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Korean Women’s Poetry at Its Finest: Pluck the Rose Now by Moon Chung-hee

  • onJuly 16, 2015
  • Vol.28 Summer 2015
  • byHan Sung-rea
今、薔薇を摘め (Pluck the Rose Now)
Tr. Han Sung-rea
2016
198pp.

Moon Chung-hee is one of postwar Korea’s pioneering female poets. Rejecting moral stereotypes outright, she has creatively expressed a “feminine awareness of life” and a “woman’s existential self-consciousness” through her bold writing. Moon has altered the course of Korean women’s poetry by changing its position to a social and existential one by frankly expressing the essence of a woman’s perspective. Not confining herself to gender or feminism, she has continued to inform the world about womanhood in a way that is suffused with an awareness of life. She believes that an affinity between humans and nature as well as among humans themselves should be achieved with the gentle power of femininity.

Last summer, Moon was invited to attend an international symposium in Tokyo. Winners of the Cikada Prize, founded in commemoration of Swedish poet Harry Martinson’s 100th birthday, gathered at the symposium, whose theme was “Expressing Dignity for Life.” Moon held a discussion with Mizuta Noriko, feminist poet and winner of the prize in 2013, on the topic of “Expressing Women’s Gender and Sex.” The audience was in a surprising frenzy to hear her speak.

 

At times, you may feel like peeing / with disdain on an unyielding rock / but especially at such times / lift your skirt gracefully as though performing an ancestral rite / and lower your body, luscious like the full moon lightly, to the ground. / And, when your body’s river seeps / smoothly into the earth with a warm rhythm, / listen to that sound of the earth and you becoming one. / Listen to the sounds of all verdant life cheering. / My precious woman!

“Woman Passing Water”

 

Moon manages to move people even with poems about bodily functions and sex. The woman in the poem above is not simply someone who urinates, but a being who bestows the water of life on Earth. As the river from her beautiful body seeps into the earth, nature cheers at the gift sent by Mother Earth. This scene is precisely the moment when woman and earth become one. The reading of this poem generated a flurry of excited reactions from the audience. Thanks to the support of the Japanese readers, Moon was invited to Japan again in fall and held a book reading and dialogue with Japanese feminist poet Itō Hiromi.

Schichosha, the publisher of Moon’s collection in Japan, is a reputed publishing house that started specializing in poetry in 1950, and has published several poetry and essay collections of Japan’s literary greats. Schichosha’s Gendai Shi Bunko is Japan’s most historical and prestigious poetry series, while Gendai Shi Techo, which it has been publishing every month since its inception, is Japan’s leading poetry journal.

Today, Moon is the acting president of the Society of Korean Poets, and has won several literary awards not only in Korea but also overseas, such as the Cikada Prize and the Naji Naaman Award. She has been published or is set to be published in the US, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Albania, Indonesia, China, Russia, and Cuba. Moreover, she has participated in international writing programs offered by the University of Iowa and University of California, Berkeley. She has also participated at international poetry festivals in the US, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Macedonia, Romania, Malaysia, India, Israel, Cuba, China, Japan, and Spain. 

 

by Han Sung-rea
Poet and Translator

Author's Profile

Moon Chung-hee is a poet and Endowed Chair Professor at Dongguk University. She has won prestigious awards such as the Sowol Poetry Award, the Chong Chi-Yong Literature Prize, the Mogwol Literature Prize, and Sweden’s Cikada Prize. She has participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. English editions of her books include WindflowerWoman on the Terrace, and I Must Be the Wind.