- Editor's Note
I am bringing ten years' association with AZALEA journal to an end with this essay, this issue. I am so very grateful to Young-Jun Lee, whose creation the journal was, is, and will always be, and also to the translators, authors, and literary scholars in Korea, North America, and around the globe who have contributed their work to this effort. For Harvard University's Korea Institute, which has provided staff, office space, storage closets and shelves, and above all a spirit of dedication to the field, my gratitude is immense. Finally, my thanks to the International Communications Foundation of Seoul, which has provided both financial support over the years and encouragement for the effort here and in meetings in Korea on the subject and the project.
I look forward to seeing the journal evolve and add an editorial advisory group that will provide leadership as well as the sort of official certification that department and program review committees require before an article, essay, or occasionally even translations can be given weight in decisions about academic appointments, tenure, or promotion. At the same time, as I head out the door, I would offer a cautionary note regarding over-reliance upon academic bureaucratic norms in assessing what literature is and what it means and, in particular, how a poem exists, and why. I do not agree with those who, for example, continue to dismiss the work of the poet Kim Sowŏl as too folksong-ish, or too sentimental or not modern enough to express Korea's engagement and struggle [End Page 7] with 20th-century modernity. All of the readings and analyses of Sowŏl's poems that argue from the proposition—not the finding—that his works are simple, sentimental, not modern enough, fail to take into account what a poem is, how it is built in the language, and what it registers rather than what it says or comments on.
I do admit to being engaged by and with the poems themselves, rather than with externally constructed and retroactively imposed frames of analysis, and to being much more likely to value an engaged recitation or performance of a poem than a dismissive commentary. I also must acknowledge that even now, well into the 21st century, the field of Korean studies generally and Korean literature more specifically remains departmentally underdeveloped in comparison with the fields of Japanese or Chinese literature. This suggests at least part of the reason for the emphasis on mega-models or carry-over themes in the dynamics of teaching, research, and advancement, for if nobody in the department has ever heard of the Korean sijo, how can he possibly evaluate an article or program of teaching on the subject? Hence, it seems to me, arises the dynamic for other-based evaluations of scholarly work. But this is also linked to the dynamics of cultural constructs of literary significance. Again in Sowŏl's case, the poet is known as a "folksong poet," a label deployed, for the most part, as a mildly derogatory term used to say, over and over, that his work did not address Korea's colonized status under the Japanese, or the "modern," or "modernity." Such an interpretation reduces the poet and the poem to a point in a larger argument about Korean national cultural autonomy and completely misses the waves of meaning the poem manages to contain.1
I was surprised one morning, as I turned back to the Buddhist poetry collection I have been translating, to discover my pen on the page tracing a poem of its own, a poem carrying me back to [End Page 8] the ferryboat in Han Yong Un's "Ferryboat and Passenger" from his 1926 collection The Silence of Love. And then another pair of poems followed, reflecting the spatial dimensions of the hanshi I've had the privilege and pleasure to have been reading and translating these past two years or so.
I end this note, then, with this farewell from the realm of Korean poetry and the life practice it has been my great joy to have glimpsed over the past decade of association with AZALEA, and...