Student presses charges against poet

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Student presses charges against poet

A celebrated poet and middle school teacher was called in for questioning yesterday at the Daegu Metropolitan Police Agency over allegations that he had inappropriate physical contact with a former student in his middle school.

The police said that Seo Jung-yoon admitted to hugging and kissing the 15-year-old girl after he asked her to meet him in an empty classroom.

A special investigation team from the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education revealed last week that Seo - best known for his signature poem “Holoseogi,” roughly translated as “Standing Alone” - allegedly had inappropriate physical contact with the girl, hugging and kissing her.

But he maintained that hugging her was intended to encourage the girl and that the mild kissing was part of his effort to make the situation less awkward, according to the police. He also testified that the incident was not premeditated, and that he was only trying “to discuss high school admissions with her.”

Seo, dressed in a black track pants and a gray checkered shirt, said nothing to a throng of reporters on his way out of the police office.

The education office ordered the middle school to dismiss Seo, after which he submitted a letter of resignation.

The middle school initially turned down his resignation, saying he should be disciplined in accordance with the school’s rules on misconduct.

However, Seo was removed from his teaching position on Monday. The poet has been ordered to give final statements in his defense before school officials on Nov. 28, and officials will confirm his dismissal the next day.

The police said that the inspection team secured CCTV records and testimonies provided by the victim to press charges against the poet.

Police added that they have tried to secure more testimony from the victim but that cooperation so far has been difficult.

“The victim and her family are reluctant to give additional testimony because they are afraid it will keep reminding her of the incident and stigmatize her,” said Bae Gi-myeong, a police officer in charge of the case. “However, a revised law allows police to go ahead with the investigation and punish the offender even if the victim is not cooperative during the investigation.”

Published in 1987, Seo’s collection of poems sold more than 3 million copies, a remarkable achievement given that poetry books often struggle to gain widespread appeal. His works largely deal with solitude in the modern world and the transient nature of life and death.

A series of his popular works won him a number of awards, including the Kumbok Arts Award from the Kumbok Cultural Foundation last year. They were also included in the 100 Top Most Popular Poems in Korea.


BY KIM YOON-HO, PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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