The performance dimensions of Korea’s culture have become more and more recognized around the world these days. Psy and his Gangnam Style is but one example, though an amazing one.
Korean poetry has also been a part of a performance tradition in Korea, though perhaps because of the language barrier and the challenges of translation, Korean poems and poets, classical, modern, and contemporary, are not yet so widely recognized. No Nobel Prize in Literature for a Korean author—yet.
Most everyone knows a haiku when they see one, but its Korean counterpart, the sijo, is not well known. Yet the sijo has a long and fascinating history, a remarkable range of texts, and a dynamic performance tradition worth knowing better, and for the brave or for the young, worth a try in English.
David McCann has translated sijo, and a few years ago, following his own example in his class on Writing Asian Poetry, began writing it in English. A book of his sijo poems, Urban Temple, was published in English in 2010, and in a dual-language, Korean and English edition in Korea in 2013. He will introduce the form, its history and a few exemplary texts, try out some of his own sijo poems with the audience, and make some time available for writing a sijo, for those bold enough to try.
David McCann is Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. His several prizes, grants, and fellowships include the Cultural Order of Merit awarded by the Korean government, the Manhae Prize in Arts and Sciences, the Daesan Foundation Translation Grant, and the Korea P.E.N. Center Translation Prize. His books include Azaleas, a book of poems by Kim Sowôl, Traveler Maps: Poems by Ko Un, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry, Early Korean Literature: Selections and Introductions, War and Democracy: A Comparative Study of the Korean War and the Peloponnesian War (with Barry S. Strauss) and The Classical Moment: Views from Seven Literatures (with Gail H. Warhaft). His poems have been published in Poetry, Salamander, Runes, Café Review, Off the Coast, and other journals. His poem “David” was included in the Pushcart Prize Anthology III. His recent books of poems include a chapbook, Cat Bird Tree (Pudding House Publications, 2004), The Way I Wait For You (Codhill Press, 2007), and a collection of poems in the sijo form, Urban Temple (Bo Leaf Books, 2010) with a Korean-English edition from Changbi Publishers in 2012.