Selected Poems

  • onDecember 21, 2017
  • Vol.38 Winter 2017
  • byKim Un
Let’s Write a Novel (The Poetry Collection)

Let’s Write a Novel

Don’t write a novel that’s too long. Nor one too short. End it where it gets boring. It’s not about how many pages it is but how long it feels. Be absorbing enough to be read anywhere, the twist just enough to perplex. Its narrative should betray every question. Its interiority impervious to any answer. Find a protagonist like that. Cast from the streets, audition indoors, stop right at the red carpet at awards ceremonies. If you need more words, make a different film. If you need more awards, don’t film at all. Return to write poetry. Write a novel devoid of poetry. Put in important sentences that can but don’t have to be there. Rally more words or make them lonelier. Periods should shed fat tears all alone. Other punctuation should be contemptuous and drunk enough to sleep with each other. Was it good for you? It was! Scout out a good dating spot for couples tired of that kind of conversation. If not on the bed, then where? Unless it’s in the bathroom, don’t worry about where to lower the pants or lift the skirt or put on the underwear again. It’s the people who make the places. Places stand in for people. Spaces should enter people and eventually dry out. Be understanding of the romantic guy who’s homesick for his dried-out homeland, but keep him at a distance. Ensnare with one word the interiority of a man with oft-changing emotions. His hair should be ordinary, like that of people in hospitals or nursing homes or prisons. They don’t need a lot of advice. Give this advice a good stir and refuse it. For a traveling salesperson, create a flaw befitting a traveling salesperson, and then bandage it. If the flaw keeps flowing, bandage the anus. If there’s a severe cough, mix up the coughs and change scenes. To drier weather. Messier is the face of the character who in the conclusion washes his hands, revealing my squeamishness by his completion, and then neglect him more. Work out the novel that comes after the one being written. Go back to your first inspiration and lose your way. Or find it in an alley. Or an icy road where a speeding bicycle is described like a train, or full of longing like a train station, or something obvious like a breakup should all be avoided as inspirations. Before that, publish. Make the invitations cards baffling so people won’t know they’re going to a publication party. Start writing the novel in the instant they’re mailed out. The movie should begin there, and end there, too. Be like the friend’s father who despises and misunderstands bad plotting. Reach out an olive branch to the friend of that friend. Include scenes of natural misunderstanding. Fisticuffs are unnecessary but keep them short. It’s too dramatic, so think about the length. In the next novel.




The People in the Mouth


I raise the hackles of everything. The tick-tock of moral battles splay out in my mouth. If someone died, it’s from my tongue mispronouncing. He mistakenly twisted my tongue.

One person’s mispronunciation paralyzed a flooded city. There’s too much rain, a cadaver floats by. I’m here to be part of a riot.

Every pronunciation and hate evaporate in the noise. I could close my mouth on behalf of all the people. Snap, and they close their mouths. Or even die. Else I’d be speaking the people who are not of this city.

He returned from inside the rumor. The mouth closes, full of persons and people soon to become events. I’m here to be part of the masses. I may be thinking or listening, being part of an event. Like saliva pooling in the ear.

I plant my flag on many streets. Some houses have already opened their doors. Hereby proclaiming, My land is mine.





On the Snake


We don’t think we will say anything.
We seem to have a universal fantasy. On the tongue. On the road polished by the tongue. On the snake that’s pure shine, too, we must conclude the same. The moment the tongue moves,

speech passes. Toward the air
we perk up our ears and the music passes. I fell into the air and floundered, but we speak the facial expression of my realizing, after several listens, that it was music.

We lonesomely speak each second. About the tongue.
Speak with a forked tongue of music and screaming. We wake from sleep and pull over our heads the many siblings of the snake that have piled up by our beds. A habit, of throwing on a hat when it gets too scary. Hairs slough off the skin to escape. The snake passes, pushing out a tongue forked in two or three. To take off the hat.

The music passes. I fell into the snake and floundered, but you make the expressions of someone struggling to lift up the hat. We don’t think we will say anything. On snakes.

For a moment, I’ve described the tongue.




True Story


We think we walked more than we really did. So we walked more. We think we did more good deeds than we really did. So there was more need for good deeds. In each kind place, there must be more of me living there. There’s plenty of time.

We shared a lot of words, and think we shared more than we really did. I think I stopped breastfeeding earlier and began walking earlier and memorized my multiplication tables earlier than I really did. You think you learned to speak earlier than you really did. This word Mom, how could you have heard this word spoken by your mouth?

