- I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
Tr. Jake Levine 2016144pp.
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.