Traces from the Ordinary: Lee Si-young

Lee Si-young
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

Translator’s Note

The present poems, taken from Lee Si-young’s more recent work, are prose poems, a form more popular in Korea than in most other countries. This might be because the Korean language defies the patterning methods known in English as meter and rime. Line breaks in ordinary Korean verse are usually completely arbitrary and add little but a “poetic” look.

Lee Si-young is a poet who embodies in his poetry personal experiences in particular historical moments; he records the traumatic traces, the indelible scars of the collective life…

Critic Yoo Hui-sok recently wrote: “Lee Si-young is a poet who embodies in his poetry personal experiences in particular historical moments; he records the traumatic traces, the indelible scars of the collective life of the Korean people in the 20th century with a personal touch. (…) Born in the countryside which was barely touched by modernization as he grew up, he speaks as a simple man speaking plainly. But at other times, he is remarkably urbane, or even streetwise. He knows how people live in the city as well as in the country; his rural sensibility sits well with his open-minded urbanity.

“For the past decade, Lee has made direct use of all kinds of raw materials from mundane everyday life. The poet faithfully represents what is happening in the real world, but his sense of reality liberates the readers from the drabness of life in a hilariously unexpected way.

“In ‘Amusing News,’ the narrator relates the episode as a news clip broadcast on T.V. This poem is amusing in that the dual rhythms of poetic utterance — the mode of documenting and the way of storytelling — delicately overlap; the natural overflow of humor lampoons ‘a Mr. Choi’ whose sense of property rights is so strong that he is ready to sue the bears for larceny. If this mockery comes close to satire, it should be stressed that it is a satire at nobody’s expense. The gurgling laughter of ‘the Jiri Mountain streams’ chimes with the laughter of every one watching the news show. Even the beekeeper may have chuckled off the matter after due ranting and raving.”

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