Kim Seung-Hee (Sŭng-Hŭi) (1952~)
Kim Seung Hee (b. 1952), graduated from the English Department of Sogang University (Seoul) before entering the Korean Departmentís graduate program in the same university for her MA and PhD. degrees. She is now a professor in the Korean Department there. Her life as a poet began when she won the New Writersí Award of the Gyeonghyang newspaper in 1973; in 1994 she also gained recognition as a novelist, with the short story On the Way to Santa Fe. In addition to two volumes of fiction, a collection of short stories and a novel, she has published nine volumes of poetry (titles translated): Sun Mass (1979), Concerto for the Left Hand (1983), Love Song for Incompletion (1987), Life in the Egg (1989), How Shall I Get Out? (1991), The Heaviest Struggle in the World (1995), Laughter Speeding Away on a Broomstick (2000), Pots Bobbing (2006), Hope is Lonesome (2012) and Snapper on a Cutting Board (2017). She has received several major awards, including the 1991 Sowol Poetry Award and the 2003 Go Jeong-Hee Literature Award. Her volume Pots Bobbing was awarded the poetry award in Koreaís 2006 This Yearís Art Awards. The volume "Pots Bobbing" was translated into English by Brother Anthony and published in the Cornell East Asia Series as "Walking on a Washing Line."
Two Poems from "Walking on a Washing Line"
Walking on a Washing Line
Iím walking on a washing line. I would really like to be
engrossed in the task of aestheticizing the crisis without exaggerating the crisis, feeling Iím walking on a
washing line high above the clouds. If thatís a lifelong task, now
is the time when it comes to the fore in Capital
Letters. If thatís the poetís task,
although it may only be at the level of family
handicrafts, ultimately it can include a
quite significant cosmic content. In this age of vandalistic
capitalism it means that this creature
known as a poet, gaunt and withered like the pencil-lead of dire
poverty, with nothing to eat or put on, digging a well in the lines on
her palm then planting above it a single fantasy rainbow like
a clothesline, is aestheticizing and
maximizing the washing. Drawing from her own palm
spring-water more lovely than Crystal Water or the
Indiansí Arrow Head Water,1 then walking on the clothesline-rainbow
formed as it comes gushing out must
be really historic. ďBe of good cheer! It is I; do
not be afraid.Ē (Mark 6:50) A gladiolus, lips full of
blood blooming above the basin more gracefully and urgently
than even a cloud above a rainbow, destinyís crimson flames
dangling everywhere, impossible to measure, the day my friend who worked
in the East Gate clothing market2 was discovered dead in a motel
beside the Yellow Sea,3 so utterly without any close
family in this world I came down off my washing
line, went to the police morgue and I felt like a fire blazing
up in a darkened theateró she lay there above the clouds
with an expression that seemed to say thereís nothing as simple as
nothing, things simple as nothing are good. Why couldnít you have held on
a bit longer on the washing line, why did you fall down like that? Unable to
cry though longing to cry. Unable to
fly though longing to fly. I resolve
to live gracefully. Though
every evening I ram the car into
the walls of the underground parking lot, I really
have to immerse myself in the
task of aestheticizing the washing feeling
Iím walking on a washing line
high above the clouds.
From the television,
a sound of pots being beaten in Argentina. Ah, Argentina!
A sound echoing from the midsummer night streets of Buenos Aires
as young and old, men and women, all take to the streets
carrying pots, frying-pans, ladles, saucepan lids,
and, once outside, bang on them
while they all utter a single, united cry.
Debts, the unemployed, destitute people, fortune-tellers, psychiatrists,
the dead, the wounded, all sighing togetheró
I feel like rushing out to join them holding a pan
at the sight of people lined up, tight-lipped, for hours on end
in front of banks and employment agenciesó
the silence reigning over such scenes.
As we gaze at the fuzzy television screen
we eat in silence.
Around the dog-legged table with one broken leg
no one says anything about it.
We merely stare blankly at the bottom of the pot.
In the pot, radish-leaf soup, green paddy fields, ridgesó
ďDo you know what rice is? They say itís Godís tooth.
Once, when people were wandering about, starving,
God pulled out a tooth, threw it into a field, it grew.Ē
The jerking table's spasms are stilled by motherís words,
a quiet meal-table moment,
evening monsoon rains pour down,
pots bobbing. . . .
Iím walking on a washing line.
I would really like to be engrossed in the task of aestheticizing the crisis
without exaggerating the crisis,
feeling Iím walking on a washing line high above the clouds.
If thatís a lifelong task, now is the time when it comes to the fore in Capital Letters.
