[Web Exclusive] KLN at TEN: Interviews with Poets

  • onOctober 2, 2018
  • Vol.41 Autumn 2018
  • byKorean Literature Now


Shin Cheolgyu

KLN: How do you feel about being in the special issue of KLN?

Shin: In the past ten years of post-fascism here in Korea, I’ve always tried to represent the voices of the few, of those in pain in whichever way. I guess someone saw that and rated it positively. It’s a responsibility for me to continue in that artistic direction. I feel it’s my duty. I don’t think that my poetry is representative of young poets in Korea today. But I guess someone thought I was doing meaningful work in showing Korea’s specific situation and historical context. It’s nice to be appreciated that way. It’s a work I’ll be continuing in the future.


KLN: What do you think distinguishes Korean literature from that of other countries?

Shin: Korean literature is written in Korean. The Korean language has weathered a lot of foreign invasions, including the Japanese occupation, and still managed to keep its uniqueness, but on the other hand that creates an obstacle in itself. It’s the biggest problem that Korean literature and Korean poets face, how to navigate that transition from individuality to universality.

In my poetry I use dialect, so I’m interested in digging up more of those words that have a history, to preserve and protect them. Beyond language, then you have to consider the quirks of Korean society. We may have advanced economically, but mentally and politically there’s regression, then there’s generational conflict, the North-South division, women’s issues, all sorts of very tense conflict. On the other hand it gives us poets, it gives writers something to write about. I would say the sheer diversity of subject matter, that right there is a distinguishing point of Korean literature.



Song Kyung-dong

KLN: Do you think Korean literature, or literature in general, should have a social responsibility?

Song: In life we all need each other’s help, I owe you, you owe me. Every day you need to eat, you need to sleep, you need to go to work, and all those countless things have been produced by somebody. Literature is not a necessity in that sense but it does produce food for the spirit, for the soul. So literature does have a responsibility, a responsibility to create better food for the soul. Just as people in other walks of life do their best,           writers should do their best to create society’s food for the soul.

In a certain sense I see literature as another form of parliament or government. Actual government or parliament is based on preexisting law, but literature has more freedom to explore what society should aim for, to listen to what people want and to make that known. In that sense I think literature serves a role not unlike parliament or government.

The other role of literature is that of media. In the conventional journalistic tradition, media reports facts, but literature adds to that by talking about our dreams and hopes, disappointments and setbacks, painting a more vivid picture of contemporary society in all its complexity. It’s a role not to be taken lightly. In that sense writers might consider their role not just as producers of content, but also as a form of government, of parliament, of media.



Kim Min Jeong

KLN: Your work has been discussed as having a cutting-edge quality that pierces through language, identity, and social relationships. What is your take on that?

Kim: For me it’s quite strange to hear my work discussed like that. Often I’m not exactly sure what they’re saying. My poems are very simple, in a way. Think of the way young children speak, of the scribbles they draw before they speak, and you have a good idea of how I am. If you read my poems that way, through the eyes and mouths of children who are always making new discoveries, rather than adults who already know everything, you’ll find my poems aren’t difficult at all, or so sharp or piercing.


KLN: What do you think distinguishes Korean literature from that of other countries?

Kim: The biggest difference? It’s new. I love new things. Go abroad and nobody knows anything about Korea, nor do they want to know. It’s like a treasure box that hasn’t been unlocked yet. For me it’s a very positive thing.



Seo Hyoin

KLN: How do you think you have changed over the course of publishing three collections?

Seo: My first and second collections are Behavior Guidelines for the Boy Partisan and One Hundred Years of World War. They were published within a year of each other. I published the first one in 2011 and the second one in 2012, which was apparently quite unusual. Usually poets need some time between books. I would say my first two probably come from a similar place.

I was writing what I thought about in my 20s, early 30s, so I was all over the place, not so polished. I was critical and angry about a lot of things, I was easily angered. Yeosu came out in 2017, so it took me about six years. During that time I started a family, and kept working at my day job as well. I don’t know if that’s the reason or not, but I feel I’m less critical and more reflective, I’m leaning towards melancholy rather than anger. If before I would get mad at things and write about that, now I take the time to think about the big picture, not just myself but my place in society as a human being, relationships, time and space. I write at a slower pace now. I’ll have to see where that takes me in the future.


KLN: What do you think distinguishes Korean literature from that of other countries?

Seo: I’ve heard that we have the highest proportion of people writing and reading poetry, across all ages. I couldn’t pull up a source right now, but people really do love poetry here. It’s a source of challenge, of suffering, of comfort. So we have all sorts of people creating poetry, and a very lively poetry scene here in Korea.



Song Chanho

KLN: You’re known as a poet’s poet in Korea. What do you usually write about?

Song: I’ve never thought of myself as a poet’s poet. As for your question, I live in the countryside, so my poetry mostly reflects life, the everyday scenes of life that I see every day.


KLN: What do you think distinguishes Korean literature from that of other countries?

Song: Korean literature is dynamic and has various poetic expressions. There’s still a large readership for poetry in Korea compared to other countries. There are all these publications, so many different magazines that support that. So there’s space for lots of new poems to be published quite regularly, and to meet new readers. Poetry may have become somewhat niche but there are still a lot of young people who dream of writing poems. I would say the future of Korean poetry is quite dynamic in that sense. If you look at those who are active now, the young poets are doing amazing work. You have all these different styles clashing and competing and creating a very diverse landscape.