Sep 19, 2015

A Song of Dongdoochun

Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation

The Neighborhood Artists - 3.Yongguk Jung

A singing garden decorated by Yongguk Jung
There is a saying “Youngpan Jota” which means extremely good like a sijo in Youngnam province. We can make a guess how much sijo were loved back in old days from the fact that the saying was derived from “Sijo of Yeongnam area is good”. Sijo is a Korean traditional poetry that has been sung by all from kings to common people since Shilla Hyangga and Unrhymed verse of Goryeo. It is poetry with a fixed form comprised of three lines and 6 phrases with four parts to each line for a total of 42-46 syllables.  Going through modern times, it has been modernized in terms of the form and the contents with transforming lines and parts and telling history, the spirit of the age and daily life. I met sijo poet Yongguk Jung, who has tried to expand the base of sijo leading these kinds of experimental attempts. As a part of the project ‘‘The Neighborhood Arts’ organized by Gyeonggi Culture Foundation, I visited Songnae Maeul of Dongdoochun, the new nest of the sijo poet who finished his 50-year city life in Seoul early this year.

Finding a Village of Sijo Poet


Four-year-old Buttri
Who feels empty in his stomach
At the end of measles
Is hanging drowsiness
At the edge of sunny toenmaru
Boils
On the head
A piece of spring
In the emaciated hand

<ssukgaetteok: mugwort pancake> in the sijo book 『I like you very much』(Silcheon Munhak, 2015)is the sijo to describe the scenery of his hometown in his early days. In the hometown devastated by the war and poverty, a child with measles is nodding off in the narrow wooden porch grasping a piece of Mugwort Pancake. Even though he was emaciated and sad, it seemed I could hear the breath of the child who holds on for dear life like mugwort in spring. The poet shows the simple but intense life and hope through a piece of sunshine as a metaphor of Ssukgaetteok. Let us appreciate his sijo one more in the book 『I like you very much』.

In a transmission tower
Where a pair of kestrels incubate eggs

Wingless people left for on the ground
Occupied the sky building a nest of banners

On behalf of a midget who shot the iron ball
On the chimney 35 years ago

Dumbfounded by tens of thousand of dollars of national income and brain-freeze by the minimum wage of five dollars Despite a billion dollars of exports the ordinary wage is melted out, though trade volume is top ten in the world, illegal dispatch, sub-tier supplier, Chaebol causing argument and election pledge faltering, short sons and daughters being crooked due to these pestering still believe the law hanging in the air

The sky is too small
To look up at


This is the entire text of <here are human beings>. At a glance, it seems like a free verse in terms of the format but it is the excellent poetry for the unconventional editorial to be harmony with the conventional format of sijo. Furthermore, This poetry describes the realistic aspect and the reality awareness of ‘the poet who quotes 「The Ball Shot by a Midget」written by Sehee Cho and feels sorry for the repeated past’(Commentary by Literary Critic Sungho Yoo). Yongguk Jung is the exceptional sijo poet who has been consistently staring at and describing the painful and steep life.

“How can I show the studio of myself, a sijo poet?”

This is what I was told in the first phone call with the poet Yongguk Jung. He pinpointed the worries at the bottom of my heart even when explaining the objective of ‘The Neighborhood Artists’ organized by Gyeonggi Culture Foundation is to introduce the artists who seem distant as intimate neighbors. In addition, he does not have even a studio or a practice room like painters or performance artists, and so has difficulties in inviting guests and arranging the programs for attendees.

Concerns has been cleared when I visited Dongdoochun Songnae Maeul with Creative Director Nari Kim and saw the bright smile of the poet and the fair view of his garden. We had an amazing experience of all problems solved while talking about his early days at Dongdoochun and the future of sijo, and reading his work on his hometown and his neighborhood. The stories flied high with a song from his library into the garden and the sky of Dongdoochun his passed-away mother has rested in peace. I realized again that the poet walks the world of the imaginary but uses the appropriate language as a tool. All ideas on the program came out from his stories.

Sijo is the pop music of the time.

The keywords of sijo poet Yongguk Jung’s open studio event from three o’clock on September 19th were the hometown Dongdoochun and sijo as a song. His hometown Dongdoochun has an important meaning for the poet who has led an active life publishing 『I like you very much』, the third sijo book of this year. Dongdoochun, which used to be the biggest military camp town and reached the boarder of South and North Korea going ten kilometers up, was the tragic place in the Korean modern history.

Yongguk Kim emphasized the tradition of sijo as ‘a song’ to express the trimetric or tetrametric Korean language in the most natural way at the round-table talk on literature in which the notables from the literary circles and the fellow sijo poets Poet including Ilsun Hong(Poet) and Namil Kim(CEO of Silcheon Munhak) take part. Our ancient poetry, the origin of sijo, started from the combined form of ‘poetry’ and ‘song’. The fact suggests songs are unceasing in the lives of our people. And sijo is similar with pop music in terms of vocalizing daily lives and feelings of the time.

Yongguk Kim told that he enjoys singing pop music too. Eventually one of his neighborhood recited his sijo and had a ‘sing along’ time with a guitar ensemble. The US-Army-style buffet with meatball spaghetti, mashed potatoes, sandwiches and etc. was prepared by neighbors who work in the US Army of Dongdoochun. There was a bizarre scene where the songs and recitations were overlapped with the modern history of Dongdoochun which his poet originated from.

“I would like to participated in this kind of event again.”

said one of attendees who works in Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education coming all the way for this program. One attendee who recited for the first time felt a little awkward but with the audience hearty cheers lots of attendees would like to try to recite sijo. He said he was impressed by the atmosphere and hope this kind of event would be held more frequently. The poet Yongguk Jung was pleased that his dreams came true only one year after he moved here in his interview with Gyeonggi Culture Foundation. No doubt that about 60 attendees including acquaintances in the literary world and his neighborhood felt quite the same way while enjoying foods under the patio umbrella in the garden. For the impressions from the green lawn in Songnae Maeul resonate with the songs still warms my hearts.

Written by Sanghoon Kang
(Present CEO, O’NEWWALL / Former Editor-in-chief, Hakgojae Books)

Yongguk Jung

B.A. of Department of Korean Language and Literature at Gyeonggi Univ.
B.A. of Department of Creative Writing at Seoul Institute of the Arts
Graduated from the National Railway High School
Started the literary career by winning the Best New Artist award with 『The Sijo World』 in 2001 Quarterly Magazine

Activities

2009-12 Secretary General of Korea Sijo Poet Association
2010-14 Secretary General of The Association of Today’s Sijo Poet
Present President, Open Poem Society

Books

2001 the Best New Artist award of Quarterly Magazine 『The Sijo World』
2002 A collection of poem 『Guerilla in my Mind』
2007 A collection of poem 『Pluto Exists』
2015 A collection of poem 『I Like You Very Much』

Awards

2007 the Best New Artist award of Lee Howoo Sijo Literary Prize
2009 the Best New Artist award of Garam Sijo Literary Prize

Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation
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