Rhythm

Kim Hye-sun
Translation by Don Mee Choi

 

There goes a woman carrying a teardrop.
Erasing, erasing the world
there goes one woman carrying a teardrop.
Erasing her own face
there goes one woman carrying a teardrop.

There goes a crippled woman.
She takes out a broken leg
from her broken leg.
There goes a woman, walking.

Tears, there’s a woman that you drag along.
The hot rhythm pulls up a woman.
There’s the faint world erased
by the passing rhythm.

Translated by Don Mee Choi

Kim Hye-sun’s (1955- ) poetry first appeared in the early 1980’s, during
a period of intensified political struggle. South Korea fell under a
dictatorship of General Chon after the assassination of President Pak in
1979, who also came into power by leading a military coup in 1961. As
many as 2000 civilians and students are known to have been killed during
the civilian uprising in 1980. During the 80’s, many prominent writers
were arrested, including Ko Un and Kim Chi-ha, but at the same time,
women’s poetry began to resurface. Distinctive voices of women poets
such as Kim Hye-sun emerged despite the fact that Korean poetry has
traditionally been a closed space accessible to men only. Korean women
began writing publically since the early 1920’s, but only the works by
women that are contemplative and beautiful gained approval and
recognition by the mainstream Korean literary establishment. Kim’s
poetry challenges the criteria of gentleness still expected of women
poets. Her work explores the identity of women in the context of
oppressive patriarchal culture, nation. Kim’s poetry occupies a
marginal, yet critical space in Korean poetry.

She writes criticism and teaches creative writing at Seoul Arts
University, S. Korea. March of2000, she received the Korean
Contemporary Poetry Award. She received the prestigious Sowol Poetry Award, year 2001.

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.

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.