Young poets remember late Gi Hyeong-do

Poet You Hee-kyoung and other participants read the late poet Gi Hyeong-do’s poems at the bookstore Wit N Cynical, in Hapjeong, Seoul, Wednesday. / Korea Times photo by Park Jin-hai

By Park Jin-hai

Poet Gi Hyeong-do

A special poetry night for the iconic 1980’s poet Gi Hyeong-do was held at the small bookstore and cafe Wit N Cynical in Hapjeong, Seoul, Wednesday.

Some 40 young people who filled the cafe quietly read his poems together in remembrance of him. In between the reading, four aspiring poets and You Hee-kyoung, a poet and the owner of the poetry-specialized independent bookstore, came to the stage and shared their stories related to Gi and recited two of his favorite poems.

You, who went to Gi’s cemetery first thing in the morning on the day his debut poetry book was published, said he felt “strongly indebted” to Gi. “Gi’s was the very first poetry book that I bought. At the time, I couldn’t tell why I loved his poems, but I loved them so much that I copied them in beautiful writing over and over,” said You. “His poems inspired me to become a poet.”

Gi, born in 1960 in Gyeonggi Province, began publishing poems during his college years at Yonsei University, where he majored in political diplomacy. As a student he received the Yun Dongju Literary Prize.

He formally debuted with the poem “Fog” in 1984. His poems, mostly on the themes of death, loneliness and despair, are marked by powerful individuality and an intensely pessimistic view.

After his mysterious death at the age of 29 — his corpse was found at the Pagoda Theater, a place where gay people gathered in the past — his collection of poems, written during the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan and the Gwangju Massacre, were published in a book titled, “The Black Leaf in My Mouth.” The book has gone through more than 65 printings since his death.

You said although there were many other poets who wrote dark and political poems before him, Gi was the one who brought “young pessimism” to the Korean poetry world. “His self-remorse, strong ego and the somehow exaggerated thoughts about death that people in their 20s can have … How can we not love him? He might not be the greatest poet of all time, but he is one who should be loved.”

His poem “Old book,” translated by Gabriel Sylvian, follows.

It’s close to a miracle

that I’ve lived

I was moldy for what seemed an eternity

How can I predict my own life

in a damp dark world

in an order where no one bothers to look at me,

in empty hope?

Other people hurriedly take a few contents

and coveting one another’s functions

insert their bookmarks into me

Others say my life has been too easy

that I need thicker memories

Every person who ever looked at me once

left me, my soul is mostly dark pages, who will ever open me?

But in that case they have no right to discourse on lies

Lies and truth must dream the same objective

and they can be found in the exact same line

I don’t believe in miracles

Four young poets at the meeting said their first encounter with modern Korean poetry was through Gi’s poems that deeply inspired their poetry careers.

Poet Yoo Gye-young said Gi’s poems have been her poetic inspiration. “As a young student, if I understood Gi’s poetry world, I thought I could tell others proudly that I’m a poetry major. At the time, I was intrigued by his words, descriptions of images and allegories,” she said. “By reading his poems again today, I felt that his poetry made me realize that it holds values beyond time. A poet loved never dies. Apart from his literary values, he holds more value in everyone’s lives.”

Meanwhile, a museum for Gi is under construction and will open in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi Province, later this year.

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