"The Landscape's Gaze": Dougal McNeill on Kim Hyesoon's Holes

by on Jun.14, 2012

Here’s a link to Australian writer Dougal McNeill’s insightful reading of Kim Hyesoon’s amazing book All the Garbage of the World, Unite!

Excerpt from review:

This, at any rate, is how I read the abrupt shift that occurs in ‘Seoul, Korea’:

The mountain gives birth
The mountain licks a mountain
The moutain’s litter sucks on its nipples
The mountain cold-heartedly discards all of its litter
The young mountains copulate in broad daylight, the stench
The mountain roams like the pack of dogs inside a maze

This same mountain, all of a sudden, transforms itself into a much more challenging pile of historical remnants and suppressed trauma:

The mountain eats shit, eats a corpse
The mountain, the rash-covered mountain attacks me with its flaming eyes
The mountain, the snow-topped mountain cries
The mountain without a single tree laments with its head flung back
towards the sky

There’s good reason for official culture in the United States, Australia and New Zealand to want to keep the Korean War as a ‘forgotten’ war. It was, after all, a time when, in the words of historian Bruce Cumings, virtual wastelands were produced in the name of containment. Plenty of representational raw material for an aesthetic of holes here…

Like I’ve been saying for years: Kim Hyesoon is one of the most important living poets. As Aase Berg wrote about it: “your world will be changed!”

Buy it at SPD.
Or at the Action Books web site.

7 comments for this entry:
  1. Kent Johnson

    Worth pointing out that the text highlighted here seems quite clearly a reworking from Dogen’s Zenji’s classic Mountains and Rivers Sutra? Which is, in fact, one of the strangest, most wildly poetic “religious” texts ever written…

  2. Johannes

    Really? Do you know of any translations of this text?


  3. don mee

    I can ask Kim Hyesoon, but I know that she wrote this after visiting Tibet. And the title of the poem above is “Seoul, Kore” not “Korea.” She is referring to the sacred mountain Mount Kailash Kore in Tibet.

  4. Kent Johnson

    Yes, there are quite a few, including online. Probably the best, most extensive collection of Dogen (including the Mountains and Rivers Sutra) is here, though there are many books:

    Dogen, you probably know, is the founder of Soto Zen. And the thing is, the M&R Sutra is just the beginning. Dogen has some of the weirdest, most exhilarating language in all literature, seriously. Open him just about anywhere. Surrealism has nothing on him.

    I’m pretty sure the M&R Sutra would be a source for the poem quoted above. But maybe its just some ghosty serendipity going on.

  5. Kent Johnson

    Here’s the closing passage of the M & R Sutra:

    There are mountains hidden in treasures. There are mountains hidden in swamps. There are mountains hidden in the sky. There are mountains hidden in mountains. There are mountains hidden in hiddenness. This is complete understanding. An ancient Buddha said, “Mountains are mountains, waters are waters.” These words do not mean mountains are mountains; they mean mountains are mountains. Therefore investigate mountains thoroughly. When you investigate mountains thoroughly, this is the work of the mountains. Such mountains and waters of themselves become wise persons and sages.

  6. don mee

    Thanks for this, Kent. Now I’m pretty sure the sutra above you mention is not the source for Kim’s “Seoul, Kore. KHS despises any “wise persons and sages” and her treatment of the landscape in her poetry is extremely subversive, inversive, and parodic of the conventional nature poems by most male Korean poets.

  7. Kent Johnson

    Hi Don, just to say that I was aware she would be subverting/parodying the original Sutra, if that is in the background!

    Dogen is Japanese, by the way, not Korean, though Soto Zen, founded by Dogen is the main Zen current in Korea, I believe.