If thatís the poetís task, although it may only be at the level of family handicrafts,
ultimately it can include a quite significant cosmic content.
In this age of vandalistic capitalism
it means that this creature known as a poet, gaunt and withered
like the pencil-lead of dire poverty, with nothing to eat or put on,
digging a well in the lines on her palm then planting above it
a single fantasy rainbow like a clothesline,
is aestheticizing and maximizing the washing.
Drawing from her own palm spring-water more lovely
than Crystal Water or the Indiansí Arrow Head Water,1
then walking on the clothesline-rainbow formed
as it comes gushing out must be really historic.
ďBe of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.Ē (Mark 6:50)
A gladiolus, lips full of blood blooming above the basin
more gracefully and urgently than even a cloud above a rainbow,
destinyís crimson flames dangling everywhere, impossible to measure,
the day my friend who worked in the East Gate clothing market2
was discovered dead in a motel beside the Yellow Sea,3
so utterly without any close family in this world
I came down off my washing line, went to the police morgue
and I felt like a fire blazing up in a darkened theateró
she lay there above the clouds with an expression that seemed to say
thereís nothing as simple as nothing, things simple as nothing are good.
Why couldnít you have held on a bit longer on the washing line,
why did you fall down like that?
Unable to cry though longing to cry.
Unable to fly though longing to fly.
I resolve to live gracefully.
Though every evening I ram the car into the walls of the underground parking lot,
I really have to immerse myself in the task of aestheticizing the washing
Iím walking on a washing line
high above the clouds.
from earlier collections
from earlier collections
As the dark precedes the sun
so the sun murders the dark.
As reality precedes dreams
so too dreams murder reality.
Hey, eagle taking the sun for a stroll
now, behind that wall of clouds Ė
that the sun's mysterious corpuscular waves
are uniting my life with the sun.
To prevent my life from becoming an ashtray
to prevent my life from becoming
an icy mask
I dare imagine
my fire revolving to the sun and back
in a perpetual orbit
for ever, eternally.
I pray: Unite
my life and that enormous life.
By what spinning wheel
in the void of what fog
is our thread being unravelled?
What vapor are we?
I dare imagine:
As the dark precedes the sun
and just as the sun murders the dark,
as reality precedes dreams
and so too dreams murder reality.
since I do not wish
my life to go back to serve as food for fog,
and since I only long
to love more in order to live
I dare imagine
my fire revolving to the sun and back
in a perpetual orbit
And thus, as I wind the spool of existence round the sun
the sun's mysterious corpuscular waves
will convert my life to the sun.
I am all the time being pursued.
Like the star in a horror movie
I am pursued to the bitter end.
After living under a faint star of misfortune
unaware of the way things are,
one day the hackneyed plot says
that I suddenly start to be pursued
in the old projector, today again,
that never wearies but just keeps turning...
Now it's raining on the screen
and there I am from behind, getting drenched,
What crime did I commit?
On the silent screen
faint foreign words flash like a code;
why did I become a criminal?
Like some imbecilic flower,
even the question forgotten,
pursuing motions of flight in all directions.
As I hoped, though a nightmare is a nightmare,
if it's a nightmare you never wake from
all your life long
it's something great,
Ah, but you see, I long to watch
one really splendid love movie,
and one quite frightenly extravagant
Life in the Egg 1
How we all dream dreams
for our lives
wishing we could be a little stronger,
longing to build a more solid house,
wanting to have a firmer shell,
and if really we can get stronger
like a wall
that stonily stands its ground
without falling in ruins
then each of us
can get some hope
like a bridge of iron
that can never be blown up,
And then we know as well
that you and I
are just abandoned, worn-out eggs
floating, bobbing, in the dark
abandoned in space
swept crumbling down without even a title
when the flood gates are opened,
a tiny bubble
quietly bursting in the evening waves
and dreamlike pain.
Now one white egg
is boiing away in scalding warer,
no feathers for hatching
sprout in a coddled egg,
fearfully silent untimely deaths,
(such intense peace in those white hardboiled eggs
neatly packed in twists of straw)
tremble to bits like virgin martyrs
in a fearfully heated frying-pan.
No dream can redeem that pain.
Inside the egg,
a single room drifting in space
each of us is busy living
the only life weíll ever get,
rootless, incomparably rootless, therefore sad
Every single egg breaks open,
sooner or later, get cruelly smashed to bits
but thereís a room inside,
one room inside,
where a tiny candle like my face
is quietly blazing, shedding light,
and with lipstick
shedding faintly a dazzling smile
Life in the Egg 2
If I open the door of the fridge,
thereís a row of eggs meekly lodged,
cold, white and innocent,
so no matter how hungry I am,
I donít think Iíll find it easy to eat them.
