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Saturday,December 14,2019
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A plain and practical poet: Kong Kwang-kyu

     On July 11th, the poet Kong Kwang-kyu who graduated from Korean Language & Literature at Dongguk University (DU) received 'The Fourth Yun Dong-ju Literature Prize'. His first collection appeared in 1986, when he was 27 years old; he has subsequently written five collections, one of which was a major prizewinner.  The Post interviewed Kong Kwang-kyu to ask: what is his main purpose for creating poems? “I think”, he said, “I share many traits with Yun dong-ju, the most famous poet in Korea in terms of  two things: religion and drinking”. “He was, you see, a Christian who hated drinking, but I'm a Buddhist and I enjoy drinking.  On the other hand, we both have pure minds and resist all that are unreasonable."  Indeed, it is already well recognized that Kong's poems are honest, socially-minded and interesting.
    Kong endorses the word 'Sa-mu-sa' which means: “by thinking correctly in accordance with The Analects of Confucius, there will be no wickedness in our mind.”  That is, in order to fend off wickedness, we have to speak or write honestly.  He stressed:  "Good poets can express their thoughts effectively in polished poems.  A poem must be short and polished because it is just like a sculpture." Polishing a poem is important but sincerity in writing is even more so.  "The poem maybe beautifully polished but this doesn’t always guarantee poetic quality.  If a poem does not contain words from the bottom of the poet's heart, it cannot be regarded as a good poem even though the words are honeyed."  Some of his poems such as “Heavy Snow” and “Lie” reveal the real thoughts and feelings inside his heart.  Though the words are often shocking and rough, they, in fact, imply a common psychology that arouses readers’ sympathy.  So, in short, the words are polished just enough to touch people’s hearts.
     He often writes poems related to social issues; this can be regarded as another example of what  sincerity he has inlaid in his poems.  "From the price of a cup of coffee to tuition fees, everything satisfying our needs is also connected to the framework of society, don’t you think?"  After saying this, he addressed the common concern that poetry lacks objectivity.  "Poetry is subjective.  Nevertheless, it is wrong to think that a poem should not contain a socio-political imagination; a poet should write poems that address the reality of life,” he insisted.  A 'balanced imagination' is an important buzz-word for understanding his poetics.  "To have a balanced imagination enables a poet to soften his or her words, and through such a softening a lyric poem is born.  This enables readers to read the poem without antipathy. It is a kind of a sugarcoated pill that helps emolliate distress over the subject matter."
    Then, should poets always create poems that address social matters?  The answer is "No.”  Poems are written by individuals, so they frequently represent the writers’ own emotions, states of mind, and experiences.  He said: "even if politics does determine the conditions of our lives, there are other things ― family, friends, lovers, etc. ― that also constitute our lives.  However, it is not always a good idea for poets to exclude the social issues completely.  In brief, a balanced imagination based on experiences provides the material for making good poetry."
    One of the reasons why he writes so many social poems is that he is interested in how society controls his life.  He emphasizes the need to take 'care of the poet's health', which means that the poet’s body and mind must remain uncontaminated.  As an example, he said that a poem which expresses his thoughts gives him pleasure. This helps to maintain his poetic health.  Therefore, it is important for him to write interesting poems.  He explained that he is always trying to write interesting poems; for this reason, he tries to take notice of what is going on around himself.  At the same time, writing a poem that is consonant with his readers’ feelings is also vital.  If readers are unable to feel what the poem is saying, then they won’t be able to memorize the poem.  He stressed:  "A poem that is only tailored for the writer is extremely of  low quality. A poet needs to think seriously how to make poems interesting and easy to readers."

         He criticized young students who are not interested in social problems because they have not faced any difficulties in life. "This situation arises from a society that forces students to get engrossed into the depths of competition."  He understands that recent university students are forced to be more career-oriented.  But he added, thoughtfully: "Yet I wish that there were more university students worrying about humanity.  I would like to recommend that students read books on Buddhism when they graduate from school.  Buddhism is not only a religion but a philosophy which contains many practical lessons for Koreans; it is helpful for whatever field you are studying.”
  To sum up, he believed that it is important for poets to write honest, socially-minded, and interesting poems. This is why Kong Kwang Kyu is a plain and practical poet.  Furthermore, his words reflect his principles and religious belief. 
     It was quite cold outside, yet the poet wore a short-sleeved shirt. To be courteous to the end, he has waited until our coffee cups were emptied.  After this, the extremely practical and plain poet shook hands for farewell and walked into the forest of buildings. A stranger in this city, slightly different from other people.

Yun Seon-ju  .

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