A picture and a thousand words no mere trifles

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A picture and a thousand words no mere trifles

Susan Glaspell, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, proclaimed that seemingly trivial things are some of the most important in her American one-act play "Trifles," produced in 1916.

In Korea, the play and the American author's notion live on. Oak Song, 57, has lectured about the dramatic work at Korea University for years. To Ms. Song, trifles mean "hidden beauties" waiting to be discovered, such as four fluorescent lights in the ceiling of her church, three old gas lamps near her office, two sparrow couples chirping on campus.

But while Ms. Glaspell used a stage, Ms. Song uses her automatic camera and her gift for verse, combining them in what she calls "photo-poems." The results of her fusion are presented in "Love Song of Sparrows," published by Dongin Books. Photos accompany 40 Korean and 30 English poems.

Ms. Song, however, shuns the label of professional photographer or poet. "I just adore taking pictures and writing poems for pure pleasure," she says, stirring a cup of coffee. "My photography skills are just plebeian."

Ms. Song, who specializes in Shakespeare, has affixed to her office wall a poster of the bard wearing sunglasses and a sweatshirt bearing the words "Los Angeles" in red. Surrounded by overflowing bookcases, Ms. Song says, "I enjoyed writing and photographing. So will my readers, I hope."

It was 1970 when she first had the urge to write poetry, while working on her doctorate in theater at the University of Oregon. One day, out her window, she saw a sparrow, a bird common to her hometown, thousands of miles away. Then she hit upon an idea -- a poem based on homesickness and titled "A Visiting Sparrow." From there, she kept composing. "I took pleasure in writing poems in English because of its opulent vocabulary," she says, refilling her coffee cup.

Back in Korea, she started taking photographs, and began juxtaposing them with her poems. Then she started to send her friends cards attached with her photos and poems. They received a favorable response. "My friends from then on pushed me to publish a book out of my collection," she says.

Ms. Song takes pride in pioneering the genre of photo-poems. "Korean scholars up until Joseon Dynasty completed their artworks with a poem written in calligraphy," she says, "but I've never heard of photo-poems in modern times."

Her photo-poems display a new world of imagination. In "Love Song of Sparrows," she describes what two sparrow couples might think looking back on their first dates. In another work, she uses a picture of squid hung out to dry and a description of a battle.

Over the years, Ms. Song also learned that photographs can be deceiving. "Even though I take the pictures during my daily routine, my friends or students do not recognize the settings," she says. Ms. Song once discussed this with the arthouse film director Lee Gwang-mo, who said in return, "Professor, that's not deceit. It's a discovery."


by Chun Su-jin

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