A Companion to Ten Modern Korean Poets

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Abstract

A Companion to Ten Modern Korean Poets is a practical handbook that connects poetry and culture with historical moments in which Korean poet-intellectuals mused on what poetry can do. This book offers a historical viewpoint of how they struggled to maintain Korean national identity, cultural sensibility, and spirituality in times of violence and surveillance. Surveying how each poet shaped their poetry, responding to the political events, it also guides readers to understand why Korean poetry begins with a sense of solitude but ends with a longing for the building of common ground called Minjung. Finally, it provides translations of each poet’s representative poems. Through seemingly transparent poetic texts may emerge the tension between language and speechlessness, hunger for the modern and hunger for what is lost, and memory of the past and hope for justice. This tension makes all ten poets, including Han Yongun, Jeong Jiyong, Kim Sowol, Yun Dongju, Yi Sang, Baek Seok, Kim Suyoung, Seo Jeongju, Ko Un, and Shin Kyeongnim, crucial witnesses to the brutality in modern Korean history. On the other hand, there is the integrity of their poetics. Although living in difficult conditions, they continued laboring with their mother tongue to create modern Korean poetry, shaping Korean cultural identity, based on folk traditional arts, such as Minyo and Gut, and finally, sharing folk sensibilities of Heung and Jeong under strict censorship. Listening to their voices, we might begin to imagine a new unfolding of history in the age of extremes.