Living Inside Life, with Others
- onApril 20, 2015
- Vol.27 Spring 2015
- byKim Nam Jo
Poetry is an intimate monologue. When poems are shared with readers, the poet is cut off from her own words and becomes a person who sits calmly in front of a new blank piece of paper. Therein lies the challenge, that only after tearing out the bark of the dark and destitute world, can one find a certain truth and the language of that truth.
I was born during the shameful era of our country when Korea was forcibly occupied by Japan. I grew up a colonial child, and about the time when I graduated high school, I welcomed our independence. Even though we experienced an emotional uplifting from the regained usage of our prohibited Korean language, our prohibited Korean writing system, and our prohibited genuine Korean names—shortly thereafter, Korea was overwhelmed by a war that confronted and divided the South and the North. Due to Korea’s inexperience in politics, economy, and education, when Korea immaturely attempted to become a member of the modern state, many Koreans fell into the depths of poverty. Every household bore casualties and faced hopeless partings without promise of reunion. Korean poets began singing of this sadness; poetics which were most sorrowful—most beautiful— aroused popular sympathy, and it seemed like this agony became their food and water. This, however, was not a direction of despair. It was a massive national march towards hope.
In 1953, during the Korean War, my first book Life was published. Readers empathized with lines like: “That is the life I wanted to have / only to not die / like a pebble I could fall anywhere, any mountain, any field.” Life is a school where everyone’s lives are listed in the school registry. When the time comes for graduation we, the students, will leave this world. In my recent poem “Old Soldier,” I wrote: “I am an old soldier. I enlisted when I was born, and now have become the oldest soldier. . . . My military duty is life.”
The most important affair in life is life itself. Life is a strong and strict parent. We the living people are its feeble children. I believe: “Longings, regrets, and poverty / And sufferings and such / Humans’ daily life / Broken into the water / Until becoming distilled water / As the wedding gift of life, suffer and suffer / Devoted / And life is truly / Worth this much.” Therefore, it is my unchanging belief that people must pay willingly, without discount, the price which life claims.