How do poems, as living, breathing, soulful things, seek out and locate their translators?
Whatever the answer, the fact that some of the most important contemporary Korean poetry today has chosen holy men and priestly assistants—Brother Anthony of Taizé and Jake Levine—as its spiritual-linguistic intermediaries seems a matter of supernatural importance.
For this is a holy book. Holy in the sense of the ancient Biblical term and eponymous Ginsberg opus, Kaddish, the Hebrew word for “separation.” Indeed, the speaker of Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World and many of the figures he identifies with are (or were in their times) as separate from the earth as astronauts. While in Kim’s highly animated, animistic world, signs and symbols of holiness abound, in “absolution through beer,” (p. 70) a halo that appears “while cutting a dried earthworm,” (p. 52) even in “the soul of glass,” (p. 64) it is often most evident in the poet’s sense of Otherness:
The only ability I have is the ability to be different than you. (p. 120)
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World is remarkable for its sophisticated simultaneously musical, philosophical, alchemical inquiry. Kim Kyung Ju often employs Heraclitus’s Union of Opposites to powerful poetic effect:
Like a furnace, the sea began to boil flakes of snow… (p. 53)
His poems are full of evocative inversions and involutions:
The hole that floated around inside my body
seeped out the hole of my throat (p. 63)
It is also a work of uncommon sensory charm and synesthetic appeal:
Inside every sip of water, the smell of a shadow is mumbling
Worried that the well’s long tongue might climb out (p. 65)
Think about that the next time you reach for a drink.
I Am a Season is bursting with graphic dismemberments. It is also replete with images of reproduction and delivery. For in this work the spiritual and visceral go… hand in hand. Thus, the severed fingers—transfigured by the sacred space of creation (womb/theremin)—become religious icons, giving new meaning to digital technology.
This is dismembering in the service of re-membering, though it has more to do with the musical than the mnemonic. According to Paul Valery, poetry is not just a language within a language—it differentiates itself from the ordinary languages it inhabits according to the following equation: the music of its words must be of equal or greater importance than their meaning. Thus, Kim’s book stands as a two-fold project of resuscitation, at once linguistic and existential: to breath poetry back into language, and meaning back into life.
It also contains The History of Underwear.
Every sensory organ in I Am A Season’s orche...