[Viewpoint]Korean poetry in a new age

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[Viewpoint]Korean poetry in a new age

I recently published a book and signed my name in hundreds of copies at the publishing company. The company said that they will be available in online bookstores. I felt pain in my right index finger after writing the same letters repeatedly for several hours running. I grumbled to myself while I was working because it was such a boring job. However, I soon realized that I had nothing to complain about. I know that the publishers are trying to sell more books.
I’ve silently avoided discussions about the use and promotion of poetry, even though writing and teaching it have been my vocation. I thought someone dealing with noble and spiritual themes was not required to engage in such tedious work. I also thought that a poet, as a man of noble character, should engage in creative writing and only behave like a gentleman.
I considered it shallow to be eager to learn how my book of poems was being received by readers and how widely it was being distributed throughout the country. But I worked as a “literary postman” over the last year for the “Cyber Literary Square (www.munjang.co.kr)” and this has changed my mind.
The site is run by a committee promoting Korean literature and art. It was my duty to choose a poem written by a contemporary poet and send it to readers via e-mail once a week.
Unexpectedly, I realized that many people still wait to read and enjoy poetry.
Korea is one of the small number of countries in the world where poems are still published occasionally in daily newspapers.
In Korea, thousands of poems are released to the public per annum, and there are countless poems online. It is certain that we live in a country full of poems. It also occurred to me that Korean poets could benefit greatly from online media.
Poetry is very accessible to readers because of its morphological character.
Other genres of creative writing cannot catch up in this regard. Because it is relatively short in length, it is highly readable.
Anybody can disseminate poetry, from cyber cafes to blogs online, and it is easy to send via e-mail. Those transmitting poems are like skilled guerrilla fighters engaging in partisan warfare.
But if we remember that poetry was circulated via wall posters and mimeographed copies in the 1980s, the Internet seems fully eligible to be an important channel for the promotion of Korean poetry.
We also need to take a closer look at the fact that poetry is being released regardless of the poet’s willingness.
This is certain to raise some controversial questions, in terms of copyright or electronic transmission rights.
It is my own perspective that poets should be lenient about literary and artistic copyright in the short term, unless a specific Web site focuses on commercial benefit. Readers want to enjoy poetry in their daily lives. They want to breathe it like oxygen.
In this regard, I am worried that if poets insist on copyright protection, poetry might fall out of favor with the public.
I am not saying that we need to neglect the serious professionalism of poetry released by printed media outlets.
However, it is high time that poets be more actively engaged in Internet literature. It cannot be denied that the online debut of poetry has been controlled by amateurs.
We frown at poetry circulated online for the following reasons: the proliferation of unqualified poets with little ability and elegance; the rampant spread of immature poetry and ill-advised criticism; and plentiful problems in the indiscriminate distribution of poetry from here to there.
However, if we look on our deformed online poems with folded arms, there is no doubt that the future of poetry will also be less than fortunate.
Let’s take a step forward. Underlining the importance of globalization for Korean literature, we are also always afraid of the pitfalls of translation and overseas publication. The Internet and poetry can serve as a spearhead to overcome such difficulties.
What if there is a well-designed Web site designed to translate and introduce Korean poems to the global community? What if anybody can translate and upload his favorite poem on the Web site? What if the Web site provided an open forum for rational and intelligent discussion on the translated poetry?
There is no need to lose our nerve and lock the door in advance, even though Korean poems are being translated into other languages.
I am looking forward to poetry’s contribution to hallyu, the wave of Korean pop culture sweeping Asia.

*The writer is a poet and a professor at Woosuk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ahn Do-hyun
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