- Night-Sky Checkerboard
Tr. Brother Anthony of Taizé 2016128pp.
When Oh Sae-young was a toddler, World War Two had just ended, Independence had arrived, and Korea was a Cold War battlefield. When he was a teenager, the civil war had killed nearly three million people. Then martial law and the dictators arrived.
At twenty-three, Oh began his career as a poet. But what kind of poetry could be written in such a tragic era, darkened by reminders of the previous generation’s sacrifices, and shadowed by questions of existential meaning? Not surprisingly, Surrealism seemed an appropriate stance for many in Oh’s generation: dislocation, doubt, and psychic dissonance.
Now in his seventies, Oh’s style has become lyrical, sincere, lucid, and imagistic. In Night-Sky Checkerboard, his vocabulary has become the natural world. Machines, factories, and pollution are condemned as evils of modernization, but though relevant, they seem almost off-topic among the mountains, snow, trees, and birds. The natural world’s cool vibrancy is the source of Oh’s best metaphors. For him, even inanimate objects are alive: “empty shoes … prick up their ears and listen attentively”; “empty ships … gazing shoreward.”