Lee Seong-bok


Born in Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province, in 1952, Lee Seong-bok studied in the Department of French Language and Literature at Seoul National University, completing his studies there with a Ph.D. He is now Professor of French at Kyemyeong University (Daegu). He made his literary debut in 1977 with the publication of "At a Familiar Brothel" in the review Munhak kwa Jiseong. His first collection of poems, Dwingkunun doreun eonje jamkkaeneunga(When will the rolling stones wake?) was published in 1980. Since then he has published a number of collections, including Geu eoreumui kkeut' (That summer's end, 1990) and Sumkil sueopneun norae(Songs that cannot be hidden, 1993). He received the 1982 Kim Su-yeong Literary Award and the 1990 So-wol Poetry Award.

The poetry of Lee Seong-bok has drawn a great deal of attention with its outstanding imagination and unexpected transformation. Since his first poem published in 1977, he has amazed readers with opulent images of free association. He moved them with the "radiant pause" of passionate love in his second book of poems, Namhae Geumsan. When it was regarded as the poetic culmination of an age, he was already moving to a new world of "love poetry." His poetic transformation taking place at each time a new book is published is remarkable in that it goes beyond change in topics and forms.

The poetic world he presented, sometimes flamboyantly and sometimes serenely, was an event or a scene which was unfolding on the boundless horizon of interpretation. It was also pointed out by Kim Hyeon, who wrote that Lee Seong-bok's poetry expands its meaning by posing a question about not only the personal and private dimension but also the public and universal. Such expansion of meaning takes place between all kinds of binomial categories as well as between the personal and the public. It also blurs the border between the social and the existential.

In terms of life, what Lee Seong-bok's poetry implies is that everything is correlated and that there is no single centre. The collective and the individual, the social and the existential are coterminous. However, Lee Seong-bok's poetry does not ingnore the contrast itself. He turns the contrast into a source of dynamic reading in his poetry and suggests that the pain of life can be overcome through the communication between the two different things.

Lee Seong-bok's poetry can be interpreted in multiple perspectives, and it even opens itself to re-interpretation. Furthermore, the diversity of interpretation itself poses the question of reciprocity between the interpretations.








That year the winter passed and the summer began but

the spring never came Peach trees

bore tiny fruits even before they blossomed and

barren apricot trees were withering away

Pus oozed from boys' genitals for an unknown reason and

doctors emigrated to as far as Africa We

were treated to a drink by our friends going overseas to study

and received an unexpected letter from our uncle who

had been drafted during World War II to Namyang However no

surprises roused us from inertia and insensitivity;

they only embellished our desperate habits to make them look

a bit more flamboyant than in the previous year

Nothing was remembered

Mother was alive and Sister vivacious but

their joy was quietly trodden down by my feet or

had already been crushed with a fly-swatter

They occurred to me rotten whenever I saw pornography

That year the winter passed and the summer began

but we were still struggling against ethics and sham theories

instead of spring Since the spring was never to come

we volunteered to go to an unseen prison






That Day


That day Father left for Keumchon on a seven o'clock train and

Sister went to school at nine That day Mother's old

legs got all bloated and I went to the newspaper company to

idle away the whole day The front was safe and the world was perfect It had

nothing wanting That day prostitutes were hanging around the train station

and young would-be-prostitutes were helping with the housechores or taking

care of their younger siblings That day Father had a row with his boss over

the matter of uncollected money and Sister went to a concert with her lover

That day I saw an attractive woman in boots

and thought you could kill a man if you love him enough

That day all that flew over the calm trees was not

a bird I witnessed that the weeding woman were weeding out

their own lives ; the men pulling down houses were pulling down

their own skies I saw the friendliness of an old fortuneteller and

familiarity of a toilet That day a few people were killed in traffic

accidents and that day bars and motels downtown were still crowded ; yet,

no one heard the moan of that day

Everybody was sick yet nobody was in pain






A Song that Cannot Be Hidden


The reason I'm leaving you now is that I've started a long journey toward you

Looking back, we are like two pillars of a cromlech standing at the end of the road

And there is a silent desert between the two which nobody dares step in

My life lies between two different kinds of death like a hyphen

Looking back, we are like two pillars of a cromlech blinded by the long light of the evening sun

The reason I'm leaving you now is that I wish to find your long journey toward me





The End of that Summer


That summer crape-myrtles remained intact They didn't fall in a storm and

even survived the following one Then they bore crimson flowers like falling



That summer I was in the middle of the storm That summer my despair

bore crimson flowers like a joke yet for many storms it didn't fall


When the unyielding flowers of crape-myrtles, that cling to and hold onto

the tree then burst into flames, covered the small court with blood, like a

joke, my despair was over.





And White Flowers of the Tall Tree Set Up a Lamp


A few days ago it got cold then while the stone building across the road

was sucked up into the ashy sky, the whole earth was lifted one momen

t and came down again There is something uncomfortable in such lightness

Rebellion against the centre of gravity and order, then I start to feel cold The

chilly air copulates with my skin My chilling backbone communicates with

the stiffening earth ItĄŻs the beginning of the cosmic cold