Continuing the Legacy of Mogwol’s Lyric Poetry

  • onDecember 21, 2015
  • Vol.30 Winter 2015
  • byPak Mogwol

Pak Mogwol was an active poet for forty years, from his debut in 1939 until his death in 1978, and during this time he was a great mentor who guided many poets along their intended path. These poets came together and founded an organization called the Mogwol Literature Forum. The Forum has organized various events to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Pak’s birth, and published a poetry collection, Lonesome Hunger, in memoriam. A total of forty poets contributed to Lonesome Hunger, and surveying the members of the group, we can see that they are the major representative poets in Korean poetry circles.

Actually, Pak’s students, the poets belonging to the Mogwol Literature Forum, can be classified into different groups. First of all, there are the poets from the 1960s who debuted in prominent literary journals through Pak’s recommendations. Second are the poets who debuted in Pak’s professional journal, Simsang, which began publication in 1973. Finally, there are the poets who studied with him during his career as a professor at Hanyang University and then made their debut, even if this did not involve Pak’s recommendation.

Only by understanding the uniquely Korean recommendations process, the way in which writers are inaugurated into the writing community, can one truly understand that later generations of poets write to carry on his legacy. Passing through the recommendations system is the special way that poets and novelists join the literary community and launch their writing careers. In fact, the Korean words for “literary community” (mundan) and “joining the community in one’s literary debut” (deungdan) are characteristically Korean in that they imply a degree of exclusivity. This exclusivity means that one cannot become a poet or novelist without first being recognized by an already established poet or novelist.

This distinctive method by which authors debut is either through the recommendations system (chucheonjae) in the case of literary journals, or the annual spring literary contests (sinchunmunye) in the popular dailies. The two systems have different names and differ slightly in their methods, but they are ultimately alike in that through them an established writer recognizes the work of a new writer. For this reason, writers usually assume “junior” or “senior” status in the Korean writing community according to the year in which they debut rather than with reference to age. By extension, terms such as “poets of the 60s” and “poets of the 70s” also classify poets largely according to the year they debuted. As the debut system was at one time relatively strict, writers had to be recommended three times before they had completed the process. Also, new writers were permanently stamped with the mark of the writer who recommended them in a particular journal, and this recommendation also became a yardstick for evaluating their ability. Therefore, if writers received Pak’s recommendation, it meant that they were esteemed as being the most talented at the time.

The recommendations system came into being in 1939 in Munjang, a journal that was forcibly shut down by the Japanese colonial government in 1941. Pak was among the poets who debuted in Munjang, in 1939. At that time, he received a recommendation from the poet Chong Chi-yong and was published in the journal. It is a well-known story that Chong gave Pak the highest praise, mentioning him together with Kim Sowol in his recommendation letter: “Just as the North had Sowol, it is natural that the South would have Mogwol.” Although many poets debuted in Munjang, the ones remembered together with Pak Mogwol are Pak Tu-jin and Cho Chi-hun. This is because the three of them are known in literary history as members of the Green Deer Group (Cheongnokpa), named after their book of poetry and illustrations entitled Green Deer Collection (Cheongnokjip) published in 1946, the year after Korea was liberated from Japan. In fact, we could say that the journal Munjang was the agent of fate bringing the group together.

The first group of poets that has extended Pak’s legacy debuted in literary journals or in the spring writing contests in the 1960s or 1970s, owing to Pak’s recommendation. Lee Jung was the first poet so honored. After that came Heo Young Ja, Kim Jong-hae, Lee Seung-hoon, Kim Young-jun, Yu An-Jin, Park Geon-han, Jeong Min-ho, Kim Jun-sik, Lee Geon-cheong, Oh Sae-young, Yu Seong-u, Cho Jeonggwon, Na Tae-joo, Lee Chae-gang, Shin Dalja, Lee Geun-shik, Kim Myong-bae, Seo Young-su, Shin Gyu-ho, Jeong Ho-seung, Yu Jae-young, and Yun Seok-san. These poets debuted in magazines such as Hyundae Munhak until the early 1970s. A number of the poets mentioned above also studied with Pak at Hanyang University: Lee Seung-hoon, Park Geon-han, Lee Geon-cheong, Yu Seong-u (graduate school), and Yun Seok-san (Yun was not directly recommended by Pak, but can be counted as a student from Pak’s early period). 

The second group debuted in Simsang, the journal Pak published beginning in 1973. The poets included in this group are: Kim Seong-chun, Han Gwang-gu, Lee Jun-gwan, Kwon Taek-myeong, Kim Yong-beom, Han Gi-pal, Kwon Dal-ung, Lee Myeong-su, Jo U-seong, Mok Cheol-su, Yun Gang-no, Lee Eon-bin, Lee Sang-guk, Hwang Geun-sik, and Shin Hyeop. These were the major poets at the forefront of the poetry scene in the 1970s. Some of them also studied with Pak at Hanyang University: Kim Yong-beom, Kwan Dal-ung, Jo U-seong, and Mok Cheol-su.

Pak Mogwol died in 1978, so it was impossible for anyone to receive his recommendation after that. The third group of poets—Park Sang Chun and Lee Sang-ho—were not directly recommended by Pak, but studied Korean Language and Literature with him at Hanyang University and debuted in the early 1980s. This was the last generation to study poetry with him in his days as a university professor. Pak’s students and heirs that debuted in the 1970s and 1980s, including the ones mentioned earlier in this paragraph, once formed a group called Simgakgak, and garnered much attention for being leading young poets. Not only that, but the Mogwol Literature Forum poets are all important members of the Society of Korean Poets, and Forum poets Heo Young-ja, Kim Jong-hae, Lee Geon-cheong, Oh Sae-young, and Shin Dalja have also served as president. It is because their teacher, Pak Mogwol, was deeply connected to the organization that his successors could function as important members and become president themselves. Thus we can say that the poets Pak mentored were following their teacher’s example by participating in the society and assuming leadership roles as poets.

Through membership in the Forum, Pak’s students and heirs can take pride in their teacher and be actively involved in the literary community. The members of the Forum all write poetry in their own individual style, but they are alike in that they are Pak’s students, following after their teacher by extending the literary legacy of Korean lyric poetry. 


by Park Sang Chun
Professor of Culture and Contents
Hanyang University