Kim Kwang-kyu was born in Seoul in 1941. After graduating
from the German Department of Seoul National University, he studied in
Germany. He is at present a professor in the German Language and Literature
department at Hanyang University. He initiated his literary career in 1975
with the publication of "Shiron" (Ars Poetica) and other poems in the review
Munhakkwa Chisong. In the same year he published a volume of his translations
of poetry by Heinrich Heine and Gunter Eich. This was followed in 1985
by a volume of translations of poetry by Bertolt Brecht.
His published volumes of poetry include Urirul choksinun
majimak kkum (1979), Anida kurohchi ant'a (1983), K'unaksanui maum (1986),
Chompaengich'orom (1988), Aniri (1990), Mulkil (1994). A selection from
his first three volumes was translated into English and published in England
as Faint Shadows of Love (Forest Books) in 1991.
His poems are characterized by a plainness of style and
presentation close to prose, yet they nonetheless never lose the essential
poetic tension, perhaps because of their skillful use of irony and satire.
He has written much poetry sharply critical of the abuses of human dignity
caused by corrupt politics and the structural contradictions brought about
by the industrialization of society.
His subtle protests at the dictatorships of the 1970s
and 80s were especially prized and he is also one of the first Korean poets
to write on the themes now known as 'ecological' with his feeling for the
ravages society has wrought on the world of nature. From time to time he
writes poems indicating ways in which transcendent experiences can occur
even to people living in the radically secularized and unreligious present.
His delicate touches of humor distinguish him from most modern Korean poets.
Today the car-park is completely empty.
The parking attendant has not come to work either.
All day long the sunshine streams down
on the open space, stained with splashes of oil;
from time to time pigeons come in search of food,
the wind blows past.
With no sign of people working,
no trace of things left lying around,
empty, open to the sky, this patch of ground
has thrown off every unjust occupier
and for a moment reclaimed its rights
as it enjoys its rest; today let's not call
this open space a car-park.
Wearing Dad's old clothes cut down to their size
and seeing winter nights out gnawing
the peeled stump of a cabbage root,
my younger brothers with their hair cut short
grew up fine.
My sisters used to enjoy dates in Sajik Park.
We had nothing to be ashamed of.
Our poverty was our good conscience
and all our treasure.
Ah, sons and daughters,
you've sold that last treasure
to buy videos and aircons and sports-cars.
What need is there for you to hide your faces
under that thick make-up,
somehow feeling ashamed, perhaps,
dress up like actors or singers,
play the stock market?
What you need to recover,
dear daughters-in-law and sons-in-law,
is not the treasure your parents bequeathed,
it's the poverty you've forgotten about.
Fussing and Fretting
As I left the bank after withdrawing
some small change, the icy wind
ruffled my hair.
The image of that dignified borrower
sitting in the lending clerk's reception area:
there was no way I could pass through Shinch'on
without treading on ground belonging to him.
The sidewalk glistening with artificial marble
was disfigured by messy blobs of gum.
Beneath the street, subway trains were speeding.
Below them again subterranean rivers flowed
and at levels lower still
rocks in flames were burning crimson.
At least I'm lucky to have been born
in a country free of earthquakes.
In a corner of this ball of earth
with five billion people living on it,
one slice of Seoul
where ten million citizens swarm:
that piece of land, that will not fit
into any safe, had been the possession
of that real estate broker. He had freely
conveyed it, mortgaged it, sold it
while I had floundered about on it
working all day long
in order to earn some small change
that I spent my life carefully hoarding,
fussing and fretting.
North South East West
In spring a flood of tender green goes rising
spreading northward, northward.
Unhindered by barbed wire or military demarkation line
it journeys north.
Rising over mountains
azaleas and forsythias cross the border north.
In summer the cuckoo's call,
the croak of frogs,
are just the same in every place.
In fall a flood of golden hues comes dropping
spreading southward, southward.
Unhindered by demilitarized zone or lines forbidding
it journeys south.
passing over valleys
cosmos flowers and crimson leaves cross the border south.
In winter the taste of ice-cold pickle
the taste of spicy morning soup
are just the same in every place.
North South East West: making no distinction,
covering everywhere alike
in white, no one can keep back
In the shantytown's playground, snot-nosed kids
are busy playing on a slide.
Storming up the steps of the slide
they come swooshing down again.
All day long from morning to night
you play on the slide
until the seats of your pants wear out.
Why you keep on sliding down?
No one ever asks.
High up in the distant Alps,
people climb to near the Matterhorn
then go irresistibly sliding
down dazzling white sheets of ice.
Skiers thronging from all over the world,
all sorts of little folk playing about
look far smaller than any ant
on the broad breast of fathers soaring aloft
in the gentle embrace of mothers flowing down.
You all go sliding fearlessly
down steep snowy slopes.
Why do you keep on sliding down?
No one ever asks.
Translated by Brother Anthony.