One day I took the suburban line
with no special detsination in mind
and in front of some rural primary school
saw dozens of yellow chicks
a shabby market-woman was selling,
seething in a cardboard box,
scrambling out over the edge of the box
(the essence of life is so very warm)
the sight of them
wriggling to tell their joy at being alive
while Iím always repeating how grim it is to be alive,
brought something like tears to my eyes.
In that case, perhaps so far Iíve only been waiting
Oh, how sad!
What dreams can the whites and yolks
inside the shells of those eggs
on the top shelf of the door of the fridge
Perhaps those whites and yolks
are desperately discussing together
like our impoverished family
in the sickroom of Father felled by a stroke,
worried about the hospital fees?
If I quietly open the white door
of the all-seasons firdge
I seem to hear the sound of cold eggs whispering:
Mummy. mummy, hug me! Like those eggs that will never lie
snuggled against their mother henís warm breast,
consumers of hope sold at cut price
and I have lost my passport too,
when the temperature of hope drops
despair seems to grow more silent, more aloof, doesnít it?
Life in the egg 3
A few days ago I bought three
packs of eggs, thirty eggs in all
and now only one is left
they've all been eaten up, yet
nothing has happened.
Is that really be so?
Can such a thing happen?
There are those who say
that love is never more than a punishment
but this blind love
without a single window,
this dumb love
unable to say a single sound, no a b c or d,
and curled inside the shell of that last remaining egg
what oviparous tales are you dreaming?
What oviparous myths
do you say you are waiting for?
As for me, curled up like this
under December's cloudy skies,
I am dreaming of chicks skittering
through fields of green dropwort some spring day,
of some primeval azure dawn
with golden cockrels crowing cock-a-doodle-doo
as if waiting for the Phoenix to rise.
Did you expect your blue plate
to contain a yellow fried egg?
Did you see that golden Phoenix
fly fluttering over our roof?
In that case, go ahead, ask me
once more then how I am.
Song of children in the land of ice who love the sun
We must buy coal.
On account of the wind
the flowers are constantly losing their petals.
take me to the best firewood store.
At present the chill wind is blowing too hard,
intent on leaving nothing,
not a single word of human speech.
I go to the hearth to light the fire,
but it's full of a pool of golden spittle.
I head southwards in search of live coals but
they tell me some Greek fellow died for that long ago.
I shook my head
and told them 'No'.
For the sake of the future,
surely it's better to love the thin ice inside the privy?
Ah, trivial things.
You are all of you covering
far too trivial things.
I won't cover them up.
Gallop across this desolate shore.
So that I can finally rest in the sun.
So that I can reach it.
Roses and thorns
I touched life
with my blind hands.
It was a mass of thorns.
Feeling how life was such a mass of thorns,
If there are so many thorns,
roses will soon be blooming, I thought.
Yet even if roses bloom,
how shall I ever forget the pain of the thorns?
if only roses once bloom,
why can't I lose the pain of the thorns?
I caressed life
with my blind hands.
I expected roses
beyond the mass of thorns.
So many thorns were sticking
out from it, yet
I could not find a single rose.
So tell me now, please,
is life thorny roses or rosy thorns?
Is it thorns of roses? or is it
roses and thorns?
When I wake up in the morning, the world is there.
When I wake up in the morning, the right world is there.
The right world is rightly there.
The rightful world is rightfully there.
Why is the rightful world there?
Why, every day, rightfully, there?
As if that is where it rightfully ought to be?
The rightful world is there so rightfully
that no one can unpeel its thick skin.
It exists there quite rightfully.
So who made the rightful world?
Someone rightful rightfully made the rightful world, surely?
Someone capable of making it rightfully,
someone still rightful after having made it.
Therefore, the rightful world is obviously right
and since rightfulness is obviously always right,
anyone trying to peel the rightful world
gets smacked away by the hand of the obvious.
The rightful hand is an invisible hand
but why is it so rightfully obvious?
In the rightful world, I alone am not rightful.
Always a stranger to the rightful world, I
cannot believe what the obvious world says.
Likewise the obvious world
certainly does not think much of me.
The rightful world is taming the obvious world
and the obvious world is taming our world.
Let's file suits against the rightful world!
Let's file suits against the obvious world!
Sand's occupation forces are drawing nearer day by day,
the rightful world our feet sink into all day long.
Hobbling painfully on, my fate obscure,
I have discovered that the hardest battle in the world
Is the battle with that.
