At 81, national poet mulls chance of winning Nobel Prize
By Kim Ji-soo
Poet Ko Un
Ko Un, Korea's most revered living poet, says there should be no boundaries between genres of poetry, adding that all contribute to the collective body of the art form.
"The lyrical becomes epic, when enough of it is accumulated," the 81-year-old said during a recent interview.
"I don't want to be defined by one category or definition."
Then, he talked of the intentions within his work.
"I want to communicate not just with people and nature but the stars as well," he said.
Ko's memories about stars, however, are about hope and sadness combined.
"I remember when I was really young, I wished I could eat all the stars I could see, while looking at the sky on the back of my dad's sister, waiting for my mom to bring home food," he said.
Even now a hint of that childhood yearning remains with him and is expressed in exaggerated motions he makes when speaking.
During what turned out to be a very animated interview, the poet would stand up or stamp his feet or suggest singing together.
It was as if he was attempting to compose music, his words being the lyrics and his motions a melody.
One question, however, caused him to be momentarily silent: Whether he will win a Nobel Prize in literature.
"That I do not know about, so there is nothing I can say," he said. Ko has been floated as candidate for a Nobel since the early 2000s.
About a poem he wrote as a form of memorial for the victims of the sunken Sewol ferry, he said, "I used the language of our mothers. It was very raw, because we lost of a lot of young students."
His diverse range of poetry has prompted critics to say that there are multiple "Ko Uns," as Brother Anthony of Taize writes in the introduction for the "Songs for Tomorrow" (1960-2002).
But mainly he said he has tried write about the basic human emotions — joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure.
What he witnessed during the Korean War prompted him to become a monk in 1952.
He dedicated himself to Buddhism but could not quell his thirst to write.
"Chon Tae-il made the seasons abruptly change from summer to winter, without fall, from winter to summer without spring," he said. "Change is achieved through a process, but that was like standing on a cliff," he said.
Chon was a factory worker who killed himself in protest of dismal working conditions, and his death galvanized the nation's union movement.
"I am like a lark in a barley field," Ko said, comparing himself with a bird that symbolizes freedom.
He is currently composing his next work, an epic poem about "Virgin Simcheong," a young woman who sacrifices herself.