"The rest of the class said it made them feel ill…": Kim Hyesoon and Decorum

by on Jan.07, 2013

Here’s a really interesting discussion of how a poet named Catherine Dreyer who likes Kim Hyesoon is told that she’s against decorum and how it makes her feel. I love this post because I think it’s actually something that goes on all the time (and I think she’s right to point out that the teacher is no tyrant, but nonetheless she shuts down Dreyer) and because her reactions are honest and strong:

So I took both poems to class. In a brief discussion with my tutor, she was keen for me to read the Korean poet and teacher’s work, although she didn’t know her work.

I got six lines in and my tutor put her hand up and said, ‘Stop. Please stop. I can’t take any more.’

The rest of the class said it made them feel ill.

I haven’t been able to tell anyone about this without laughing hysterically (I use the word advisedly) to the point of incoherence.

My tutor said it’s great that I read what I read because it allowed a valuable discussion of boundaries. I can’t really remember any discussion of boundaries. People said that they felt poetry ought to offer some kind of light, that the work couldn’t be totally dark.

People – kind people – tried to find symbolism in the work. They hoped she was writing in the censored North (she’s not). (But I appreciated their kindness which redeemed the experience for me quite a lot.)

They did not value her freedom in the way I do. I was alone in that.

My tutor then made me read the Will Kemp and said that it was a safer choice.

For me, what this exposes is that I am at odds with the group (it could be any group) and not for the first time. I try not to believe this. People who think they’re different and special (therefore) are just annoying.

4 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    One of the things that I find very telling is the way apparently other students dismissed KH’s work for being “shocking”. I hear/read this a lot: if a work is shocking, it’s somehow not valuable, “just shocking”, tasteless.


  2. Sarah Fox

    “Stop. Please stop. I can’t take anymore.”

    A statement that strikes me as perfectly opposed to both poetry and teaching.


  3. Cathy Dreyer

    I am delighted that my post has prompted discussion. It’s what I dream of, of course. I would like to say that my tutor is a wonderful teacher. I would not be writing poetry if it weren’t for her.

    There’s a lot I could say about her response, but really, it’s up to her to say it, and I don’t want to paraphrase her. All I would point out is that it was week one of a new course, open to all levels, and my tutor had no idea of everyone’s sensibilities. She may well have been worried that people would walk out.

    Also, she just didn’t like it. It was her classroom after all.

    Far from shutting me down, she has opened me up :-).

    Reading the post back, I think it’s a bit incoherent, albeit heartfelt. I might have to post again about this.

    Thanks again for taking an interest. I really appreciate it.

    Cathy x

  4. don mee

    Glad you found this, Johannes.
    She wrote another post:


    from “this night” in Mommy Must be a Fountain of Feathers (Action Books, 2008)

    A rat
    devours a sleeping white rabbit
    Dark blood spills out of the rabbit cage
    A rat devours a piglet that has fallen into a pot of porridge
    (now, chunks of freshly grilled flesh inside a vagina,
    babies that shiver from their first contact with air,
    fattened chunks of flesh,
    tasty, warm chunks that bleed when ripped into)

    This is what I read to the poetry class.
    Now you understand.