This evening two big heavy boxes were delivered to the flat. Inside them were copies of the first ever book with my name on the cover (!!!) – as translator of course.
Let Me Linger as a Flower in Your Heart is a collection of 53 poems by 53 poets. All the poets featured are members of the Korea Disabled Artist Association, some mention their disabilities in their poems, which give many insights, but just as many don’t, and they are all wonderful poems in their own right.
Its a bilingual book, so everything is printed in both Korean and English, and people who know both can pick at my translations…if they have nothing better to do. Translating all the poems was a real struggle. I only had about three months and I was working full time in an office too. Thanks to endless explanations from Kwon, corrections by Eonhee and editing by Brother Anthony I was able to submit them all, on time. And I think they’re pretty good as poetry translations go – luckily I had great poems to work with!
The book should come on sale in Korea shortly, its 15,000won, which is around £8 (or about 16p a poem) – I have some copies so if you know anyone that would write a review of the book or something please let me know. It probably won’t be available outside of Korea although I am trying to encourage the publisher to make the English bits into an e-book – we’ll have to wait and see about that.
One of my favourite poems in the collection is titled ‘Suffering and Beauty Live Up on Hilltops’, and its by Kim Yul-do. Funnily enough, today was also the day when Kim Yul-do was presented with the ‘Ku Sang Sosdae Literature Prize’, and so I was lucky enough to meet him at the award ceremony.
Before receiving his prize there was a poetry reading, where he read the poem on stage accompanied by a sign interpreter. It’s always amazing to hear the author of a poem you know and love read it out loud, and the amazing performance of the sign language interpreter made it even better.
I got special permission from the poet to post the poem here in full. I hope you will read it and enjoy it. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I love hills and mountains, I guess that makes this poem echo even longer for me.
Comments are welcome. Hopefully more poems to follow.
Suffering and Beauty Live Up on Hilltops
That’s how it is.
Suffering and beauty mostly live up on hilltops.
The citizens’ apartments on the hillside in Changshin-dong
gazing straight at Namsan Tower,
those apartment blocks imposing as a medieval fortress,
ended up being demolished by human hands
and now I too have nowhere to lay my head.
Seonghui’s dad with the watch stall, Geonju’s dad off working in the Middle East…
in that hilltop beehive, unable to leave though all longed to,
Mum works, slashing her fingers, tidying up hair for a few won a time,
while the whole family breaks their fingernails
for a few hundred won shelling pine nuts on the side.
From time to time the wind shook the house,
the light of a few stars flickered,
then when darkness came every day one hill would soar up,
another hill would crumble,
and from each floor, smelling of urine, out flows:
‘Ah, herons are crying mournfully, is it autumn already?’
Perpetually drunk, the man in number 401
would sing of nothing but herons
while I, a native of Changshin-dong, swim on lyrically
wearing clothes stained with salt for being drenched in sweat,
“From the the old fortress on Naksan hillside”
leaving behind those playing yut and spinning empty cans at the crossroads,
passing winter nights with that bitter wind as if in prayer,
yes, suffering and beauty mostly live on hilltops.
Note: “From the the old fortress…” is from the school song of Myeongshin Primary School on the Changshin-dong hillside.