[NOTEBOOK]Let's celebrate our writers, poets

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[NOTEBOOK]Let's celebrate our writers, poets

"Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Victor Hugo, France is covered with Hugo banners. Posters carrying Hugo's portrait and the epigrams from his works are seen on every street. Display stands at every bookstore are filled with Hugo's literary works and newly-published review books on his literature. Even small towns are busy in preparing for various memorial events," said a report that I received from a correspondent in Paris in early March.

When I received the report, I felt excited and somewhat ashamed. According to the report, more than 200 events in memory of Victor Hugo have already been held or are scheduled to be held in France. Hardly a day goes by without an event in memory of Hugo, and the media are restudying him. In particular, France's Culture Ministry and Education Ministry are enthusiastically informing teenagers of Hugo's literary works and activities. Reading the report, I realized that France is one of the countries where culture flourishes.

Korea is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the births of several of its writers. They include Kim So-wol, who is known as one of the most popular poets among Koreans, two other poets, Jeong Ji-yong and Kim Sang-yong, and three novelists, Na Do-hyang, Ju Yo-seop and Chae Man-sik.

Korea is restudying the works of these writers and holding events in their memory. The Association of Writers for National Literature and the Daesan Cultural Foundation plan to hold a literary festival at the Conference Hall of Sejong Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 26-27 to celebrate the centennial of the births of these literary figures.

The Korea Writers Association has held seminars in memory of Na Do-hyang and Chae Man-sik. The local governments of the areas where these six writers were born are also preparing for various memorial events. Okcheon in North Chungcheong province, which is well-known as the home of Jeong Ji-yong, who wrote the famous poem "Nostalgia," is planning events in memory of the poet. Gunsan city in North Jeolla province is preparing for an event in memory of Chae Man-sik, who was born in that city.

Despite these events, I regret that the enthusiasm is weak. On Monday afternoon, several groups of lovers of Jeong Ji-yong held the "Seoul Ji-yong Festival" at Seoul Arts Center. About 300 people, including poets, attended the festival. Kim Ji-ha, a poet, won the 14th Ji-yong literary award at the festival.

"On further reflection, my past life of about 60 years was the life of a vagabond and what has penetrated me was the nostalgia for my home I left," Mr. Kim said after receiving the award. Then, quoting a phrase from one of Jeong Ji-yong's poems, Mr. Kim added, "Whenever I got drunk, 'clouds floating in a distant harbor' came from my lips, burning my dried lips." This remark impressed the audience.

Many poets who were suitable for such a festival did not attend. The festival, which could be regarded as the essence of art activities, was held in a small hall with 200 seats at Seoul Arts Center.

But the events in memory of Jeong Ji-yong were held in better conditions than those for Kim So-weol. At least, Okcheon county, Jeong's home, is eager to celebrate in his memory. Kim So-wol gets no such benefit because his hometown is in North Korea. I know of no literary group holding events exclusively for Kim So-wol.

There is no Korean who has never heard of "Azalea," a poem by Kim So-wol. His work is recited and loved by generations of Korean people. But no group or poet has proposed to hold an event exclusively for Kim So-wol.

This shows that Korea is not a country where culture is highly regarded, though the government has said it will promote plans to make Korea a country based on culture and boasted that the government budget set aside for culture has increased to more than 1 percent of the total budget.

Victor Hugo was buried at the Pantheon where only the greatest men and women in France can be interred. France honors artists and writers. Even now, however, we do not have verifications on when and how Jeong Ji-yong died in the North. How long must Korea's great poets be "clouds floating in a distant harbor"?


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The writer is culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Kyeung-chul

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