Dialogue between Australian and Korean Poets in Seoul

7 June 2011

The meeting, in the form of a seminar, was held at the Yeonhui Writers Village and gave the writers an opportunity to share their poetry and discuss poetic practices in Australia and Korea. Assisted by interpreter Kim Min-jeong, genuine insights were gained and, in the true spirit of dialogue, connections were made that will hopefully lead to future collaborations and greater understandings.

Park Hyung Jun, representing the Yeonhui Writers Village, and himself a poet, welcomed the poets to Yeonhui. He then introduced, in turn, 이경림 (Yi Kyông-nim), 김기택 (Kim Ki-taek), 심보선 (Shim Bo-seon) and 김언 (Kim Un). All four of these poets will be featured in Oz-Ko (Hangul-Hoju), the third part of Cordite’s Oz-Ko issue celebrating the diversity of Australian and Korean poetry in English and Hangul.

Yi Kyông-nim was born in Munkyung, Kyeongbook, South Korea in 1947. She made her debut (by her own admittance quite late in life) in Munhak & Bi-Pyeong in 1989. Her published collections include Si-jul-hana Onda, Jap-a-mukja – which is currently in the process of being translated by the Korea Literature Translation Institute (KLTI) – and Sangjadeul. Eleven of her poems were selected for Echoing Song: Contemporary Korean Women Poets, published by the Korean Studies Research Center, Harvard University in 2005.

Yi Kyông-nim read two of her poems, including ‘Korean Women’, an early poem about her own anxiety and the Korean medical profession’s inability to understand her emotions:

Today I wanted to sleep with another man.

Today I wanted to get drunk.

Today I wanted to strip myself and loiter

in sunlit streets.

Today I wanted to loosen my hair, laugh uproariously,

and feel splendid agonies.

Which country's woman am I?

While this poem aroused laughter in the audience, as well as from Yi Kyông-nim herself, later she admitted that reading the poem aloud, after so many years, had caused her to cry. This was a moving and powerful beginning to the day’s readings and dialogue, and we were privileged to hear Yi Kyông-nim read for us.

Barry Hill then read his poems To the God Skype and Old Photo: The Union Buries, and spoke briefly about the subject of the latter poem, namely the Australian labour movement. He and Yi Kyông-nim then discussed at some length the particularities of the Australian and Korean labour movements, and their varying traditions.

The next reader, Kim Ki-Taek (pictured, right), was born in An-Yang, South Korea in 1957. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from Jung-Ang University and a Master’s in Korean Literature and Linguistics from Kyung-Hee University. He made his debut in the Annual Spring Literary Contest of the Hankook Newpaper in 1989, and his published collections include Fetal Sleep (Taea-ui jam, 1991), Storm in the Eye of a Needle (Baneul gumeong sokui pokpung, 1994), Administrative Staff (Samuwon, 1999) and Ox. His literary awards include the Kim Soo-young Literary Award, the Yi Soo Literary Award, the Midang Literary Award, the Ji Hoon Literary Award and the Sang-hwa Poets’ Awards.

Kim Ki-Taek read two poems, including the slightly surreal ‘Fried Egg’, a commentary on the mass manufacturing of modern food, and the accompanying loss of connection between what we eat and where it comes from:

A fried egg,

its eyes which have never opened

its heart which has never beaten

its yellow beak which has never taken a sip of water

its rectum which has never passed droppings

freely and impartially mixed together and solidified

served up on a white plate.

Merry melodies from “The Open Concert” come from the TV

and around the dinner table with warm steam rising from it

my wife, my daughter, and I sit.

Kim Ki-Taek will be one of four Korean writers to tour Australia later this year, and his poetry is well worth checking out.

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