choi was born in S. Korea and came to the U.S. as a student in
1981. She studied art at the California Institute of the Arts. Her
poems have appeared in The Asian Pacific American Journal, Hawaii
Pacific Review, disorient journalzine, and Gargoyle. She lives in
Seattle and translates poetry of several contemporary Korean women
poets.

 

 

see Ko Un’s bio in additional works and in Author’s page.

Against Will

Kim Myong-sun
 Translation by Don Mee Choi

 

Korea, I cut my final tie with you

If I fall over into a ditch

or spill blood in the fields

go ahead, kick my dead body

If that is not enough

later when someone like me is born again

abuse her as much as you can

Then we’ll part forever

hating each other

This vicious place! Vicious place!

 

 

Don Mee Choi was born in S. Korea and came to the U.S. as a student in
1981. She studied art at the California Institute of the Arts. Her
poems have appeared in The Asian Pacific American Journal, Hawaii
Pacific Review, disorient journalzine, and Gargoyle. She lives in
Seattle and translates poetry of several contemporary Korean women
poets. Her translations will appear this year in the fall issues of
Arts & Letters: Journal of Contemporary Culture and Luna.

Kim Myong-sun (1896-1951). She was a pioneer poet/writer of modern
Korea. Her story, “Suspicious Girl,” is considered to be the first
modern story published by a Korean woman. She was also the first
woman poet/writer to question traditional Korean womne’s roles in her
works.