Carlos Cruz-Diez, “Chromosaturation” (1965/2017) at the Palm Springs Art Museum (photo by Elisa Wouk Almino/Hyperallergic)

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

Star,        Tearing

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

Flower,    Vomit

Water,      Boiling

Knife,       Swelling up to the throat

White,      Fluttering

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

49 ……………

48 Boring

47 It’s all the same the same death

46 Lights off lights on

45 A barely visible threshold

44 Bone

43 Flesh

42 Spill your blood

41 Take off your skin

40 Fling your heart

39 Foot

38 Shriveling

37 Hand

36 Shriveling

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

1 …………………..

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.

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