They say it was when you were two. You said Mama for the first time when you were two, and when you grew up went on more travels than you really did. You went on more travels than just your class trip, honeymoon, vacations, and weekend trips alone, and so you spent more money.

When the money I’ve spent on the road brings up countless memories, I’m certain there will be more me’s walking the roads that I’ve walked. These more me’s along with more you’s are wearing more shoes as they walk about. We’ve never met but we’ve parted more times than we have. In a place of no compromise we achieved more summits and were joyous.

Our endurance was so tenacious we could better realize the sanctity of life in our solitude. In someone’s group photo we pose with more colleagues. I ate more dinner to remember more utterly forgotten facts or actually to excrete a little more and returned home.




I’ve Never Seen a Clearer Reason


I’ve never seen a clearer incident.
The sentence doesn’t occur after the incident,
the incident occurs after the sentence. Some sentences are very clairvoyant.
Some sentences are quite inauspicious. And other sentences
take responsibility for their words. They become a bit unhappier.

Who extends a hand before you? A beggar’s hand or
a helping hand. Or a greeting extended by the head
of a pack under a delusion of equality.
As pack heads they’re the same, but not equal.
Or even fair. Someone’s hand is always larger. These sentences
create little conflicts. They stir up large questions.

War broke out as promised. “Grandmother passed away.”*
Millions of lives were finely weighed by this sentence.
Life and death, these words are overly simple.
Enemy and ally, these words are overly clear.
POWs crowded in from everywhere. Enemies
alongside allies, cannons roaring in their mouths, they made a declaration.
Until my hand grips a white flag and waves it wordlessly,
guns will charge. Bang, the sentence begins.
Snap, the banner breaks. Umph, the one who stops crying
forces me to make a declaration. I scrawl this sentence and
full-stop that one and cremate the body so it’s
recognizable. Only after scattering the ashes do we put down on listless paper
the crumbled buildings and our morale once higher than those buildings.
They float downstream. As the sentence demands,
the river is blue and once was blood-red and the ocean
shows us a mouth that could swallow every corpse and then some. One or two sentences are not enough.

POWs returned from almost every continent. The many sentences
run up towards the termination of hostilities. Most of the constitution is being rewritten.
Some sentences are adamant. Others anticipate exceptions.
Someone’s influence fogs an incident. Their words suppress the incident.
I’ve never seen a clearer reason. Taking advantage of the political disorder,
the sentences newly finish themselves. Sentences containing both logic and error.
As it was before and as it was after, the sentence of this very moment
is the most important. The stars in the night sky are completed through that declaration.
Holding both logic and error, the sun shines and the stars drift and
the moon remains still. That word that’s destroyed and returns every moment,
Earth, expands. Government weakens, outer space freezes and
redundant equations deleted so stars can burn to death. From the mouths of scientists,
the big bang sprung when answering was a bother.
The word sprung again in a radio program.
In a few arbitrary seconds, the word expanded to many billion times its size.
The word was also discovered in the hinterlands of the Andes.
The word was also discovered in the mouth of a flowing sewer. Spinning, as
the gutter water was sucked in. From someone’s mouth,
along with smoke and gas, to progressively larger mouths, another
sentence was conveyed. In the beginning was the sentence. A religion leading the words right before and containing
the explosion right after, and massacres and mercy.
Sentences complete the Word. The advocate speaks for

the inaudible voice. When delicate gestures
cannot catch up to the mountainous paperwork
you pound the gavel three times and you pound the prison bars several times and
your voice strains as it tries to escape even a little further.
Most wouldn’t escape the law, but this sentence containing
both logic and error may fare differently. It sympathizes with no one, but
someone’s incident is very strong. This sentence is unnecessary.
This sentence can be crossed out. The word suppresses the incident.
Their influence erases the sentences. I’ve never seen a clearer reason.
Why he had to live. And why most keep silent.

*Code phrase used when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.



Translated by Anton Hur

Illustration by Amy Shin


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Author's Profile

Kim Un has published the poetry collections Breathing Tomb, Giant, Let’s Write a Novel, Everybody Moves, and a self-labeled “one-line diary” titled, Everybody Has a Sentence in Their Heart. He has received the Bongsaeng Literary Award, Midang Literary Award, and Park In-Hwan Literary Award.