These notes were published at the end of Chon's third volume of poems (Chon Sang-pyongun Chonsang shiinida). The translation is included in the English-only edition by Cornell but was too long for the bilingual edition so I offer it here
Let me expose briefly how I write poetry. There is no room for
detailed notes on the composition of each individual poem, but I can explain
how I see poetry-writing in general terms.
I consider poetry to be the king of literature. In literature there are many different genres: you have novels, essays, childrens' stories, drama. But poetry is topmost among them.
By that I mean that poetry is the truest of all. A lying poem is no poem. A poem is the truest of all truths. We cannot live if once we abandon truth.
Joy is one expression of truth. I love to laugh. The critic Kim Ju-Yon once commented that he could not help laughing when he read my work; I have never deliberately written poems to make people laugh but there does seem to be a sense of humour about them.
You and I are all living for the sake of truth. The truth about human existence lies spread far and wide. What gives it expression is poetry. If you get angry after reading a poem, it must have been a fake!
I never write poems like that. More and more with the passage of time I have tried to express the true meaning of human existence.
I tend to write poems quickly. But it is only the writing down of the poem that is soon done; it takes a long time for me to compose a poem. Once I have hit on an idea, I spend hours reflecting whether I should express it in this way or that.
Notes on the composition of a poem touch its very being. It is very difficult to say, such a poem came in being for this particular reason. Because then you are expressing its very essence.
As I said, I see poetry as the essence of human existence. We have to be faithful to one particular task. Only then is it possible for worthwhile works to be produced.
Perhaps because I have no children, I am rather lonesome. In order to overcome that loneliness I naturally have to become stronger. Which naturally means I have to become more firmly resolved.
I am obliged to face existence honestly, with a bold heart, since in that way I grow more resolved.
Wishing to become more resolved means that I have to read a lot of books. Not only do I have to read many books, I have to do a lot of thinking too.
As a result, I have to live in close contact with poetry. Wishing to live in close contact with it, naturally my links with poetry multiply. Maybe that is why I became a poet.
What I have to be careful of as a poet is my fear of being snared by worthless things of no value. Attaching importance to the realities that give increasing weight to human existence as time goes by, I have to reflect that in my poems.
It is easy to imagine that since I am obliged to lead a lonely existence, I must be gloomy all the time but such is not the case. That is because God is there. I believe in God.
God is the absolute being for me. Whenever I feel lonely, I think of God and try not to feel lonely.
That is as much as to say that I never feel lonely at all.
The thought that I am never lonely is one aspect of the truth in my poetry. Thanks to belief in the constant presence of God, I am never lonely. God is always there comforting me.
I have got into the habit of constantly looking out for poetry in my everyday surroundings. Our surroundings are full of poetry. If you look at your own life's surroundings properly, you're sure to find a poem rolling around.
Life covers a wide area. Even when you are somewhere quietly on your own, there is poetry about. You only need open your eyes, there is a poem rolling around. You just have to seize it for a poem to be born.
I love being alive. Even in the trivial incidents of daily life there are so many moments when you feel something. I have grown quite good at seizing poems in the thick of daily living.
I look for poetry in the trivial things and incidents of everyday life, and as a result I find myself with a plentiful supply of material for poems. I find so many things to write about in everything around me.
As far as family goes, there is no one but my wife so it's a bit deary but I'm never alone since I try to follow God's command to love everyone.
If you are too much alone you cannot write poetry. I'm blessed because I consider that there is nothing that does not concern me. That explains why I am relatively optimistic, although I cannot earn any money and have nobody in life except my wife.
Life may be complicated, if only you keep your wits calm and steady, it is really very simple. There may not be many people who think life is simple, but I am one of them.
Material for poems is not only found in deeply meaningful events. I have got into the habit of finding deep meaning in quite insignificant happenings.
I savor intensely everything that happens around me and try to give it shape. In that way trivial events turn into poems.
I face life with open eyes and that is why I find poetry in insignificant things. So life is my poetry.
I love music. Classical music. So whenever I am writing a poem I always listen to the radio. There is a channel that broadcasts classical music all day long.
Beautiful music not only stimulates poetic ideas, it furnishes an appropriate approach. I cannot even imagine writing without music. Beauty is the very life of a poem.
The world is a complex place. This world's mixture of war and peace complicates our emotions about life but so long as we keep our minds straight, everything is simple. The effect of all that has an influence on the world.
Our life is bound to be affected by the things that happen in the world. Those influences are reflected in our lives. If we face life squarely, such things are decisive. Or at least, facing life squarely is. Life needs to be lived. The truth about existence lies in our lives and characterises them.
There is a poem I wrote a long time ago called "Not just blue". It is about how there are other colors, not only the color blue, in the color blue. There are other things, not only one thing, in each object.
As I have said, my life and my faith are the basis for my poetry. That is my approach to poetry and its very essence.
It is no good if we think how difficult a poem is, as we read it. The thought must be simple. A poem we have difficulty with is no poem.
I consider that a poem we can read like an essay is a good poem. A poem is something that makes us think about the essence of existence on the basis of some trifling incident.
I think that faith and life are the essence of poetry. For me there can be no excuse for the use of difficult words.
Faith is belief in the Absolute Being. How can we live if we do not know the essence of the world? Since the Absolute exists, how can we live ignoring it?
Faith is the first principle of my existence. This fundamental principle once removed, I do not see how it is possible to write poetry. For myself, without principles I am helpless.
So I go to church and write poems. There are almost no religious
poems in this volume, though.
You will find here poems written recently and others written earlier, but readers need not worry about that.
This is my third book. At fifty-five, only to have published three books is not very much but I regret nothing.
I may be a poor wretched poet but I live as well as I can without any regrets. Love is the greatest happiness in life. I may be poor and sad, I am happy too.
This book is the outcome of that happiness.
Happiness is nothing other than that. Happiness means always living with a full heart. Happiness is when you are able to find meaning in trifles and feel happy.
That is how I am. If you are able to lighten your hearts even a little by reading these poems, nothing could give me greater joy.