Brother Anthony on Ko Un (including poems)
Ko Un, Ten Thousand Lives, tr. from Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé, Young-moo Kim, and Gary Gach.
Introduction by Robert Haas (Green Integer, 2005)
While in prison, for resistance to the South Korean dictatorship of the early 1980s, Ko Un, who was born in 1933, resolved to write a poem for every person he met in his life. Green Integer presents an excerpt from the 10 volume, ongoing work. The result has the typological sweep of August Sander, who imagined doing photographic portraits of ordinary people, at the same time there is a bit of late Whitman’s desire to touch every person he meets with his poems. The series of portraits are part parable, part zen koan. Poverty is never far from any of these serial poems, nor is the violence of the Japanese occupation of Korea. The last section includes portraits of major political figures in a way that sometimes resembles a kinder, gentler socialist realism. The poems about Ko’s literary forebears are stunning. Since I don’t know Korean, I can’t offer much commentary on the translations, but the English is vivid, colloquial, and compelling. The power of the whole is not captured by any one portrait, which tend to be underplayed and avoid excessive drama (akin to the poetics of Reznikoff). I offer this, therefore, not as exemplary but as a sample:
On a bank by the stream at Mijea
a solitary fisherman,
was reeling in his line.
Sa-haeng’s son Ch’il song came running along the other bank.
“Dad, dad. Ma’s dead and won’t shut her eyes!”
He was too far away, his shouts were wasted.
Cold waves lap between the two, forever parted
also from Green Integer: