Go to contents

[Opinion] “A 1,000,000-Won Payment for a Poem”

Posted December. 20, 2004 23:12,   


“Sadly…Not too sadly but sort of sadly…Separation…Not separation for good but with a chance of meeting again even it is in the afterlife…Not like a wind blowing to meet a lotus but like the one blowing after it met a lotus…Like the wind blowing not after it met the lotus yesterday, but met it a season or two ago….”

This is part of a superb poem by Seo Jung-joo, also known by his penname, Midang. Madoka Mayuzumi (42), a female haiku (traditional Japanese short poem) writer, came to Korea in 2001 and walked through a 500km stretch from Busan to Seoul over four seasons. Her intention was to experience and feel the lyricism of the poet who wrote such a beautiful poem, and to feel the nature that nurtured the poet.

A while ago, I had a small year-end gathering with my fellow writers. When Professor Kim Hwa-young of Korea University, who was a friend of the late poet Midang, said, “He loved beer so much. In his later days, he used to eat an anchovy as a side dish for his drink, dipping it into hot pepper paste, unknowing that mold grew in the hot pepper paste,” many of us shed tears. Choi Myeong-ae, president of Poemtopia, which published the last poetry of Midang, “An 80-year-old wandering boy’s poem,” moved us by saying that she left empty three pages at the back of the poetry book to give room for Midang to write poems at his pleasure in the beyond.

A beautiful poem purifies man’s soul. Sometimes it transforms a man’s whole life. Midang, who ended his 85-year life full of honors and disgrace on a white Christmas Eve on the last winter of the 20th century, left 900 poems in 64 years of poetry writing. How much was he paid for his poems as a person who was called a master from an early stage? He probably received just much as the price of his drinks, except for some poems that were run in the January 1 edition or the December 31 edition of daily newspapers.

A quarterly literature magazine has reportedly decided to establish a “special poetry circle” by paying one million won for each poem. It is a very drastic proposal given that normally there is no payment for poems at all, or that literature magazines pay less than 100,000 won per poem. But at the same time, it cannot be considered a high price considering numerous sleepless nights that a poet has to spend, and the enormous efforts made to write a poem. Some say sarcastically that they feel sorry for a society where a poem is sold and purchased with a high price. I hope social treatment for poets would improve as much as the payment for poems has.

Oh Myung-chul, Editorial writer, oscar@donga.com