More News from Korea: Kim Ki Taek

by on Nov.13, 2012

One of the fascinating writers I hung out with in Korea was Kim Ki Taek. He grew up as an orphan in Korea in the 1960s (a student of Kim Hyesoon’s, she said it is highly unusual for orphans to go on to college). What I remember most about him was this amazing story he told about being a kid and finding a dead rabbit in the street and cooking and eating it. It was supposed to be a tale to demonstrate the need to keep some things hidden in poems (because he got in trouble for revealing this experience in a poem).

Anyway, there’s a great interview with him over on Cordiate Poetry Review.


I think ‘Physical and psychological violence’ is common for all the people and the living things. However I agree that my poems are very sensitive to find the ‘mark’ of physical and psychological violence of all the bodies of humans and animals. (I regret for foreign readers not to find it in my poems because of no English version of collected poems.)

In my poetry, I have observed how violence carves marks on the body, and I am interested in this process and in these wounds. The body appears in various forms including all human and living things with their words, actions, habits, and instincts. These powerfully provoke my curiosity. I have been pleased to watch and to describe them in my poems. I think that they are related to my question — what am I who lives in the body?

When my mouth waters at the sight of delicious food, when my skin contracts all over with gooseflesh at the sharp sound of a nail scratching glass, and when I feel sexual desire, my body seems to respond beyond my will. Someone inside my body seems to act instead of me. This someone gives orders to my body, and it passively obeys him.

I think there are many invisible ancestral bodies living inside my visible body. I often feel that my ancestors, who left my body behind through the long chain of life and death, are now moving inside me. I can feel the marks of their pain and delight. They seem to borrow my living body as their residence. So ‘I’ is singular as well as plural. There are ancestral life histories in my words, actions, thoughts, and habits. I continue to transform all of these possible ancestral bodies into my own, making the invisible ancestors visible through my body’s words and actions. My body automatically moves just as my ancestors did for over a thousand years.

My body is the result of my ancestors’ hard-fought survival against the threat of their surroundings. I think there are many wounds, visible and invisible, in my body. I often feel some of them – hidden in my personality, habit, and behaviour – suddenly appear. Sometimes they intensely move inside me. So I can say that I am a living relic older than any relic in a museum.

The physical or psychological violence I mentioned is general. It is not easy to clearly say what violence has formed of the sense of self. I can say that the course of my growth makes me have more concerns for this violence. I hope the good critic can make clear this matter from my works. However you can feel a little one side of this characteristic through my poem ‘Eating a Live Octopus’ or ‘Chewing Gum’.

And if you go here, you’ll find “Eating a Live Octopus,” which further explores this connection between eating and violence. KKT is a very eloquent and thoughtful speaker, and very often he develops elaborate conceits involving food. He is also a very admirer of food. One night he even convinced me to try to eat dried squid. It was not as overpowering as the sweet squid jerky that I had eaten the night before, but it was incredibly tough.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. don mee

    Thanks for posting about Kim Ki-taek’s work. It pains me to read his work.
    He has certainly endured a society that has trashed orphans for so many
    decades. I grew up seeing orphans everywhere–they often survived as
    shoe-shine boys if they were not in orphanages. Many also gave up their
    lives during the April 1960 Student Revolution that forced out an US
    appointed autocratic president Syngman Rhee. My father photographed them
    during the revolution and he said that was what was most moving and
    important to him about the revolution.