Having decided not to reproduce the poem that everyone in my poetry class hated on this blog, I’ve now changed my mind.
I’ve been worrying that it’s actually not fair on my tutor and the rest of the class, not to put it out there so everyone can judge for themselves. If it costs me some subscribers, so be it. (I know, so noble.)
But I’m not going to start with the poem that disgusted everyone. This will give my more sensitive readers a chance to look away now. I also don’t think it would be fair to Kim Hyesoon.
Not that Kim Hyesoon needs me. She’s doing very nicely thank you, which says a lot for South Korea, in my opinion.
In her collection ALL THE GARBAGE OF THE WORLD UNITE! (Action Books 2011) it says: ‘KIM, HYESOON is one of the most important contemporary poets of South Korea. She lives in Seoul and teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.’ There follows a long list of prizes and publications.
The first poem I heard her read was Seoul, Kora. (Kora refers to a loop of prostrations around the sacred mountain, Mt. Kailash, in Tibet.) It’s the poem I actually wanted to read to the class, but I took the wrong book. It’s too long to quote in full and that might infringe her copyright anyway, so here’s a little bit.
… The mountain looks at me with its wet eyes
It trembles as I stroke its neck
The mountain gets dragged away with a rope around its neck
The mountain gets locked up behind bars. It’s beaten. It’s kicked.
It dies. …
Hyesoon does a lot of things with the mountain in this poem. She really flings it about, turns it into wild animals, makes it perform prostrations. A mountain! She does anything and everything. It’s so free. I find it beautiful and exciting. You don’t really get a sense of it in this tiny extract. It’s made a huge impact on me and on my writing.
Here’s the beginning of A SUBLIME KITCHEN (Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers, Small Press Distribution, 2008) which I nearly read in class:
They came to eat the moon again
The women ate the moon and their bellies grew each month
They squeezed breast-milk into the moon,
Added the refreshing scent of mint to the roasted moon
I was discussing how I came to choose the poem that I read to the class with a friend at the weekend. this night is not my favourite poem of Kim Hyesoon’s. I don’t even like it that much. I did think about reading something less challenging, like the one immediately above, but then I worried that that wouldn’t make clear what it is that I enjoy about Kim Hyesoon’s poetry.
Put simply, she doesn’t care if you don’t like it. In a time when many women’s lives, and especially our bodies, are still dominated by the need to conform to cultural pressures controlled by the patriarchy, this is intoxicating for me.
As my friend pointed out, though. I should probably have read a poem that I really liked, rather than one selected to make a point. Someone’s learned a little lesson here.
******* WARNING KLAXON *******
Please don’t read any further if you’re of a sensitive disposition. The next poem I’m going to quote from is about abortion, I think. Here’s a bit of RED SCISSORS WOMAN (ALL THE GARBAGE OF THE WORLD UNITE! Action Books 2011).
But the swollen scissor blades are like fat dark clouds
What did she cut screaming with her raised blades
Blood scented dusk flooding out from between her legs
I know that some people will find this horrifying, revolting, offensive. I can see that it is all those things. It gives me butterflies in my stomach.
I know that I am lucky to live in relative freedom. But every day I see or hear of incidents which demonstrate how policed we are as women, especially women with children. I heard of one woman recently who broke some social rules and has been excluded from a group of friends as a result, the door slammed shut in her face just like that. Several others have suffered through their children’s social lives.
And it’s not just about my extended circle of acquaintance, who risk nothing more than social penalties for perceived misbehaviour. What about the women who are stoned for adultery when they’re raped? Or even just routinely denied full equality with men in their lives. It all makes me heartsore. It makes me fearful.
My response to this work goes beyond politics though. It goes beyond my limited literary critical faculties. I just find it exciting. I want to read it. I don’t know why exactly.
Here then is a bit of the poem I read out in class. I know it’s deeply distasteful. For me, that’s the point, the joy of it. Not just wanting to stupidly shock people, but to assert that a woman (a human) should be able to say anything she wants without fear.When I read Kim Hyesoon’s poetry I feel constantly open-mouthed. I ask myself, did she really just write that?
And I like that. I feel swept up in it and borne along. I don’t know where it will take me.
Here’s the first few lines of this night (Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers, Small Press Distribution, 2008):
devours a sleeping white rabbit
Dark blood spills out of the rabbit cage
A rat devours a piglet that has fallen into a pot of porridge
(now, chunks of freshly grilled flesh inside a vagina,
babies that shiver from their first contact with air,
fattened chunks of flesh,
tasty, warm chunks that bleed when ripped into)
This is what I read to the poetry class.
Now you understand.