- Editor's Note
This second issue of AZALEA continues our efforts to present exemplary works of current literature and literary art from Korea. We have altered the frame of the term "exemplary," however. For a start, the reader will find illustrated work, manhwa, from the DPRK, or North Korea, in the selection of materials gathered, translated, and introduced by Heinz Insu Fenkl. This may remind us that the illustrated page, the cartoon, is a major feature in the current publishing world, while also helping us to remember the other Korea from which the materials came.
A selection of illustrated work, from North or South, brings its own challenges as expressive form. The cartoon simplifies: black and white; sometimes line figures; clear, perhaps obvious, point; power and resonance accumulated through that simplification. The inclusion of the current selection may bring to mind the cartoonish quality of American notions of North Korea, its government and people, and vice versa.
I recall a weeklong journey to North Korea some ten years or so ago. I was traveling in a group accompanied by government guides and drivers. One evening I watched a TV program, an hour or more of army chorus songs interspersed with elderly individuals heatedly denouncing the United States for its actions during the Korean War and since. The presentation resembled a cartoon.
The next day at lunch as I was sitting across the table from one of the drivers, I plucked up my courage, told him about the show, and asked if he saw me as his enemy. He did not hesitate in his reply. He pointed up and then back and forth, saying, "No, no. The problem is between our governments. Between you and me as human beings, there is not a problem." Seeing the TV show, having [End Page 7] an opportunity to bring it up in a conversation-the exchange was important.
A rather different sort of exchange informs the section in the current issue on the sijo poetic form and practice. As the introductory essay notes, the sijo has a long history in Korea and continues to find avid, inventive practitioners. I have selected three writers for this issue. Cho Ohyŏn and Hong Sŏng-ran are both esteemed as sijo poets, widely recognized and honored in today's literary circles. Kim Dae Jung, former President of South Korea, turned to the sijo form during his political imprisonment in the 1980s. Hong Sŏng-ran offers a most poignant comment on the political and literary resonances of that act.
We plan to offer sijo work by other Korean writers in future issues, but we have also presented several sijo poems written in English. This past spring, the Sejong Cultural Society in Chicago sponsored a sijo writing contest for middle and high school students. As a contest judge, I read all the entries and felt delighted that such a number of students had found the form interesting, workable, and expressive in English. Our congratulations go out to all the participants, and our thanks also to the Sejong Cultural Society.
The contest might be viewed as a stage on which the sijo form presented itself to a young, contemporary audience, in a language entirely different from Korean. I would judge the performance a success, and hope that we may be able to find others who are using the sijo form in English, or yet more languages, to bring into the pages of future issues of Azalea. Such realms of practice and performance are further dimensions of the literary universe the editors and translators of Azalea wish to explore. We shall welcome our readers' comments, suggestions, and submissions for future issues. [End Page 8]
David R. McCann is Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Literature at Harvard University. He has translated the work of many Korean poets-including Kim Chiha, Sŏ Chŏngju, Ko Un, and Kim Namjo-and is the author or editor of many books, including The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry and The Way I Wait for You, a collection of his own poems.