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Poet Ko Un releases new books five years after sexual harassment allegation

“Song of Nothingness” by Ko Un (left) and Korean edition of “Conversation With Ko Un
“Song of Nothingness” by Ko Un (left) and Korean edition of “Conversation With Ko Un" (Silcheon Munhak)

Korean poet Ko Un, 90, who had stayed away from the literary scene after sexual harassment allegations were made against him in 2017, has returned with a new collection of poems.

Silcheon Munhak published Ko’s latest collection of poetry, “Song of Nothingness,” along with a collection of conversations, “Conversation With Ko Un,” on Dec. 20.

The publisher said 2023 marks the 65th anniversary of the poet's debut in 1958. The two books are Ko's first publications in five years.

The acclaimed poet, who was often considered a potential candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature, did not make any mention of the allegations.

Instead, Ko wrote in the author's note for the poetry collection, “It has been five years since the collections ‘First Marriage’ and ‘One Day’ came out. ... Hands and eyes played with writing and reading. (I) lived the hour of poetry all year around.”

“We have to review a book by its content,” said Silcheon Munhak in an email to The Korea Herald on Tuesday. "The poet submitted his poems, and they passed our standard.”

“Conversation With Ko Un” by Ramin Jahanbegloo (Orient Black Swan)
“Conversation With Ko Un” by Ramin Jahanbegloo (Orient Black Swan)

“Conversation With Ko Un” is a compilation of conversations between Ko and Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian poet and philosopher based in Canada.

The book is a translation of the original English edition published by Orient Black Swan, a publisher based in India, in 2020. The conversation project started after Ko was invited to the Raza Biennale of Indian Poetry in New Delhi, in 2019, at the request of Jahanbegloo, who was a professor at O. P. Jindal Global University in India.

“It is a book worth keeping by your side. It will be a good book for general readers, but I would like to recommend this to writers,” the Korean publisher said in a preview of the collection.

Ko Un attends the opening ceremony of Maninbo Library, a space established by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, in 2017. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Ko Un attends the opening ceremony of Maninbo Library, a space established by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, in 2017. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

In 2017, poet Choi Young-mi published a poem titled “The Beast” in which a Mr. En is depicted as habitually sexually assaulting women, including writers and publishers. Mr. En has been widely identified as Ko.

Ko's only public statement on the matter was released in the British paper the Guardian in March 2018 through his British publisher Bloodaxe Books.

“I flatly deny charges of habitual misconduct that some individuals have brought up against me,” said Ko. “I must affirm that I have done nothing which might bring shame on my wife or myself.”

Ko's poems were removed from textbooks and a library space established by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in Ko’s name was closed after allegations emerged.

Ko filed a compensation lawsuit for 1 billion won ($807,000) against Choi in July 2018. The court ruled in favor of Choi.



By Hwang Dong-hee (hwangdh@heraldcorp.com)
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