Introducing Korean Poetry to the World: ‘A Common Consciousness’

In News by Dennis Abrams

‘A growing international curiosity in Korean literature,’ says one specialist, is widening the field for poetry from South Korea.

On Seoul’s Myeongdong Street. Image – iStockphoto: Alxey Pnferov

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘Ethereal Elegance’
AThe Korea Herald, Joel Lee writes of an unusually robust impact from Korean poetry.

“While the world’s eyes are gradually turning away from poetry,” writes Lee, South “Korea’s poems are leaving their marks in the pantheon of international literature, acquainting readers with their ethereal elegance.”

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon

Lee talks with Kim Seong-kon, president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea,  who says, ”Unlike in the West, where many illustrious poets self-publish, some writers in Korea have become so popular that they earn considerable royalties, deemed unimaginable elsewhere.”

The institute recently worked with the UK’s Modern Poetry in Translation magazine to help introduce some of Korea’s best known poems in the journal’s winter issue, entitled The Blue Vein.

The issue includes the works of poets Ko Un; Yi Sang; Kim Hye-soon; and the winner of last year’s Man Booker International Prize for her novel The Vegetarian, Han Yang; as well as other poets from Korea and around the world.

Kim tells Lee at The Korea Herald that the issue allows readers to discover the distinctive qualities of Korean poetry.

“The debut in this prestigious magazine,” he says to Lee, “reflects a growing international curiosity in Korean literature.” This, he says, shows South Korean culture at last finding its way onto the world stage.

On the 46 poems included in the issue, Kim quotes the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Alexandra Dugdale, who says that the poems show “a common consciousness, an awareness of a world badly skewed, inhospitable, and deadly.”

Kim, a professor emeritus at Seoul National University, is quoted by Lee, saying, “Many Korean movies and novels display a strong sense of social critique, but Korea’s poems have traditionally been more lyrical than political in nature. Recent trends in poetry show profound personal reflections on life, free from the weight of political and social ideologies.”

The Language Translation Institute of Korea has partnered The Guardian in London to feature Korean poems in the “Translation Tuesdays” series. The institute has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Islamic Development Organization in Tehran to cross-publish poetry anthologies from the two markets. A delegation of Iranian poets is to travel to South Korea in June to celebrate the publication of poetry collections in Korean and Farsi.

The institute is also working on similar translation and publication projects with colleagues in The Netherlands, Georgia, Indonesia, Singapore, and other countries. It has signed agreements with American poetry publisher Action Books, as well as the White Pine Press.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.