From left, covers of Ko Un's books "First Person Sorrowful," "Maninbo — Dziesiec Tysiecy Istnien" and "Scairt Feithide" published in Britain, Poland and Ireland, respectively.
By Chung Ah-young
Prominent poet Ko Un's works have been published in three countries with the support of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea (LTI). The institute has supported the translations of 33 volumes by Ko in 14 languages so far.
The newest translations are "First Person Sorrowful" published by Bloodaxe Books in Britain, "Maninbo — Dziesiec Tysiecy Istnien" (Ten Thousand Lives)by Znak in Poland and "Scairt Feithide" (Crying of Bugs)by An Sagart in Ireland.
"First Person Sorrowful" was published in Britain last month when it was presented to Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in November. In time with the publication, Ko and Brother Anthony of Taize, professor emeritus of Sogang University, who translated Ko's work along with Lee Sang-wha, attended the festival from Nov. 2 to 4. The readings of his poems received the interest from the participants. The LTI said that Naomi Jaffa, the festival director, arranged for Bloodaxe Books to publish the Korean poet's works there and invited him to the festival. Also she showed enthusiasm in promoting Ko's works by arranging the events for him at the festival.
"First Person Sorrowful" gives an overview of the recent work of the prolific writer consisting of 95 poems from the five collections published since 2002. In his foreword to the book, renowned British poet Andrew Motion writes: "He is a major poet, who has absolutely compelling things to say about the entire history of Korea, and equally engrossing things to say about his own exceptionally interesting life and sensibility."
The Polish edition of "Maninbo" translated by Mieczyslaw Godyn and Adam Szostkiewicz consists of 101 poems selected from the original collection. Godyn wrote the foreword encompassing Ko's life and literature. Choi Sung-eun, professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, edited the translations. Znak, one of the prestigious publication groups in Poland, already published "Raptem deszcz" (Rain Shower) in 2009 there which includes some of Ko's works. Polish online bookstores and other portal sites related to poetry have introduced translations of one of Ko's masterpieces.
The Gaelic version of Ko's poems was translated by Gabriel Rosenstock who also introduced Ko's works in an article detailing the poet's life and literary world in The Irish Times in July 2010. An Sagart was founded in 1958 and specializes in Gaelic poetry, prose, literary journals and historic works.
Born in 1933 in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, Ko is one of the leading writers in Korea. Turning from being a Buddhist monk, he made his literary debut in 1958. He was known as an activist for freedom and democracy during the 1970s and 1980s. He has published some 150 volumes of poems, essays and fiction.