Korean Poetry Introduced in France

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), October 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Korean Poetry Introduced in France


French poet and critic Claude Mouchard was not aware of Korean literature until a Korean student in his class at Paris VIII University showed him a poem translated in French in 1997. A few months later, Mouchard put the poem, ``The Tomb at the Top'' by Cho Chong-kwon, in the 80th issue of the literary quarterly ``Po&sie'' (from the word ``poesie'' which means poetry in French) where he serves as an editorial committee member.

Two years later, Mouchard persuaded the journal to focus exclusively on Korean poetry in the 1999 Summer edition titled ``Poesie sud-coreens'' featuring 12 Korean poets. The edition was met with mixed reviews.

It's the first time Korean poetry has been published by a major journal in France.

What inspired him to do this job? ``In my opinion, there is something special and undefinable in Korean poetry that distinguishes it from the rest,'' the section editor for the Korean special said in a press conference on Thursday.

Invited by the Daesan Foundation and the French Embassy in Seoul, Mouchard and four other co-translators of the issue are visiting Korea.

``They [Korean poets] have the echo of verse. They express the thought about the society and history. For example, Yi Sang doesn't just stop to describe the reality. He expresses collective memory, the general consciousness of the time. It means the poet himself participates in the contemporary. That's what the 12 poets hold in their work and these are elements that French readers are missing,'' said Mouchard.

The special issue had a different title at the beginning, ``Un Homme Ouvert Comme la Plaine'' (A Man Wide Open Like the Plain), a reflection of how Korean poets are projected to French editors.

Intended to combine poetry and philosophy, the leading literary magazine publishes French poems, translated poetry and literary criticism.

According to the editor, in its 22-year history, this is the first time the magazine has focused on publishing contemporary poetry of a certain foreign country throughout the book, although there were three special issues on German poet Paul Ceyllan, French poet Mallarme and Chinese poetry.

While the ordinary issue has 125 pages, the 1999 summer edition has 175 pages in order to provide full coverage of 50 years of Korean poetry to French readers.

Because Mouchard doesn't speak Korean, there were six co-translators on hand. Mouchard worked on copy reading.

One of the co-translators, Kim Hee-kyoon, the Korean student who brought the first poem to Mouchard, accompanied him at the press conference.

Kim explained how it all started. ``For this book, at first, we chose four relatively young poets - Cho Chong-kwon, Nam Jin-woo, Ki Hyong-do, Song Chan-ho. …

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