Robot of Loneliness: One Day, Then Another by Kim Kwang-Kyu
- onNovember 16, 2014
- Vol.25 Autumn 2014
- byKim Koga
- One Day, Then Another
Tr. Cho Young-Shil 2014106pp.
One Day, Then Another, by Kim Kwang- Kyu cannot be simplified into a few themes or concepts. Rather it ranges widely across the world, and through time and space. Kim takes us on a journey through loss and grief, war and shame, death and meanings/iterations of life. His poems take the reader through occupation/insurgence, historical periods of peace/prosperity, to the ever-silent present whether in cityscape or countryside. He is magnificently aware, open, receptive/perceptive. Though deeply complex, I want to focus on the textures of silence, loneliness, failure, and pain throughout these poems.
Kim takes us to the transit station and shows us a brief and silent meeting, “…We were each in a rush, so we briefly / clasped hands then parted. That / was it. We’ve never met again, although / we both live in Seoul day after day.” (“At the Transit Station”). Touch, so very integral to the human experience, but there is only time for visual recognition, to briefly touch, to let go, to depart. Kim recognizes that both this meeting and life are brutally short/long, and yet we fill it with “empty parenthesis”: job, money. Of time Kim tells us, “… the rest / is granted to the living, / who continue inside empty parenthesis, / unaware of the monotony therein.” (“One’s Dying Year”). Our ability to recognize and connect has failed. In turn we fail to fill the parenthesis with anything but minutiae to pass the time.
Still there is need for survival in the most painful and lonely situations. As people flee to the city Kim shows us who is left behind. “Father passed on thirty long years ago; / mother spent the rest of her days in that house, alone. / A crumbling country house, / … / A house you can’t sell: / everyone has left for the cities.” (“Vacant House”) The countryside is thrown into abandoned silence as its residents leave for the cities. Nothing is left but this crumbling house, the pain of death, the guilt of abandonment, and the inability to let go. “Every year I receive a property tax notice / for this vacant property, / a house on its way out, flickering like a straw fire / in a corner of this aging orphan’s heart / this sinner, who against his will, has two homes.” (“Vacant House”)
Even at the most basic level of survival, sadly, we are still ruled by money. “Like A Petty Thief,” we bury the dead shamefully, silently, drunkenly, so as to save on the cemetery fees. Perhaps that money buys the food to keep the petty thief alive, but he must live with the ingrained memory and enduring shame.
These are poems for survival. Poems that pull at the raw strings that are what it is to be human. To suffer such loss and how to live with such guilt: “flowing in the veins of memory / coming upon the retinas of closed eyes / drumming, even in silence, through the ears / ineffaceable shame multiplies / … / and leads me, I surmise, to live one day, then another.” (“One Day, Then Another”)
Kim Kwang-Kyu gives to the voiceless, but the voice is often steeped in a deep, heavy silence. His observations are astute, detailed, and speak volumes about the people who inhabit those scenes/spaces. Through these poems he recognizes the silence, failure, and depths of human loneliness that exist in all lives. Both at once global and intimate—these poems span languages, cultures, genders, age, and hold us against what makes us all so very human.
by Kim Koga
Freelance Writer and Editor
Kim Kwang-Kyu grew up amidst the turmoil of the Korean War and its aftermath. He was born in 1941 in Seoul, and was a student at the time of the 4.19 Revolution in 1960. Kim studied German at Seoul National University as well as in Germany. He first developed his poetic voice by translating German poetry into Korean, including satirical works by Heinrich Heine, Bertolt Brecht, and Günter Eich, before ever beginning to write his own poems. He only began to publish poetry in 1975, when he was already in his mid-30s. Owing nothing to standard Korean poetic models, his work enjoyed immediate popularity as a model of new poetics for the new age that began in earnest with the assassination of the dictator Park Chung-hee in 1979.
Less than a week after Kim Kwang-Kyu’s first volume of poetry, The Last Dream to Drench Us, was published, the life of Park Chung-hee was brought to a violent end. Following this, Kim’s book was actively censored in the subsequent security clampdown, which only served to give it legitimacy as a work of resistance. For almost the first time in Korean literary history, a poetic voice characterized by satirical humor was speaking out, pointing its arrows at the evils of dictatorship and the wretchedness of modern city life in subtle, understated ways. Kim’s other early collections, written during the ensuing military dictatorships, include poems that refer indirectly to the brutality of the regimes, which delighted young readers capable of grasping their hidden meaning.
In his work, Kim Kwang-Kyu is not interested in celebrating directly the beauties of nature, in part at least because he is very aware of the way human pollution has ruined them. He is one of the first Koreans to express alarm over looming ecological disaster. The voice of his poems often inspires a sardonic smile, but it is important to recognize in his work as a whole a deeply humanistic viewpoint. Kim Kwang-Kyu never speaks to draw attention to himself, but rather to raise questions about the way life is lived, or not lived, in today’s world. Kim Kwang-Kyu is still almost unique among Korean poets. He writes about topics that should make us want to weep in a way that often makes us smile.