Continuing the Legacy of Mogwol’s Lyric Poetry

Pak Mogwol was an active poet for forty years, from his debut in 1939 until his death in 1978, and during this time he was a great mentor who guided many poets along their intended path. These poets came together and founded an organization called the Mogwol Literature Forum. The Forum has organized various events to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Pak’s birth, and published a poetry collection, Lonesome Hunger, in memoriam. A total of forty poets contributed to Lonesome Hunger, and surveying the members of the group, we can see that they are the major representative poets in Korean poetry circles.

     Actually, Pak’s students, the poets belonging to the Mogwol Literature Forum, can be classified into different groups. First of all, there are the poets from the 1960s who debuted in prominent literary journals through Pak’s recommendations. Second are the poets who debuted in Pak’s professional journal, Simsang, which began publication in 1973. Finally, there are the poets who studied with him during his career as a professor at Hanyang University and then made their debut, even if this did not involve Pak’s recommendation.

     Only by understanding the uniquely Korean recommendations process, the way in which writers are inaugurated into the writing community, can one truly understand that later generations of poets write to carry on his legacy. Passing through the recommendations system is the special way that poets and novelists join the literary community and launch their writing careers. In fact, the Korean words for “literary community” (mundan) and “joining the community in one’s literary debut” (deungdan) are characteristically Korean in that they imply a degree of exclusivity. This exclusivity means that one cannot become a poet or novelist without first being recognized by an already established poet or novelist.

     This distinctive method by which authors debut is either through the recommendations system (chucheonjae) in the case of literary journals, or the annual spring literary contests (sinchunmunye) in the popular dailies. The two systems have different names and differ slightly in their methods, but they are ultimately alike in that through them an established writer recognizes the work of a new writer. For this reason, writers usually assume “junior” or “senior” status in the Korean writing community according to the year in which they debut rather than with reference to age. By extension, terms such as “poets of the 60s” and “poets of the 70s” also classify poets largely according to the year they debuted. As the debut system was at one time relatively strict, writers had to be recommended three times before they had completed the process. Also, new writers were permanently stamped with the mark of the writer who recommended them in a particular journal, and this recommendation also became a yardstick for evaluating their ability. Therefore, if writers received Pak’s recommendation, it meant that they were esteemed as being the most talented at the time.

     The recommendations system came into being in 1939 in Munjang, a journal that was forcibly shut down by the Japanese colonial government in 1941. Pak was among the poets who debuted in Munjang, in 1939. At that time, he received a recommendation from the poet Chong Chi-yong and was published in the journal. It is a well-known story that Chong gave Pak the highest praise, mentioning him together with Kim Sowol in his recommendation letter: “Just as the North had Sowol, it is natural that the South would ...