Hope is Lonely


Our translator Brother Anthony began by introducing the feminist, surrealist poet Kim Seung-Hee, and giving us some useful pointers about Korean, such as the fact the verb often comes last in the sentence. We then launched into this rich, haunting poem, which we struggled to do justice in the allotted two hours. Just the discussion about whether hope is lonely or lonesome (like Elvis) took up five minutes!

There was a particularly interesting conversation about the pork – a kind of barbecue bacon – in the first verse, which one workshop participant described as ‘the best dinner in the world’, and we learnt that a pig’s head is often prominently displayed at Korean celebrations as a blessing, with banknotes poked into its mouth. We also loved the image of hope’s totem pole as a cactus – it suggests survival in a barren landscape but also pain.

The lack of a clearly defined subject in much Korean poetry caused us all sorts of problems as the clock ticked down– who is taking off their shoes? Who is beating their breasts? Is it the sun who wants to quit? The I? The you? But we kept as much ambiguity as we could – in these times perhaps we are all ‘fearfully lonely’.

Clare Pollard, Poet-facilitator