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[Exclusive] Disgraced poet Ko Un, unseen in Korea, has been active in international literary scene

Poet Ko Un speaks at the inauguration session at the 14th Kritya International Poetry Festival, organized by Kritya Literary Trust, in India, as a guest of honor on July 4, 2021. (Screencapture from Kritya's official YouTube channel)
Poet Ko Un speaks at the inauguration session at the 14th Kritya International Poetry Festival, organized by Kritya Literary Trust, in India, as a guest of honor on July 4, 2021. (Screencapture from Kritya's official YouTube channel)

While South Korean poet Ko Un remained virtually silent in Korea’s literary scene after sexual harassment allegations were made against him in 2017, he has been actively participating in international book fairs and festivals.

The poet was awarded the New Golden Age Poetry Prize at Mexico City Poetry Festival in 2018 where he also had a solo poetry reading at the awards ceremony.

In the past five years, he has also given speeches, interview and readings at international literary fairs in India, Germany, Romania and Kazakhstan.

In 2021, he was invited to the 14th Kritya International Poetry Festival, organized by the Kritya Literary Trust, in India, as a guest of honor and read poems at the inauguration session. The festival was held online from July 4-13.

He also participated in a virtual reading for the “Worldwide Reading for the Dead of the Pandemic,” organized by the Berlin Literature Festival, on Sept. 5, 2021.

In February 2019, Ko was invited to the Raza Biennale of Indian Poetry held in New Delhi, where Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian-born political philosopher who teaches at O. P. Jindal Global University in India, proposed to Ko a literary conversation project.

Jahanbegloo published “Conversation With Ko Un” in English through Orient Black Swan, a publisher based in India, in 2020.

On its website, Oriental Black Swan says that Ko “talks about his life, vision, aesthetics, travails and anxieties … about coming of age during the Korean War, his experience as a Buddhist monk, his imprisonment on several occasions, and poetry as an act of dissent."

The Korean edition of the book hit the local shelves on Dec. 15, along with a collection of new poems, “Song of Nothingness," on Dec. 20.

Poet Choi Young-mi, who first raised sexual misconduct allegations against Ko in 2017 wrote on her Facebook post Thursday, “literature practicing hypocrisy.” The comment is seen as her criticism of Ko and the publisher who released Ko's books without any apology.

On Monday, she wrote, “In vain, that’s how I feel now.”

The South Korean public appears to remain cool to Ko's return.

In an online survey conducted by the online literary magazine “Newspaper” on Ko’s return to the literary scene, 99.3 percent of respondents opposed his return. A total of 2,424 people -- 202 writers and 2,222 readers -- participated in the three-day survey -- from Saturday to Monday.

“Sales of the books have been insignificant since their release," an official at Kyobo Book Center, the biggest bookstore chain in the country, told The Korea Herald Friday.

Choi published a poem titled “The Beast” in 2017, in which she alluded to Ko’s habitual sexual misconduct. Her poem sparked multiple allegations against Ko, leading his poems to be removed from textbooks.

In July 2018, Ko filed a compensation lawsuit against Choi and the reporters of the newspaper that published Choi's allegations against Ko, but he lost the case. He lost an appeal in November 2019 and did not take the case to the Supreme Court.

The local publisher, Silcheon Muhak, released Ko’s latest collections on Dec. 20, to mark the 65th anniversary of the poet’s debut in 1958. The two books are Ko’s first publications in five years.



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