"The Female Grotesque" – Interview with Kim Hyesoon

by on Jan.03, 2012

There’s a great interview with one of the world’s most fascinating poets, Kim Hyesoon, up on the web site Guernica. A lot of the discussion concerns the inspiration for KH’s work and I love the way KH sites the source of poetry in disease:

She sites it obviously here:

I went to an international poetry festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands recently. I heard one poet saying that poets are healthy people and poets talk to the world through their health. When I heard them saying that, I wondered who judges which one is healthy or not? In my opinion, poets talk through the symptoms of disease. These symptoms of disease are predictions, screams, and songs.

But also in this narrative:

In my childhood, I suffered from tuberculous pleurisy. I was brought up by my grandmother for many reasons. She was running a small bookstore in a small village near the East Sea.

As a sick kid, I always looked out the window. The objects of my observation were the sun, the seasons, the wind, crazy people, and my grandfather’s death. During my long period of observation, I felt that something like poems were filling up my body. They were in some kind of state and condition that made them difficult to render into words. As a university student, I tried hard to write them in Korean. It was at that time that I foresaw my death and the world’s death. I think my poems started at that time.

Which reminds me of Warhol’s childhood memory:

I had three nervous breakdowns when I was a child, spaced a year apart. One when I was eight, one at nine, and one at ten. The attacks—St. Vitus Dance–always started on the first day of summer vacation. I don’t know what this meant. I would spend all summer listening to the radio and lying bed with my Charlie McCarthy doll and my un-cut-out paper dolls all over the spread and under pillow. […] My mother would read to me in her thick Czechoslovakian accent as best she could and I would always say “Thanks, Mom,” after she finished with Dick Tracy, even if I hadn’t understood a word. She’d give me a Hershey Bar every time I finished a page in my coloring book.

As with Warhol, KH’s disease seems to tie the body to mediumicity, proliferation and anachronism. Art is not health and futurity. We don’t survive it.

There are so many brilliant answers in this interview, I’ll have to post a couple of more of them:

I think that solely through a language of poetry that has schizophrenia can women force the father language down from power. It is only possible with poetry to find a new Korean word or coin new Korean words. What other things can stand against it when it is a language that is a prison of discrimination for women? The language of poetry is on the margins, and it is passive, feminine, and dirty. Poetry is something that disturbs the mainstream with minor things and it is something that breaks down active discrimination with passive things, and it can break down something that polishes the filthy things with filthy things. I think it is difficult to disturb the common usage of Korean that is bent to the perspective of a male-oriented society. Korean society is based on both a politics and history that have been disguised as a solid society of solid male poems, a solid written language, fixed rules of how to write literature, and a narrative language.

But maybe this is my favorite:

Those corpses and I are different people, but we are woven out of the same cloth in the same period. It is like you open a manhole cover on each person’s head and find sewage spewing out. I used to go deep into this sewage, taking myself as a hostage. When I am inside, I wonder what can be more grotesque than the world and myself.

Read some of Kim Hyesoon’s poems here.

Buy her book here. Or here.

3 comments for this entry:
  1. don mee

    Thank you, Johannes.
    Brilliant indeed!

    Readers and writers, get your copy of GARBAGE and come hear us (Jiyoon Lee and myself) do a collaborative reading/performance of “Manhole Humanity” at an AWP off-site reading in March.

  2. Lara Glenum

    Deelish! More! Yum!

    Where/when is the off-site reading, Don Mee?

  3. Clayton Eshleman

    Hart Crane drank to split open the ayahuasca cantaloupe he thought was packed with god tongue. Or if not tongue, reptilian dictators resting on the lower depths of his brain. Were a split to have occurred, to whom would the dictation belong? To the anacondas or to Crane? Poets warm their livers at the crossroads of a dilemma that draws and quarters imagination. Poets camping there, squatting, as if in disembowelment, reading their entrails for signs–of the Divine?