Suppose I grabbed hold of the obvious and rightful
and gobbled them both up first?
Before the sands of the obvious harden into concrete,
before the prison of the rightful devours the world entirely.
All day long one child colors pictures in a book:
Butterflies, flowers, clouds, streams.
The child is afraid the colors may go over the lines.
Who taught her that fear?
How did she learn
it's wrong to go over the lines?
Those butterflies, flowers, clouds, and streams
are all imprisoned inside lines.
Mummy, Mummy, the crayons mustn's go
outside the lines, must they?
Fear overflows from the child's gentle eyes.
All day long, docile and neat, my child is carefully
coloring inside the lines as the instructions say.
If I were not Mummy,
I would tell her: Go on, dear.
Sribble over the lines. Paint outside the lines.
Butterflies, streams, clouds, and flowers
are all things that explode.
They are all alive, dear.
Things that blossom, surging and scrambling over the lines
Things that trespass, that break the law, dear.
I used to hate every kind of institution
but being Mummy is an institution too.
I'll bind you with the ropes that once bound me!
I am that woman and the governor-general.
Kill Mummy, then, dear!
My laughter was ancient, a very ancient
From the time there was chaos in the beginning
my laughter blended happily with the chaos.
It started when the universe divided with its first wound
I was pushed to the edge of the world
and hung dangling there,
a laugh that would overwhelm the abyss,
laughing in all the nights of the world, perhaps.
As long as the wind was blowing, my laugh
was the bitter resentment of shaking leaves
then at rising tide, it came slipping out,
the runaway laugh of all the world's ebbing tides, perhaps.
At New York's 7th Avenue subway station
as I was waiting for a train
the woman beside me began to laugh,
a hawking sound as if her throat was full of phlegm,
her laughter was like a fit of coughing.
It seemed a hopeless fugue of gloom
mingled with the ponderous predestination
filling the underground cavern's night
kneaded with sobs weary of life.
As her shoulders heaved, through the fingers covering her face
the passionate rapture of an evil spirit overflowed.
Then the train arrived, casting grim light.
She hurled herself down, fell,
she died laughing still on the subway tracks.
The weight of the train put an end to her life
all that was left was blood,
a packet of bones, a bleached scarf,
a little bloodstained hair tangled in the scarf.
She had laughed to the end, made the cavern ring
With her low damp laughter.
Out of the blue, I recalled mothers with bleached scarves
on the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina,
May 1980 in Kwangju, nameless tombs and missing persons,
the countless mourners following
dead student Lee Han-yol's coffin,
a vast crowd that seemed to groan as if urging
those who still lived to follow behind!
Africa's black tears like diamonds sobbing,
mothers in Chechenia pleading: Don't shoot my son!
standing naked in front of the invaders's tanks
Suddenly laughter came bursting out
unstoppable, making my lungs and ribs resound,
breathtaking laughter bursting out,
immobilizing arms, legs, shoulders and back.
Was the laugh that rang through New York's subway
my own dark answer, my tribute to humanity's night?
My laughter reaches far and wide
across a vast and ancient region.
When hope to breathe is scarce, when sad comedy
and preposterous tragedy are daily occurences,
I laugh on recalling what loss, deprivation, disappearance
are contained in every wave of the tide.
Passing ex-presidents's houses,
flitting past the National Assembly,
passing press magnates' offices,
Dark laughter, coughing a Grand Canal dark as crows wings,
a slurry of coal-black despair,
with our generation's lungs, full of miners's disease,
beside old hero Yi Sun-shin's grubby statue
in the middle of Seoul.
To get out of the cavern, I am looking for slippery words.
Apart from slippery words, is anything else slippery
prescribed or needed to get out of the cavern?
To get out of the cavern:
Mozart, airmail postcards, swings,
Falling into revolution
Well, then, so....
To get out of the cavern
power is needed, of course,
a love stronger than the cavern's power
a fascination stronger than the cavern's power.
The unknown, unknown, unknown
the unknown of that fascination like a woman's name
has to draw you more strongly than the cavern's power.
To get out of the cavern, I laugh
laughter bright as white heroin
so-called ether laughter
borne on laughter excessively black
spreading ridiculously far
capable of defeating the laughter like white heroin
that defies the cavern's laughter
that defies oblivion's laughter to get out
Am I dead?
This time I? really dead
As I said that
At the earth's ultimate edge
Like the white whale's solemn breath
Quietly raising a waterdrop fountain
As it raises its head
Above the surface
As if receiving a gift from the god of pain
Even deprived of the bliss of sinking
Oh, I'm alive again
As if trying to say Whew ?