Park Nohae was born in 1957 in Hampyeong, South Jeolla Province. His original name was Park Gi-pyeong.
While working as a laborer in various factories in his 20s, he began to reflect and write poems on the sufferings of the laboring class. He then took the pseudonym Park Nohae (No = ‘labor,’ Hae = ‘liberation’) and published his first collection of poems, Dawn of Labor, in 1984, under that name.
Korea was at that time under the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan, with strict censorship. Despite official bans, this collection sold nearly a million copies and created intense interest. The unknown poet became an intensely symbolic figure of resistance. The government authorities tried in vain to identify and arrest him. For seven years he was active underground, helping establish the 'South Korean Socialist Workers’ Alliance' in 1989. Finally arrested in 1991, after twenty-four days of investigation, coupled with cruel, illegal torture, the prosecution demanded the death penalty for the ‘leader of an anti-state organizations’, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
While he was in prison, a second poetry collection was published, True Beginning (1993), as well as a collection of essays, Only a Person Is Hope (1997). He was finally freed after being amnestied in 1998 by President Kim Dae-Jung. Withdrawing from his previous role, he helped establish a social organization Nanum Munhwa “Culture of Sharing” with Koreans concerned with the great challenges confronting global humanity.
In 2003, at the United States’ invasion of Iraq, he went with other peace activists to protect helpless civilians and promote peace. At that time, he undertook peace activities in Bagdad and in other Middle Eastern countries for 75 days. In 2006 he was in Lebanon on a similar peace-making mission and publicly opposed the dispatch of Korean combat troops to the Middle East. From the start he combined poetry-writing and photography, as he went to many countries that were suffering from wars and poverty, such as Palestine, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Aceh (Indonesia), Burma, India, Ethiopia, Sudan, Peru and Bolivia.
In 2010 he held his first exhibition of photos, “Ra Wilderness,” and since then he has continued to hold exhibitions to draw public attention to global issues of poverty, human values, and warfare.
In 2010 he finally published a large new collection of poems, So, You Must Not Disappear, on themes such as resistance, spirituality, education, living, revolution and love. Since then, living in a remote rural community far from Seoul, he continues, with the members of “Culture of Sharing,” to hold photo exhibitions in a dedicated gallery, the Ra Café and Gallery, in Seoul, also occasionally publishing photo albums, such as “Like Them, I am There,” and “Another Way.”
When the citizens of Korea began to hold candlelight demonstrations in October, 2016, in protest at the corruption of the Korean government under Park Geun-hae, he and the members of “Culture of Sharing” participated actively, then in 2017 they published a large album, "Candlelight Revolution," for the first anniversary of the “Candlelight Revolution.” He continues to be active and to write, while efforts are now underway to make his work and writings available internationally in translation.
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Some Very Popular Poems
war-like night shift once over,
three wretched meals a day,
only I could get free,
my drooping body,
unavoidable wall of despair
family of three depends for its living on my boss, so
I go to hospital cradling a hand crushed in the press,
off to the police station for organizing a labor union
judges and prosecutors who can turn us into criminals
or save us
people, people with power, people with wealth
I ever become a heaven
we too want to be a heaven.
that year was pallid.
showed no regret, only ever-deepening shame as
could say when the winter would end.
person full of hope
person seeking the way
truly good person
within that person.
darkness ever been so heavy, dense, and fearful?
that a mirage?
We are safe.
kerosene lamp of a Q’ero youth
night amidst the snow-capped peaks is vast and deep,
today’s world is dark as pitch
know there is a light in the world
if such a powerful, tenacious spirit of evil rules,
one last person is one first person,
is a miracle,
So long as you, one faint light, are still alive . . . .
So you must not disappear.
* Ivan Illich
one road ends,
one door closes,
winter grows deep,
finest end is a true beginning.
* Helen Nearing