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달의 이마에는 물결무늬 자국

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    Title: On the Forehead of the Moon Are Wave-Patterned Marks

    Author: Lee Seong-bok

    Genre: Poetry

     

    LTI Korea staff: Alex Baek (alex_b@klti.or.kr / +82-2-6919-7733)

Description

  • About the book

    On the Forehead of the Moon Are Wave-Patterned Marks (Moonji Selected Poets Series R 001, 2012) is Lee Seong-bok’s sixth collection of poems, first published in 2003 and republished a decade later in a new format. In this collection, Lee quotes from favorite foreign poems in translation and accompanies the quotes with his own thoughts and poetic desires. In Lee’s poetic thought-world, in which the search for meaning in the world takes place entirely through language, his readings of others’ poetry cannot be separated from his own compositions.

    What can be found in On the Forehead of the Moon is a unique poetic expansion of the modulations of life-experience and poetic desire, of sense and thought, that Lee has previously voiced through his prose works, including his study of Nerval and the I Ching, his study on Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Gide’s Strait Is the Gate, and his numerous essay collections. Each of the one hundred poems, numbered from 1 to 100, takes as its title a line drawn from the poem itself, a phrase or sentence that neatly encapsulates the everyday scene or imagined specter woven into the piece. Between each title and poem lies the poetic line that has brought forth Lee’s poem, sparkling shards drawn from languages not his own: bits of Rilke, Baudelaire, Kafka, Frost, Mandelstam, Celan, Llorca, Brecht, Neruda, Mallarmé, Yeats, Valéry. In the course of fully savoring each poem, the reader will thus have three doorways through which to pass.

     

    50

    Through which door will you slip out?

    With all these stones of mine

    Grown so large among their cries

    Behind barred windows

    — Paul Celan, 「Shibboleth」

    Mitsamt meinen Steinen,

    den großgeweinten

    hinter den Gittern

    — Paul Celan, “Schibboleth”

     

    A moss-ridden stone there is, like Apollinaire’s bandage-wrapped head.

    From the outset this stone resembles 苦, the letter for suffering,

    never already having suffered but suffering in the now, heedlessly, indefinitely.

    Stone with its arms raised up to its armpits, resolute that its pain not be shared with any neighbor.

    Arms folded back, propping up the neck like horizontal bars on a telephone pole, woven fingers refusing to come loose.

    Running its scaly tongue over the parched roof of its mouth, pushing at its few teeth.

    But the stone has no thoughts of slipping out from its mossy pit.

    If your whole body is a house, through which door will you slip out?

     

    Lee makes most of the heterogeneous history of modern Korean poetry as he leads the reader through these multiple converging “doorways”—built not only of different texts, but also of different languages. The collection itself gives us an opportunity to meditate on the relationship between the translated or borrowed text and the newly created, “native” text; adding to this the layer of a translation into English—which in fact entails a double-translation of the epigraphs—will open up yet another rich well of interlinguistic pleasure and meaning. 

    The culmination of a project of self-examination, On the Forehead of the Moon has its roots in Lee’s own processes of reading and observation, his encounters with countless texts and flashes of lived experience, and seeks to uncover what motivates his desperate desire to discern the order of things therein and to convert it into language. Central to this project is the poet’s wish to get to the bottom of his own desire through various methods: building his poem around “a single bone of words, set in the rhythm of prose,” throwing out questions in the form of satirical humor and irony, with poetic moves sometimes verging on resolute self-negation. What one finds fused into Lee’s poems, put forward through the “rhetoric and imagery of paradox . . . twisting the joints of thought” through the doubling of affirmation and negation (Sim), is the scenery of the life-world that the poet so wishes to reach, or even a truth that lies beyond it. What Lee has so long wished to address through the “fierce pain” (“South Sea, Silk Mountain”) of writing poetry in his quest to make peace with the world, his unflinching poetic passion, the ‘true identity of his hunger’—all come together in this collection of poems, flaring up like so many blue sparks.

    Each poem in On the Forehead of the Moon is a work as tightly organized as the whole collection itself. In the deceptively simple rhythm of everyday language, Lee delivers forth multilayered images of the aches of life—pain, love, joy, disgust—and comments on the essence of all life, and even all things, that hold on to a life of repeating endings and beginnings. This collection of poems will provide an excellent opportunity to familiarize readers with the core of Lee Seong-bok’s poetry.

    About the author

    Poet Lee Seong-bok was born in 1952 in Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea. He received his undergraduate and graduate degree in French language and literature from Seoul National University. Lee debuted in the winter of 1977, when his poem “In the Beloved Bawd-House” was published in the quarterly journal Munhakgwajisung (Literature and Intelligence). Lee taught French literature and creative writing at Keimyung University from 1982 to 2012.

    About the translators

    Yea Jung Park is a Seoul-born translator and literary scholar based in New York City. She holds a BA in linguistics and an MA in English literature from Seoul National University, and is currently pursuing a PhD in medieval English literature at Columbia University. Two of her translations of Lee Seong-bok’s poetry appeared in Asymptote’s Translation Tuesday feature in April 2017.

    Media Response/Awards Received

    For the past four decades, Lee Seong-bok has mesmerized us with the power of his language, born of a poetic sensibility and deep understanding rooted in his long and probing studies, and with his steady gaze on the raw palpitations of life. Lee’s first collection, When Does a Rolling Stone Awaken (1980), headed a new and captivating page in the history of Korean literature, a leaf that has yet to be turned. In Lee’s poems, which have been called the “poetic transformation of shame” (Kim), a poetic imagination based on felt experience and steady thought blooms forth, oscillating at the edges of loss and despair, shame and pain, desire and delight. For decades, Lee’s readers have suffered alongside him, pierced with the same aches and longings.

    Lee’s poetic imagination often takes a dialogic form, expressed through the sharply intuited confessions of a lyric self for whom “pain is the sign of ‘being alive,’ and the one truth we can grasp in this world without deceiving ourselves is the fact that we are in pain. . . . Forgetting is the death of life, and pain is the life of death” (When Does the Tumbling Stone Wake, 1980). Likewise, “a responsibility to love is none other than love’s destruction, and the habits of love are its defamation. Only through leaving you . . . do I continue to love you” (South Sea, Silk Mountain, 1986). In The End of That Summer (1990), Lee utilizes the language of love to express the unavoidable pains of life, expanding the breadth and depth of his worldview. Through this same seeing-glass of love, he takes a bolder and more intimate approach to everyday life in Memories of Horned Holly (1993), probing the inexpressible depths of sense through a lucid and powerful poetic testimony. In Ah! Mouthless Things (2003), Lee documents the innumerable secret moments of beauty hidden in the folds of squalid life, in precise, dry language that seems to present objects in their exact volume and weight. In the collection On the Forehead of the Moon Are Wave-Patterned Marks (2003, published in a revised edition in 2012), Lee draws on the repository of foreign poetry translated into Korean, quoting from personal favorites and recording thoughts and poetic desires of his own that the chosen lines call forth. In Raeyeoaebandara (2013), the title of which is drawn from a folk song from the Silla period (1c. BC to 10c. AD) that roughly translates to “They come, the many dejected,” Lee paints with a warm and sympathetic eye a poetic scene in which understanding becomes more lucid as pain grows more severe, beauty is born of sadness and despair, and smiles of consolation are shared in the face of inescapable human suffering.

     
     

    Kim Soo-Young Literature Prize, 1982

    Sowol Poetry Prize, 1990

    Daesan Literary Award, 2004

    Hyundae Munhak Award, 2007

    Yi Yuksa Poetry Award, 2014

Translated Books (8)

News from Abroad (3)