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Modern Poetry

Posted January. 02, 2008 07:15,   


Poetry is “art by language.” While fiction appeared in the 18th century, poetry has been around throughout human history since letters were invented. However, there seemed quite a few youth who were not interested in poetry even in ancient times when writing poems was a prevailing practice. Confucius, who lived in 6th century B.C., taught his disciples about the virtue of poetry, writing, “Poetry arouses people’s interest and makes them discern things, mingle with each other, and have critical views on politics.”

It is said that the proportion of poetry in the overseas literary world has significantly declined. Overseas bookstores rarely display collections of poems. Poets publish their poems at their own expenses and enjoy them with a small number of interested people. The reason poetry is losing ground may lie in its slow pace and rhythm, something that doesn’t suit well with people’s hectic lifestyle. However, Korea has been an exception. Korean people love poetry so much that Korea has been called the “Kingdom of Poetry” or the “Republic of Poetry.” In the 1990s, big-hit collections of poems sold tens of thousands of copies, raising the envy of foreign poets.

2008 is a meaningful year in poetry because it marks the 100th anniversary of the release of “From the Sun to a Boy,” by Choi Nam-sun, the pioneer of Korean modern poetry. Despite the importance of this year, poets don’t seem to be all that excited. There’s a sense of crisis as the country has witnessed a sharp drop in poetry sales. They fear the advent of an era when “people don’t read poems.” But it’s not a time to be in despair. Considering the sheer number of people who write poems, the fondness for poetry remains unchanged among Koreans.

India’s nationalist leader Mohandas Gandhi once sang the praise of poetry, saying, “Poets are those who are able to rouse up people’s virtuous mind.” Korean poets are blessed because they live with people who love poems more than anyone else in the world, so they should play their role by writing poems that resonate with people. As Seo Yu-goo, a scholar during the Joseon Dynasty, once wrote, “When poets write poems after building up a significant amount of knowledge and undergoing a deep thought process, their writings remain moist and do not dry up in the minds of the people.” If a poet is easily swayed by the current trends and carelessly writes light poems, that poet ought to deeply ponder what it is that Koreans really want to read.