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  • Introduction
  • Kevin Michael Smith (bio)

Im Hwa (林和) was the preferred pen name of Im In-sik (林仁植), born in 1908 in Naksan, present-day Seoul. Primarily a poet and literary theorist, Im was also an early film actor and critic.1 His literary theory devoted much attention to the novel form and the contemporaneous situation of Korean prose. As a leader of the Korean Artists Proletarian Federation (KAPF), Im became a staunch advocate of a purpose-oriented (mokchŏk) literature that would advance the proletarian struggle. In his own creative writing, after early experiments with new poetic rhythms and avant-garde typography, Im settled on a style of romanticism (nangmanjuŭi/romaent'isijŭm) often characterized by his favored second-person narrative mode of address.

"Yŏnjudae," Im's first published poem, appeared in a newspaper in late 1924. Like "Woman Diver," it adopts a freeverse rhythm to articulate a budding sexual awareness against a pastoral backdrop, using amply resonant and associative word [End Page 225] qualities and onomatopoeia. But the idyllic ambience of these early poems is soon interrupted by a political consciousness that first appears in the 1927 poem "Bright Soil" (hyŏngt'o), addressing the peasantry in New Tendency (sin kyŏnghyang) fashion and protesting the imperialist rivalry over the Korean peninsula as a source of raw materials and cheap labor.2

"Snow" and "Earth and Bacteria" are two of Im's most formally adventurous poems from his early "Dada" period. "Snow" plays with paratactic ellipsis and grammatical disjuncture to evoke the disorienting experience of a brutally cold Korean winter blizzard, with the jarring omissions formalizing the clouding of the seeing eye (nun/mok) by the falling snow. Like "Snow," "Earth and Bacteria" describes the volatility of weather systems against industrial equipment designed to rationalize the human/nature metabolic exchange. But the bacteria (pakt'aeria) in the poem, enumerating and repeatedly swallowing individuals in a gesture at once predatory and entirely calculating and indifferent, together with the black quadrilateral (hŭksaek sabyŏnhyŏng) that amplifies the bacteria's villainous laughter (usŭm), evoke the uncontainable suffering concomitant with the geometric coldness and precision of capitalist production.3 [End Page 226]

In "The Tank's Departure," a poem originally written in Korean and then translated by Yi Pukman into Japanese for the journal Proletarian Arts (Puroretaria geijutsu), but whose original Korean has now been lost, Im channels the avant-garde accomplishments of "Earth and Bacteria" in a more explicitly class-conscious direction. Despite the poem's emphasis on heavy industry, it is the relations of production, more than the means themselves, that are at stake in this poem. Im argues that the tenants' rights (J. kosakuken K. sojakkwŏn) afforded by bourgeois law to the rural proletariat have, in the face of free-association, lost (J. ushinatta K. ilhŏtda) their jurisdiction over the running (lit. "driving," J. unten K. unjŏn) of the machines (J. kikai K. kigye). In a radical statement against reformism, here we find the content of these social antagonisms exceeding their form, the latter of which, Im insists, must be revolutionized. Im's red tank thus figures as synecdoche of militant class struggle.

"Storm Cloud—1927" is perhaps Im's most politically daring poem, and constitutes something of a metacritical global telegram (chikupal chŏnpo) itself with its message of internationalist solidarity, which would eventually be overshadowed by the fatherland (choguk) in the postliberation years, as evident in "Song of the Liberation Soldier" and "Where Are You Now?" Japanese colonial government censorship remains palpable with deleted characters left only as suggestive X's. The reader may also hear echoes of the poem's anaphoric, serial progression of comrades (tongji) in the 13 children (ahae) of modernist poet Yi Sang's first 1934 installment of "Crow's Eye View" (Ogamdo).4

"Hyŏnhaet'an" was the title given to Im's first complete collection, published in 1938, which includes the titular poem as well as "Map" and "You're Still Young." The sentimental yet resolute register evidenced in these poems is typical of Im's mature work, both before and after liberation, and remains as an enduring [End Page 227] testament to the emotional...