June 27, 2011

Kim Su-Young

Kim Su-Young [Korea]

Born in Seoul in 1921, Kim Su-Young (Kim Su-Yŏng) studied for a time in Japan, at what is now Yonsei University. But in 1943, in fear of being drafted into the Japanese military, Kim fled to Manchuria.

During the Korean war, he was forced to serve in the North Korean army for a period of time, and was subsequently interned on Koje Island until 1952. He later worked as a journalist and lectured occasionally.

In his lifetime, Kim published only one volume of poetry, Tallara ŭi changnan (A Game Played in the Moon) in 1959. Work of his also appeared in the 1949 anthology, Seroun tosiwa simindur ŭi hapach'ang (The New City and the Chorus of Citizens).

Kim's work, nonetheless, was highly influential in the early 1950s as he led the group "The Second Half," arguing for modernist developments in poetry, including surrealism, abstraction, prose, slang, and, at times, profanity.

After his death in a car accident in 1968, further collections of his poetry and critical essays were published by Minumsa Publishing Company, included in his complete works, Kim Su-Yŏng chŏnchip I shi, II sanmun, of 1981. The essays, Si yŏ ch'im ŭl pet'ŏro (Poetry, spit it out) appeared in 1968 and his manifestoes, arguing for a renewal of poetry and aesthetics, influenced by Modernism and Kim's growing conviction that poetry use colloquial language, was published
as Pansiron (Theory of Anti-Poetics) also in 1968.


Tallara ŭi changnan (1959); Kim Su-Yŏng chŏnchip I shi, II sanmun (Seoul: Minumsa Publishing Company, 1981)


The Great Root (Seoul: Minumsa Publishing Company, 1995); in Variations: Three Korean Poets, trans. by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Young-Moo Kim (Ithaca, New York: Cornell East Asian Series, 2001)

Games in the Land of the Moon

A top is spinning.
Life enthralls me, child's or adult's;
I love to watch, I gaze open-eyed
as a child spins a top.
How beautiful a child at play is;
children playing at housekeeping are really beautiful.
I forge to converse with the man I am here to visit,
longing for the child to spin the top again.
Casting everything aside, even my work,
(I live in the city as one pursued
and my life
is more enthralling than any novel)
conscious of my age and the dignity age brings,
here I am, solemnly sitting,
watching with candid eyes a top spinning.
The top turns black as it spins.
Every house I visit is more relaxed, less frantic than mine,
quite out of this world, in fact.
The top is spinning.
The top is spinning.
A string would round the foot of the top, most strange,
one end between the fingers,
the top thrown to the floor,
and there it spins, soundless, pale gray,
a game played in the moon, long unseen down here.
The top is spinning.
The spinning top moves me to tears.
I mustn't cry before the man of the house, he's stouter than me,
below the plane painted on his wall;
this evening is assigned to my destiny, my mission
to be forever improving myself;
it would not do for me to be the least bit inattentive,
ye the top spins on and on, as if mocking me.
Tops lie farther back in my memory than propellers,
more weak things than strong make up my kind heart,
and the top is spinning before me now
like a sage from a past millennium.
It's a sad thin, come of think of it,
but as it spins upright it seems to be saying:
"We must not weep, you and I, for our power to spin,
since that is something we both share."
The top is spinning.
The top is spinning.

—Translated from the Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé and
Young-Moo Kim

(from Tallara ŭi changnan, 1959)


The snow is alive.
The fallen snow is alive.
The snow that has fallen in the yard is alive.

Let's have a cough.
Young poet, let's have a cough.
Let's have a cough aimed at the snow.
Make the snow look up, then freely, freely,
let's have a cough.

The snow is alive.
Four soul and body oblivious of death
the snow is alive as the morning breaks.

Let's have a cough.
young poet, let's have a cough.
Looking out at the snow,
let's have a spit:
all the phlegm accumulated in your lungs overnight.

—Translated from the Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé and
Young-Moo Kim

(from Tallara ŭi changnan, 1959)


Unclean heart!

Why, night is beating at night's windows.

You have wasted this night in countless refusals.

You are wasting it now, too.

How pitiful the stars that shine here below.


In this night made voice let us bless those made void.

Translated from the Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé and
Young-Moo Kim

(from Tallara ŭi changnan, 1959)

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