Kim Hye-Sun

Kim Hye-Sun’s poems first appeared in the early 1980’s as Korea began to emerge from decades of authoritarian rule. In a Korean tradition of poetry in which women are expected to be non-controversial, soft-spoken, and gentle, Kim Hye-Sun’s work is a shocking deviation. Her words are harsh, radical, and shouted from a shifting ground of what Kim calls women’s “diasporic identity.”

Kim belongs to the group Another Culture, which emerged in the 80s and has played a critical role in feminist literary research and publication, including development of women’s studies in South Korea. She resists conventional literary forms long defined by men, exploring women’s multiple and simultaneous existence as grandmothers, mother, daughters, and lovers, and speaks of the creation of a new language for women—a language untouched by the powerful male presences that dominate Korean Literature.

Whereas male Korean poetry relies on the manipulation of nature, on what one decides to see, Kim theorizes that women recognize nature’s independent existence, and understand how to bring forth a poem and let it go its own way, as they must do with a child. She speaks in a recent interview of the forces men impose on their subjects, either by cutting away from nature only the parts they want or by splicing in convenient metaphors. Women impose their existence not over nature, but beside it, she claims; their language is internal, and their resistance forges a language that is surreal, defiant, revolutionary.

Whether in spite of, or because of, her rebelliousness, Kim was one of the first women poets to be published in the prestigious journal Literature and Intellect. The recipient of several major literary awards in Korea, she has published seven collections of poetry, and, most recently, a collection of critical essays about women and writing. Kim’s work has been translated into both German and Spanish, and poems in English translation have appeared here in Arts & Letters, Prairie Schooner, and the Literary Review.

Married to playwright Yi Kang-baek, Kim teaches at Seoul Arts University, where she is Dean of Creative Writing.

Poetry Center Reading:

Fall 2003

You

splash cold water over me then
walk around my heart clenched in your two fists then
spread out my four limbs with a wooden roller then
thrash me down on asphalt then
let a bus roll over me, a tank roll over me then
if it gets tedious
sprinkle a fine powder
and fix up my face then
appear with a deep blue knife
and quilt every inch of my scalp then
discard it into boiling water then
shake and pull out from the water my hair that has turned white
then
stir tasty dressing over my hair and eat it like yum yum noodles
in broth
during one summer afternoon is
you

(Translated from Me Korean by Don Mee Choi)

from PRAIRIE SCHOONER, Winter 2002

Regarding Love

1.

He opens the window
puts his hand inside my heart
and pumps out water.

When I open the door
because I feel like running away
somehow he manages to get near me
opens the window
and hauls the water from my heart.

As he pumps and pumps
eventually I stagger from a bout of blackness
he opens the window
throws a hot coal
into my empty heart
and says, follow me follow me.

2.

I follow and stick close to him. I stick close no matter what.
Meanwhile, he runs away, filled with fear, he runs.
He runs and says, I am your Father, keep your distance.
Then I let him know it’s me, I’m your mother-in-law.
Sometimes he says, I’m your grandson, and runs.
Then right away I threaten. I’m your grandson’s wife; I’ll show you our bond.
Mind deteriorates. Mind declines and gets trampled upon.
He says smugly that because of love he can’t see the mountain.
Then I brag that for me there’s no such thing as mountains. Don’t you see the
world is only
made of deep holes?

3.

My laughter doesn’t stop.
At every laughter
a hole appears on a running shirt.

You wear a blue mask and enter.
You hold a pair of shiny scissors.
You say, Get up now, it’s time for a showdown.

We take turns
exposing our guts.
You begin to laugh as well.
Hee hee hee
your, intestine, is, blue, is, too, skinny
your, intestine, is, yellow, like, a, poisonous, moth.

Laughter doesn’t stop.
At every laugh
clothing disappears
a roof vanishes.
Eight arms stretch out.
Cold sunlight begins to shake
the two of us
unable to stop laughing.
We shake
full of evergreen leaves
attached to our bodies.

(Translated from Me Korean by Don Mee Choi)

from ARTS & LETTERS, Fall 2000

A Song

(A poem composed in 28 A.D. Korea)

When my dead mother comes to me
and asks me to lend her my shoes
I take off my shoes.

When my dead mother comes to me
and asks me to hold her up, for she has no feet
I take off my feet.

When my dead mother comes to me
and asks me to lend her, lend her
I even rip out my heart.

In the sky, mountains rise, trails rise.
At a place where there is no one
two round moons ascend.

(Translated from Me Korean by Don Mee Choi)

from ARTS & LETTERS, Fall 2000