Yi Won is a leading voice in contemporary Korean avant-garde poetry, combining cunning wit and social criticism with bold formal and typographic experimentation rarely seen in Korean literary history. Her work is particularly attuned to the complex mediations we have come to call the postmodern, as the title of one of her poems, “I Click Therefore I Am,” readily attests. Throughout her poems appear such images as internet news feeds, cyborgs, department stores-cum-tombstones, investor suicides, womanizing literary critics, and the world’s lightest motorcycle, which together intimate her various shades of ironic detachment as well as sober-faced reflections on the cruel realities of late late-capitalism. The only other work of hers that has appeared in English is Walter K. Lew’s translation of “I Click Therefore I Am.” Below are two poems from her collection History of an Impossible Page (2012). —Kevin Michael Smith, translator
* * *
Stone, Up to there solid things and I
Light, Things leaking, stretching my flesh
Wall, Up to there things nudged
Road, Up to there things tossed
Window, Until it doesn’t arrive
Surface, Until it wells up
Interior, Until there is no place to fall
Blood, Getting tangled up
Ear, Crawling out
Back, The world losing
Color, Digging up, tearing apart
I, While escaping from the mirror,
in the swamp surprisingly there are so many things to bury
You, Having already escaped from the mirror,
in the air too surprisingly many things are buried
Eye, Breaking, shattering
Dream, Soaked in blood
Seed, That which is darkest
Egg, There too undoubtedly silence vehemence
Bone, There too left alone
Hand, There too cracking
Mouth, There too caught
Door, Impetuous, delayed, belated
Body, Shadow revealing its true colors
God, Stuck to fingertips
Knife, Swelling up to the throat
The Window Closes in One Minute
59 Hey there, excuse me
58 Inside the body the body is rotting
57 Where’d you put what you dug out from my body
56 Exhale your last breath
55 The hole is completely filled
54 Spit your last breath
53 The first day of this year began on a Monday
52 The first day of this year was cold all day
51 If you shut your eyes far away I was boiling inside
50 Quickly, come into the shadow
47 It’s all the same the same death
46 Lights off lights on
45 A barely visible threshold
42 Spill your blood
41 Take off your skin
40 Fling your heart
35 The shadow’s quite mushy
34 Before the flesh smolders
33 Before the body escapes from the body
32 Where is here
31 Oil floating in spicy beef soup gone cold
30 Working at job #7
29 Don’t remove the insides of the body
28 Barely crying and so on
27 It’s hot
26 Inside the shadow, it’s hot
25 Crazy, huh
24 Pitch black
23 Outside the body a wailing sound is heard
22 Not permeating and slipping
21 Strip off your skin
20 The steps entering the body are all there
19 You cannot exit from inside the body
18 Spit your last breath
17 Where did the mouth go
16 Where is the voice
15 I am boiling up
14 I am burning
13 One hand’s width of door
12 Exactly one hand’s width
11 Before it all burns
10 Choose the bones
9 You came too late didn’t you night
8 You came too early didn’t you darkness
7 Ripples on the Danube River is today’s last song
6 Completely draped in wind
5 Don’t stop keep flowing
4 O river water
3 Completely draped in wind
2 I am your
0 –– –– ––
* * *
Yi Won is an award-winning poet from South Korea, whose avant-garde work is at the cutting edge of the contemporary Korean poetry scene. Born in Hwaseong, Gyeonggido Province in 1968, she holds a BA in creative writing from Seoul Institute of the Arts and a graduate degree from Dankook University’s creative writing department. She has published five poetry collections, When They Ruled the World (1996), A Thousand Moons Float in the River Yahoo! (2001), The World’s Lightest Motorcycle (2007), History of an Impossible Page (2012), and Let Love Be Born (2017), each from the publisher Munhak kwa Jiseongsa (Literature and Intellect). Her first prose collection, The Smallest Discovery, was published in November, 2017 by Minumsa. She currently lives in Seoul.
Kevin Michael Smith is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis. His dissertation focuses on modernist Korean poetry from the Japanese colonial period (1910–1945). His essays and translations have appeared in Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture; Yi Sang Review; Asia-Pacific Journal; and Lana Turner Journal. He currently lives in Seoul.
Artist Minouk Lim wants to offer a very different perspective on how one might deal with a grim history whose effects continue to be felt in the present.
This week: Should Washington have a national memorial for gun violence? Have cats used us to take over the world? What is Cluttercore? And more.
Organizers, artists, and land practitioners are holding public events at Iglesias Garden in a hub space supported by the Climate Justice Initiative, a project of Mural Arts Philadelphia.
The artist’s style blends aesthetic and cultural elements from Ghana, London, and New York’s graffiti scenes.
Workers told Hyperallergic that they were tired of meager pay and a lack of job security.
Jo Sandman / TRACES opens with a reception for the artist on June 3 at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
Authorities say Jean-Luc Martinez helped facilitate the Louvre’s purchase of objects illegally pillaged during the Arab Spring.
The suspects attempted to take a Basquiat artwork valued at $45,000 from Taglialatella Galleries but instead made off with a half-empty bottle of whiskey.
Funding MFAs and all full-time graduate degrees, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans supports immigrants and the children of immigrants in the US.
From music and architecture to comedy and horror, these films showcase Ukrainian culture and its long-held ethos of resistance.
The artists showcased in Archival Intimacies examine the colonial trauma’s impact on Asian Americans and search for ways to overcome it.
Eiffel inadvertently paints its protagonist not as a great man worthy of scrutiny or praise, but as the Elon Musk of his day.