Kim Kwang-Kyu: A Poet Who Gives Meaning and Value to the Everyday
- onJuly 16, 2015
- Vol.28 Summer 2015
- byKim Kwang-Kyu
Poet Kim Kwang-Kyu, born in Seoul in 1941, debuted at the age of thirty-four in the journal Literature and Intelligence. In light of the conventions of the time, his literary debut happened at a rather late age. However, Kim proved everyone’s fears groundless through his prodigious poetic output. Kim has published ten books to date, starting in 1979 with his first collection, The Last Dream to Drench Us, which shows just how faithful he has been in carrying out his duties as a poet. He has been diligently transforming everyday language into poetry, in other words giving meaning and value to life. Moreover, he has been pursuing balance and harmony between intellect and emotion by using both in equal measure in his poetry. Through changes in syntax and line breaks, he has ceaselessly experimented with the aesthetics of form, variations in meaning, and the impact of emphasis. Kim Kwang-Kyu has broadened the horizons of Korean poetry by presenting us with a new genre called everyday poetry. Through his poetic experimentation, he has given meaning and value to the domain of the petit bourgeois who had not received attention before by making them the subjects of his poetry.
Kim’s appearance on the Korean literary scene served as a catalyst that breathed new life into the lyric poetry of the 1970s and 80s that was sidelined by a bias toward participatory realism. It would not be an exaggeration to call “Spirit Mountain,” his debut poem from his first collection, an autobiographical account of his wanderings in search of a literary motif that began in his teenage years. His search for the Spirit Mountain not only served as a motivation but also guided him as he wrote. The Spirit Mountain continues to appear throughout his poems, morphing into different forms such as the imaginary K’unaksan. “Spirit Mountain” is Kim’s representative poem about a poet who originally dreamt of becoming a writer and wanders aimlessly without realizing the inevitability of his vocation: to seek out the mysterious world of words and language. This search for the Spirit Mountain has become the central theme of Kim’s life.
The most salient observation about Kim’s poetry is that he uses plain language, which lends itself to the absence of methodical devices of metaphor and metonymy, thus making the poems easy to read and the content deceptively simple. However, a close reading reveals that the elaborate grammar and the systematic structure suggestive of a novel link together organically to center on a single theme. In this way, Kim’s poetry is thematically precise, formally aesthetic, and artistically appealing in terms of technique. This is an important literary methodology that Kim has been pursuing for the past forty years and it is what positions him on a pedestal of Korean poetry.
A notable feature of Kim’s second poetry collection, No, It’s Not So (1983), is his experimentation with prosaic techniques by using formal grammar, objective narrative, and the third person perspective while avoiding contextual leaps and omissions. For example, his poem “The Depths of a Clam” has no leaps or omissions and is composed entirely of orderly sentences. Another distinct feature is the use of the third person “she” or “husband” that leaves no room for subjectivity. This is one of the distinctive characteristics of Kim’s writing style.