Earlier in the week I looked at the latest English translation release from Korean poet Ko Un, “Maninbo – Peace & War”, and another new release I purchased at the same time is now up for review, female Korean poet HeeDuk Ra and her book “Wild Apple”.
This work is published by White Pine Press and is volume twenty-one in their Korean Voices Series (even though the image of the cover says "Volume 20" my edition says "Volume 21" and the listing in the back of the book contains 21 publications). The collection includes a novel by Cheon Myeong-Kwan, “Modern Family” (translated by Kyoung-lee Park), four collections of stories, their first volume being an anthology of Korean Fiction titled “The Snowy Road” and seventeen poetry collections, including Ko Un who I reviewed earlier in the week and a work titled “This Side of Time; Selected Poems by Ko Un” (translated by Claire You and Richard Silberg) and another collection of HeeDuk Ra poetry called “Scale and Stairs” (translated by Won-chung Kim and Christopher Merrill).
As HeeDuk Ra explains in the “Poet’s Note” at the end of the collection, “it was an unfamiliar continent where I first tasted a wild apple. Sour and astringent, that untamed flavor was quite different from the apples of a fruit store or in a farmer’s basket. Like a bird pecking at a wild fruit, I felt awkwardly free.” Our translators, Daniel Parker and YoungShil Ji, explain in the “Translator’s Note, also at the conclusion of the collection;
Wild Apple represents a rebirth, or at least a change in direction, for Ra’s poetry. In an early interview just days before she left South Korea for he sabbatical year in England, Ra explained that she used to work diligently on self-reflection, but many of the poems in this book were “released” much more naturally. She wanted to “quench her desire to write” by waiting for the right moment to construct her ideas in written language; relying on her heart more than her brain.
“Wild Apple” is a slim volume, running to 88 pages, and containing sixty-two poems, many of them born during her trips to the United States and the title poem itself coming from a visit to New Mexico.
This is a subtle, nuanced collection of poetry, with that natural world prominently featured, wind, cliffs, clouds, setting suns are recurring themes, as is weather. In ‘Raindrops’ we have the rhythmic pattern of rain intermingled with the story of rain’s cycle, “I realized raindrops are the death of clouds”…”I realized clouds are the death of a river”; all of this is interspersed with the tale of American Indian burial mounds and the connection these have to landscape and environment.
Drops of Water
after he disappeared
I began to hear the water all around
into the dirty battered sink
tok, tok, tok, tok, tok …
staccato drops of water falling
the sound signals a leak in my life
I give my ear to it like touching it with dry roots
like knocking at a door
sometimes like chattering birds
the sound of water
in a drop a child cries
in a drop a hydrangea blooms
in a drop a goldfish dies
in a drop a bowl breaks
in a drop snowflakes fall
in a drop an apple ripens
in a drop I hear a song
climbing through the distant pipes,
droplets wet the silence of my empty room,
rock a cradle with tearful eyes
my heart, too, begins to resemble a waterdrop
tok, tok, tok, tok, tok…
foreign drops of blood flowing into my pale skin
Forefront here, again, is the rhythm of drops of water from a leaking tap, but measured against the passing of time, all the events that happen in the blink of an eye, or in the time it takes for a drop of water to fall into the battered sink.
The poem ‘Between “No Sighting” and “Sighting”’ takes the diaries from a whaling ship and turns the nineteen days of monotony, the repetitive period of “no sighting”, into a poem. We have the fog, deep night seas, blood, and scrawlings in Chinese characters on a faded log page, all drawing a vivid picture of 1970’s lonely whaling expeditions.
Obscure daily activities, like hanging out a pair of panties to dry, become poetry, as HeeDukRa observes the shadow on the floor. We have cleaning a barren pond, inhaling fog, a celebration of being alive and awareness of the present moment. Although not meditative the mundane daily activities are highlighted to show the beauty in each waking moment.
The poem “Like Pig’s Heads” mixing the tradition of having pig’s heads on display in the Jagalchi street market and their fake smiles, against a person smiling in the mirror and a glimpse of an anonymous person in the rear view mirror on the way to work.
Road kill is mingled in with lamentations for past lovers, blooming banksia’s and their germination cycle back up against burned corn fields. The movie ‘Being John Malkovich’ is the subject of one poem, up against wearing red shoes and celebrating the art and freedom of dancing.
This is a beautiful collection of poems, ones to ruminate upon, ones to dwell and and allow their full impact to be felt.
Given the quality of the work I am pretty sure I will be exploring a number of other books from White Wine Press and more specifically a few more of the twenty-one available in the Korean Voices Series.