Review: 'Someone Always in the Corner of My Eye.' Shim Bo-seon
Posted : 2017-03-17 15:21
Updated : 2017-03-17 18:07
By Choi Yearn-hong
‘Someone Always in the Corner of My Eye' by Shim Bo-seon, translated by Ji Young-shil and Daniel Parker.
Shim Bo-seon is known as a social scientist educated at Seoul National University and Columbia University, some of the best institutions of higher education in Korea and the United States, respectively. Although he is not yet a well-known poet in Korea, his poetry book has already been published in English in the United States.
I opened his poetry book with some curiosity, because I had never read his poems and was not familiar with his name. I needed to know a new poet from Korea. Like him, I am also a social scientist, albeit retired, and poet. He teaches sociology and writes poems, while I taught public policy and administration and also wrote poems. We are very similar in this regard .
First of all, his poems are neither easy to read nor comprehend. Readers are somewhat puzzled and have difficulty understanding his poems or the spirit of his poetry. I am not sure what he aims to achieve with his poetry. However, I can see that he is somewhat different from the so-called traditional poets. There is no rhythm in his relatively long poems, challenging the traditional poems. He seems to say in this modern age, his poems are defying the traditional poems' glorification of the nature of beautiful flowers. The modern age puts pressure on everybody in modern society. He seems to say poets should leave old poetry and find new poetry.
His pursuit of new poetry makes me think or read twice about the meaning of his poetry. I tried to read his poems twice, but their meaning is still not clear. And as I tried to read them a third time, I found some striking words and stanzas. Finally! I realized that his poetry is meant for the depressed or deprived. Can he provide comfort to those people? I hope so. He seems to believe it is poetry's task to help people in modern society. I have some doubts about his poetry's ability to achieve this, but I do hope it does. As I continued to read his poems, I find that he twists things he observed and provides humor. But also somewhere in his poems, he attacks intellectuals who are snobbish and do not take their responsibility seriously. I know his poems are not snobbish at all, and I hope they reach the depressed and deprived on one side and the intellectuals on the other. However, I doubt his poems can reach and comfort them because they are simply because the poems are simply hard to read.
I like his short poems, but there are only a few in this poetry book. The majority of his poems, which are a couple of pages long, read like social science essays, like the following, "Words."
There is countless evidence that we have souls. Today I will reveal one truth.
And tomorrow, another.
Like that, one each day.
Social scientists may see many facets of one truth, like how several blind men describe one elephant. This short poem, a prelude of his poetry book, may eloquently declare that.
Another short poem, which leads Part 2 of his book, is "None of the World's Business."
Breaking up with you is none of the world's business.
I'm waiting for the apocalypse …
We'll break up after that.
When is the apocalypse?
Poet Shim does not like the Korean social phenomenon of talking too much about someone's private affairs, and this short poem may convey his protest against that Korean phenomenon.
I, an old poet, also read his poem "Good Old Days." He may not see good old days as I experienced them. I am nostalgic for those good old days in which we were poor and caring each other, ultimately building a new economic powerhouse from such a poverty-stricken country after the Korean War (1950-53).
I am fascinated by his romantic poem "Fascination." In the poem, he states: "Following fascination,/time flies like an arrow./Following fascination,/expressions are shaped by someone in the corner of the eye." There are more romantic poems in this book, mixing his sexual and jazzy moods with his social science expression for making love. As I read more of his romantic poems, I rediscover the meaning of the title of this poetry book, "Someone Always in the Corner of My Eye." In addition, I tend to agree with the following quotation from NEWSIS:
In this book, Shim gives his attention to love. He devotes himself to the activity of love creating useless things, instead of labor producing useful things. In doing so, he stresses the importance of changing ourselves by holding each other's hands and taking a stroll together, instead of the remoteness and loneliness of art.
I cannot fully figure out the above quotation that appeared in the back cover of the book, but I tend to agree: Sex is the most beautiful thing in our life. I remember the Beatles in the 1960s saying "making sex, not making war." Poet Shim may be in the same mood as the Beatles in 2016.
I am glad to have found a young poet from Korea while here in the United States.
Dr. Choi is Washington D.C.-based poet and writer.