Writers' Notes

A Dawn Soliloquy by Ko Un
I would like to cast off all reserve and start writing about my private life. Recently I woke at dawn. I had come home very drunk the evening before, and the intense intoxication of the innocent drunkenness had passed but I felt very thirsty. I drank some water. Suddenly I disliked asking the simple question, “Who am I?” So I began with a doubt whether perhaps someone once gave the name Ko Un to a Ko Un who never existed and so became the I who has now been living as a poet for nearly 60 years. Is it a...
From Busan to Tongyeong: Tracing Fiction by Ham Jeung Im
Topophilia refers to the special love one has for a particular place. For four days from August 6 to 9, along with a group of translators from abroad, I visited Haeundae in Busan and the city of Tongyeong, the two places for which my feelings of topophilia were expressed in my collection of short stories titled Gokdu (Illusion). We began our journey around lunchtime on August 6 in Songjeong, which is located beyond Dalmaji Hill, “the hill where one greets the moon,” on the east side of Haeundae Beach. Songjeong is the stage for “A Refreshing Night,” a short story...
There Was a Time by Park Seongwon
There was a time when folk music was all the rage. There was Neil Young, Nick Garrie, the Byrds, and Toni Vescoli. Of course, it was not my time. I was born much later than that. I just listen to their songs and think about them, that’s all. There was a time I grew a sinsemilla plant in my one-room rental. There was just one reason why. I got it after I heard that it represented the female genitalia. My friends said what I was doing was plain stupid. I even thought it was stupid. But it seemed cooler than...
A Cartographer’s Dream by Bok Goe-il
My image of myself is as a shabby cartographer haunting the wharves of Lisbon or Amster-dam at the dawn of the Great Seafaring Age in the 16th century. This cartographer patiently fills up blanks and redraws contours on his map, guessing the shapes of distant continents with tips gleaned from sailors that have crossed the dangerous seas. Though he cannot compete with the official cartographers that are supported by the royal courts and he barely makes a living, haunted by unknown continents that slowly reveal their shapes, he has dedicated his life to making a map of the world. A...
Three Diaspora: of Departure, of Division, of Change
My grandfather went to Manchuria during the Japanese occupation where there were many Koreans that had left the peninsula. He started a business, but when it didn’t go well, he set sail for Japan. When Korea was liberated, he moved his family back to Gyeongsang-do Province where he had been born. My father-in-law was also born in Japan. My father and father-in-law discovered at the sanggyeonnye , or formal meeting between two families before a wedding, that they were the same age and given the period they were born into, had childhood histories that followed similar trajectories. They were both...
Communicating the Space Between the Lines
Thanks to my complex, or perhaps riveting personal life, I’ve lived abroad in different countries for a few years, and sometimes even a few months. But I’ve never been able to speak any local language fluently, no matter where I was. In some places, I was able to manage by speaking slowly; in other places, I could not speak a lick. This is not a big problem if you’re a tourist, but living there is another matter. Language was a matter of communication that stirred up loneliness, pain, and all kinds of disillusionment. It was also an issue in dating...
Diaspora, Our Modern Fate
I am writing this in San Francisco, California. San Francisco is populated by a multiethnic, multicultural group of people who have experienced various kinds of diaspora. A few days ago, there was a Daesan-Berkeley Writer-in-Residence Event hosted by the Center for Korean Studies at UC Berkeley. One person in the audience, a Korean who’d immigrated to the United States 10 years ago, asked why Korean literature does not draw from the lives of immigrants like them. “We have so many stories to tell,” she said. Perhaps because of the generation difference, the juniors and seniors at Berkeley, who were in...
100 Days in Aix-en-Provence
LTI Korea Forum, Bibliothèque Méjanes lecture hall Although I had spent six months in France a number of years ago, I had never been to the southern part of the country. Now I was going for three months, from September to December for my LTI Korea residency, and I had no idea what to pack. All of those who had been there assured me that the weather was golden, utterly flawless. I decided to take mostly light clothing and left for Provence, Aix-en-Provence, to be precise. The weather had been my greatest concern before leaving. Once I arrived, however, the...
My Approach to Studying, Writing, and Teaching Korean Poetry
When I received the request to write this brief article, I pondered how best to explain my views on Korean poetry, and I realized that my approach to Korean poetry is intimately connected with my background, my experiences in Korea, and my work as a poet and scholar. I grew up in a home where poetry was valued, and my parents would frequently read us passages from their favorite works. Later on I spent a year as an exchange student at a French university where I immersed myself in studying the works of well-known French poets such as Baudelaire, Verlaine,...
Bologna:A City Blooming with Books
Last winter felt particularly long. There were no blossoming flowers well into March, and April brought a heavy snowfall. Perhaps because of the long winter, I found the spring flowers in Bologna all the more lovely. Seven years ago when I attended the Bologna Children's Book Fair for the first time, I hadn’t imagined that I would ever come back. The brick buildings that looked even more faded in the early spring, the cool shadowy area in the seemingly neverending corridors of the city, and the scenery that was plain compared to the other cities in Italy—all these did not...

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