In the Republic of Words: Ethics of Translation and the Politics of Contemporary Korean Poetry

By | 6 August 2011

The emergence of other young poets born in the 1970s and after is a real fruit of contemporary Korean poetics. Though different in their poetic modes and voices, they clearly share deep interest in the unreliability of language and the possibility of poetic form. Indebted to the earlier generation, the young poets, at once questioning or evacuating the locus of the poetry-maker, try to respond to the need for a more specifically mediated cultural poetics. In ‘Let’s Write a Novel’, Kim Un breaks the standard rhythm of traditional lyric poetry. His radical deviation from a typical poetic language is meaningful when the reader enjoys the weird moment of encountering the strange word play. Kim tries to create a happening in advance with the word rather than building a word after something happened. Kim So Youn‘s poems construct a field of potentialities in language of endless time, time of body, of memory, of a woman. Kim Sun-Woo‘s beautifully-woven words go across the origin of human minds and touch a very eco-based consciousness, which has been long forgotten in this world of murder, plunder, and consumption. Shin Hae Wook‘s succinct lines question the condition of subjectivity. The arrangement of words, for her, strangely makes free excursions from the standard grammar, and finally achieves saying the things that can’t be easily said in words. Jin Eun-young‘s words stand in the middle zone of the impossible horizon of Korean poetics, keeping the tension between politics and poetics. And Shim Bo Sun‘s words, wittily reflecting the fatigue of everyday life in this post-capitalistic world, are entering the space of desire, a compulsive need to retell painful, sometimes dreary experiences of our everyday. In the words of Sin Yongmok, full of the endless echoes of wind, readers might follow the traces of hidden or by-gone beings. His words are specific accounts of the relations of poetic form to a poetics of culture and history. Song Kyung Dong‘s location in contemporary Korean poetics is very special. As a poet of the streets, of the laborers, he has constructed his poetic words in the solid experience as a worker, giving a voice for the marginalised.

The politics of contemporary Korean poetry, briefly drawn in this virtual, democratic space of the Internet, can be stated as the convergence of words and worlds. In its discontinuous and constitutive moments of forming, contemporary Korean poetics is doing the work of folding and unfolding of past, present and the future. Here in the various vectors of contemporary Korean poetics, the poetic modes and forms seem to take the temporary site of transition, transition of words and angles, transition of personal and public voices, marking a kind of procedural form of poetry. In that sense, this collection presents particular but representative shading along the wide landscape of contemporary Korean poetry. Readers are going to be surprised, firstly, by its richness, strange rhythms, and intensity of language. The current space of Korean poems, filled with different voices and styles, doings and undoings, reflective and negative strategies, makes readers outside of Korea rethink the nature of poetic language and form and at the same time, engage with the contemporary cultural, historical process of Korea. If these poems are ‘received’ by readers outside of Korea, if these poems, wearing a new language through translation, are saying something to you, the temporal, spatial, linguistic, historical, cultural spaces of poetry are expanded, reconstructed and here and now, we build and experience another wonderful community of empathy.

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