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  • Sejong Cultural Society Sijo Writing Competition Winners
  • Ivanna Yi (bio)


What a pleasure and honor it has been to serve as a judge for the Sejong Cultural Society’s annual Sijo Writing Competition. Each year, we receive hundreds of entries from pre-college students with a diverse range of subject matter, including themes traditional to sijo such as meditations on nature and love but also modern themes such as living in an age of constant communication, environmental change, and making a life as an immigrant in America.

Sijo is a Korean vernacular verse form in three lines that was originally sung. Although most sijo today are written for the page, it is significant to note that the oral dimensions of the form remain in Korea and that sijo is still a form of musical performance. In the sijo form, the first line introduces the theme, the second line expands and develops that theme, and the third line generally has a “twist” or surprise that often changes how the entire poem is read. As Professor David McCann has remarked, the sijo form can be understood as a “martini with a twist”!

Some of the best poems we received in 2014 exemplify the tension between the sijo’s received themes and the contemporary situation in which our young writers find themselves. Although these poems often approach the sijo form with freedom and [End Page 327] creativity, they share an eye for precise details and stay true to the “twist” in the third line of the form. The sijo by Hapshiba Kwon, Alexandra Kindahl, and Jeanna Qiu, the winners of the 2014 competition, are exemplary cases in which the last line alters how one reads the meaning of the entire poem. These poems demonstrate how the sijo in English builds on its Korean heritage to expand the form’s possibilities.

A close look at first-place winner Hapshiba Kwon’s poem, for example, reveals both formally and metaphorically an exploration of the past as it is being passed on into the present. Kwon stays quite close to the syllabic count and meter of the sijo in Korean, translating those rhythms into a poem that resonates in English. The fabrics Kwon’s speaker is inheriting from her mother are “Tangible remembrances” indeed; in a powerful transmission of youth from mother to daughter, both figures are “Clothed in strength.”

The judges of the 2014 Sejong Cultural Society Sijo Writing Competition, Professor David McCann, Sung Hee Kim, and I, hope you will enjoy reading these poems as much as we delighted in them. [End Page 328]

First Place

Hapshiba Kwon (Cerritos, CA)

10th grade, Whitney High School (Teacher: Mrs. Ann Palmieri)


Rustling fabrics, I explore seas of tweed, paisley blouses, and plaid. Tangible remembrances; your days of youth, have become mine. Clothed in strength, now you chase no trends. Wrinkled, gray, lovely threads.


I learned of this contest through school and thoroughly struggled with creating such a short poem. However, writing the sijo really helped me notice the power and purpose that each word holds in meaningful works of literature.

I enjoy bike riding, writing, reading, drawing, and taking photos of things other than myself. My personal heroes include Jesus Christ, who I strive to be more like, and my parents. My parents have truly played a big role in my life and have supported me in doing all things.

I aspire to become an author. I dream of publishing a book that will be accessible to everyone, everywhere. [End Page 329]

Second Place

Alexandra Kindahl (Cockeysville, MD)

12th grade, Towson High School (Teacher: Mr. William Jones)


Airplanes arc with contrails like ivory streams through blue ground. Fearless, I rise towards them, wrap my fingers around their wings. “Your time’s up,” the prison guard yells. “Get back inside.” Slowly, I do.


My name is Alexandra Kindahl, and I am a senior at Towson High School in Towson, Maryland. I started my writing journey as a seven-year-old, creating bizarre adventure stories with poorly drawn illustrations. In middle school I wrote fan-fiction obsessively, spending most of my waking hours considering foreshadowing and plot development. In high school...


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