The Neighborhood Artists - 9.Sukjoo Chang
“I dreamed I would grow plantain taller than a human being and read a pile of books in a chair under the tree every summer in the house with a pond. That is my dream.”
(Sukjoo Chang, The Humanities on Sunday, Homi, 2015)
Sujoljae and the cultural space Hojeopmong seems to be a place that realizes dreams of the poet’s early days. The poet built Sujoljae here in 2000 to get out of bustling city life. Sujol is YeonMyung Do’s verse, meaning that one lives within one’s limits and the first degree in Taekwondo. It includes a meaning of being humble and getting in tune with nature. A collection of books filled with Sujoljae proves he is a typical book addict and quite a writer. The poet reads the world and follows a way of thought, walking along the maze between the shelves.
‘Sujoljae’ in Ansung, Southern Gyeonggi-do is the library with books collected for 30 or more years. I did not count exactly how many books are there but the 25-pyeong library is filled with books. Maybe I guess it has more than 20,000 or more books. The total including books in a loft, storage, and a writing room in Seoul can be 30,000 or more. There are various kinds of books in ‘Sujoljae’. Classics and newly-published books are mixed up and books on various subjects such as autobiography, critical biography, folktale, psychology, humanity, botany, space science, physics, brain science, soccer, cook, architect, art and so on are placed on the shelf at random. My library is a labyrinth of ‘sundry’ books.”
(『The Humanities on Sunday』, 2015)
Indulgence in Slow, Invitation to Solitude
A poet, a novelist, an essayist, a critic, CEO of a publishing company, a broadcaster …… Sukjoo Chang has been always labeled as ‘an all-round writer’ since he won the annual spring literary contests of Chosun Ilbo and Donga Ilbo. At that time, he was called as a stylist who was fully armed with urban sophistication and aesthetics. He was a chief editor of Goryeowon, a publisher which has produced many excellent editors and established a publishing company Chungha and published good books including the collected works of Nietzsche. He was as busy as a bee and was getting exhausted.
“City people are illiterate in terms of ‘slow’. They eat fast, meet and say goodbye fast, and walk fast. They are addicted to ‘hurry, hurry’.”
(Seokjoo Chang, 『An Invitation to Solitude』, Dasan Books, 2013)
So he declared to live a rural life and it has been 15 years since he took up his residence at Sujoljae. The works of the poet who gave himself to the rhythm and abundance of nature fascinated many readers who were tired of urban lives. The solitude at dawn and the delights of woods reminded him of preciousness of daily life. As soon as he wakes up, he sees a water lily growing at the pond across the garden and swimming snails sticking to the cattail. He is delighted at every morning with water lily, cattail, frogs and swimming snails. He admired about rural life with a quotation of naturalist Thoreau; “a pleasant invitation to make my life as simple and pure as nature itself”
“Confucius says we study the simplest one to see through the noblest one. What should I do? I wake up early in the morning, open a book, and write a certain number of pages on an everyday basis. In the morning I eat an apple and two cups of soybean milk. After 12 o’clock I give freedom to myself. All through the day I may keep sipping a bottle of wine listening to Bach, and walk through the woods to faraway places. Staying at the library, I may read 『Tristestropiques』by Levi-Strauss again and talk with grandmothers who sell beans and so on from Iljuk or Samjuk.
(『The Humanities on Sunday』, 2015)
He wrote several books on nature and daily lives in here such as『An Ode to Early Morning』and『An Invitation to Solitude』. And after one of his poems was put on the signboard of Kyobo Bookstore, he has been getting famous. It was just the time when ‘slow’ and ‘rural life’ became the conversation topic.
That cannot turn red by itself.
Some of typhoons in there
Some of thunders in there
Some of lightning strikes in there
That cannot turn round by itself.
Several nights of early frost,
Several months of blazing heat,
And several days of crescent moon
Might round it off.
You go through the world.
Rural life is, however, never romantic. The poet emphasized this when visitors envied the scenery of his studio enjoying ‘The Time of Dogs and Wolves’. Late fall, when it is good to enjoy events with a talk and a concert of classical guitar is short, and rural life is rather “a series of war”. Living an easy and quiet life is just a delusion as Maruyama Kenji says. A complicated life comes with us wherever we go and the noise in the country is more annoying because it is silent.
“At last I feel the belief that the country will be silent is a fantasy. The time when the country is silent is only an off-season from farming and in the other seasons there are noisy engine sounds of every kinds of agricultural machines. From morning to evening at sunset it is filled with a terrifying roar and a noise of rice dryers sometimes continues all night long.”
(Maruyama Kenji, 『The Mythology of Rural Life』
When one loses a battle poet Seokjoo Chang mentioned like grass growing thick and natives’ bamboozlers, one should endure hellish rural life. He said that he went through the good with the bad even if he did not go to hell. The real rural life began when he kneeled to solitude and declared to lose a battle with the world while living here in Sujoljae. It is said that the disharmony with the world disappeared as he willingly accepted the defeat and the discomfort and kissed the ground.
The Power of Reading
Why does the poet read for such a long time continuously? What he talked with visitors in ‘Talk with the Poet’ can be an answer to this question. The poet quotes Tzvetan Todorov as the answer. “Literature reaches out and leads us to others when we are very depressed, and help us to understand the world better and live a life. It makes sense when we replace ‘literature’ with ‘book’. A book opens the world filled with thoughts and experiences of others beyond isolated-self. Reading a book is an invitation to the abundant world, which results in calming fear and anger, cheering up and boosting motivation. Reading a book plays a role of such consolation and healing, and plus can be a means of controlling and refreshing one’s mind.
“Yulgok who used to be a bookworm wrote that the first reason why people do not read is “because they are lazy and self-indulgent, just think of playing with ease, and neglect to study.” As Yulgok pointed out, the enemy of reading is laziness and self-indulgence. A reader tries to read hard being alert to laziness and self-indulgence. When someone tells what he or she reads, I can tell what kind of person he or she is. For a book becomes the blood and the flesh of a reader. A great reader can keep stable and have spiritual eyes to look into the life and the world.”
(『The Humanities on Sunday』, 2015)
The poet published ten or more books only this year. And several books are still waiting for being published. 『The Library of Forties』has been sold a lot unlike other books of him. It might be because his secret of happiness in the preface appealed to a lot of audience.
“Sing a song when taking a shower. Dance with a song from the radio. Write a poem and send it to a friend. Read a lot more. Laugh more often. Love more often.”
(『The Library of Forties』)
The poet recommends song, dance, laugh and love saying that “we do not laugh because we are happy but we are happy because we laugh.” And he also quotes Cicero arguing that a book is a tool to create a magic of happiness. “A book becomes food of a boy, pleases the old age…becomes a hideout and a condolence in an emergency. It is a seed of pleasure at home and not an obstacle even outside, and a companion at night when travelling.” The assertive poet continues. “Read and read if you want to be happier than now!”
Written by Sanghoon Kang
(Present CEO, O’NEWWALL / Former Editor-in-chief, Hakgojae Books)
1975 Poet <midnight>, a debut
1979 A winner in poem and literary critics of Literary Contests of Chosun Ilbo & Donga Ilbo
Editor-in-chief of Goryo Books, CEO of Cheongha Books
Advisor of Talk about Books, KBS 1TV TV
Professor of Creative Writing Department at Dongduk Women’s Univ.
Collections of Poem such as 『The Library of Forties』 , 『The Humanities on Sunday』, 『 An Invitation to Solitude 』 and so on, about 70 books including collection of critics and books on humanities
2013 The 11st Young-rang Poetry Prize
1976 Marine Literary Awards