Park Hae-hyun: You published the poetry collection, Untitled, to commemorate the 55th anniversary of your debut. It is a collection of 539 untitled poems. What is the theme of this collection?
Ko Un: The first draft of the collection was written when I was staying in Venice. I sometimes wrote 10 poems per night. The poetic meteor shower rained night and day. The reason I didn’t give any titles to the poems was because I suspected that poetry, which I consider to be the language of freedom and liberation, was being trapped in the titles. I wanted the poems to pioneer their own destinies. I was almost in a trance as I wrote these poems. In Germany, someone referred to me as the “shaman of great lyric poets.” I feel as if the incantatory nature of my poems has been let slip through Untitled. I believe Untitled draws from my subconscious rather than my consciousness. The collection will be translated sometime next year.
Park: Despite being over 80, you have maintained your health and continue to attend poetry readings abroad. You’ve already held one reading in London in May and in Berlin in June. Do you plan to go abroad again in the near future?
Ko: I am immune to time zones. I am off to Macedonia in August to receive the Gold Wreath Award. I’ll be attending a poetry reading held by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and giving a lecture at the University of Illinois. If a forum that is being organized in Hawaii takes place, then I’ll do a reading and give a lecture there on my way back to Korea. I was invited to Italy in late October as well. I was also invited to the International Poets’ Festival in November, but I haven’t decided whether I’ll attend or not.
Park: It’s been a year since you’ve moved from Anseong in Gyeonggi-do Province to Suwon. How has the new environment affected you?
Ko: The 30 years I’ve spent in Anseong were very fulfilling. I had a prolific life as a writer there. It’s been less than a year since I moved to Suwon, so my life in Suwon is still in its infancy. Perhaps I’ll hit a growth spurt here. Untitled opened the first year of my Suwon Period. It seems my literary saga will meet its end here at the foot of Gwanggyosan Mountain. I recall the words of an American soldier who fought in the Korean War, “The hometown of a person is said to be the place of his birth, but the place where he dies is the true hometown.” Robert Frost was born on the West Coast, but is a New England poet. And you also have poets like Robinson Jeffers who was born in Pennsylvania but was known as a poet of the Big Sur in California.