Ko Un 1933- (Un Ko)

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Ko Un 1933- (Un Ko)

PERSONAL:

Born Ko Un-t'ae, August 1, 1933, in Kunsan, South Korea; married Lee Sang-Wha (a professor of English), 1983; children: ChaRyong (daughter).

ADDRESSES:

Home—Ansong, South Korea. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, poet, political activist, teacher, and former Buddhist monk. Association for Korean Writers for the Realization of Freedom, secretary general, 1974-80; National Association for the Recovery of Democracy, spokesperson, 1974; Korean Association of Human Rights, vice chair, 1978; National Association of National Unity, vice chair, 1979; Association of Korean Artists, chair, 1989-90; Association of Writers of National Literature, president, 1992-94. Kyonggi University Graduate School, resident professor, 1994-98; Harvard University, Harvard Yenching Institute, visiting research scholar, 1999; University of California, Berkeley, poetry teacher, 1999. Entered Buddhist monastery, 1952; left c. 1963. Also worked as a school headmaster and art teacher, from 1963-67.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Korean Literature Prize, 1974, 1987; Manhae Literary Prize, 1989; Joong-Ang Prize for Literature, 1991; Chungang Cultural Prize, 1991; Modern Korean Literature Translation Award, Korea Times, top honors, poetry division, for poem "Headmaster Abe"; Daesan Literary Prize, 1994, for Song of Tomorrow; Manhae Grand Prize, 1998; Manhae Buddhist Literature Prize, 1999; Silver Cultural Decoration from South Korean government, 2002; Nobel Prize for Literature nomination, 2002, 2004; Danjae Prize, 2004; Unification Award, 2005; Bjornson Order for Literature, 2005; Swedish Cikada Prize, 2006; Young-Rang Literature Award, 2007; Griffin Lifetime Recognition Award, Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, 2008.

WRITINGS:

P'ian kamsong, Choog Woo (Seoul, South Korea), 1960.

Haebyon ui unmunjip, Sin'gu Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 1966.

In'gan un sulp'uryogo t'aeonatta: Essay, Inmun Sojom (Seoul, South Korea), 1967.

Sin, ono ch'oehu ui maul: Sijip, Inmum Sojom (Seoul, South Korea), 1967.

Uri rul sulp'uge hanun kottul, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1969.

G sonsang ui noul: Esei, Yongsin Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 1969.

Senoya senoya, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1970.

Odiso muosi toeo mannarya, Chungang Ch'ulp'an Kongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1971.

Han sidae ka kago itta: Ko Un esei, Tonghwa Ch'ulp'an Konghwa (Seoul, South Korea), 1972.

Yi Chung-sop: Ku yesul kwa saengae, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1973.

Puhwal: Ko Un sison, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1974.

Orin nagune, T'ukpyolsi (Seoul, South Korea), 1974.

Munui maul e kaso, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1974.

Na ui pangnang na ui sanha, Sedaesa (Seoul, South Korea), 1974.

Ilsik: Changp'yon sosol, Yemun'gwan (Seoul, South Korea), 1974.

Yi Sang p'yongjon, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1974.

Han Yong-un p'yongjon: Ku si wa chohang kwa unmyong, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1975.

Hwanmyol ul wihayo, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1976.

Chejudo: Ku chonch'esang ui palgyon, Ilchisa (Seoul, South Korea), 1976.

Chumoni sok ui esei, Yorhwadang (Seoul, South Korea), 1976.

Tusi onhae, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1976.

Han'guk ui chisigin, Samjungdang (Seoul, South Korea), 1976.

Sesok ui kil, Chinmun Ch'ulp'ansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Sansani posojin irum, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Yoksa wa toburo piae wa toburo: Ko Un esei-son, Han'gilsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Pam chumak: Ko Un sosolchip, Sejong Ch'ulp'an Kongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Ipsan: Ko Un sijip, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Sulp'um un ppuri omnun p'ul: Chongye munhagin 7-in sup'ilchip (essays), Tonghwa Ch'ulp'an Kongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Ttodonun saram, Hanjin Ch'ulp'ansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1978.

(With others) Kwangjang e soso: Onul ui sanmun 21-in son, Saebyok (Seoul, South Korea), 1978.

I ttang ui i saramdul: Widaehan Han'gugin mahunnemyong ui kot'ong kwa nunmul kwa [ttam] ul minjokchuui yoksagwan ui choul wi e ollin saeroun hyongt'ae ui chon'gi munhak, Ppuri Kip'un Namu (Seoul, South Korea), 1978.

Chongo ui sasang, Munye Pip'yongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1978.

Kananhan i rul wihayo, Hanjin Ch'ulp'ansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1978.

Saebyok kil, Ch'angjak kwa Pip'yongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1978.

Sarang ul wihayo, Chonyewon (Seoul, South Korea), 1978.

Irum chiulsu onmun na ui yongga, Yejogak (Seoul, South Korea), 1979.

Orin Nagune: Sansani pusojin irum, Kyongmi Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 1979.

San nomo san nomo pokch'an ap'umigora, Unae (Seoul, South Korea), 1980.

Munhak kwa yesul ui silch'on nolli, Silch'on Munhaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1983.

Ko Kun si chonjin (poems), Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1983.

Choguk ui pyol, Ch'angjak kwa Pip'yongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1984.

I nara orhun maltur i, Chiyangsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Kudae ka palgo kanun modum kil wi e: 16-in sinjak sijip (poems), Ch'angjak kwa Pip'yongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Salm i kudae rul sogilchirado: 10-in taep-yo esei-chip (essays), Hagwonsa (Seoul South Korea), 1985.

Tasi kwangjang e soso, Yejon (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Chinsil ul wihayo, Munhak Segyesa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Chisang ui no wa na: sanmunjip, Paengminsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Cholmang kwa huimang ui sidae, Tonggwang Ch'ulp'ansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Ko Un chonjip, Paengminsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

P'yongjon Han Yong-un: yongujip, Paengminsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Singminji i chipsi, Tonggwang Ch'ulp'ansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Yesulchogin nomuna yesulchogin, Tonggwang Ch'ulp'ansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Han'gil yoksa kihaeng, Han'gilsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Irok'e sip'orok'e sara, Hanmadang (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Chonwon sip'yon, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Hwangt'o ui adul: Na ui orin sijol, Hangilsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Kayahal saram: Ko Un sinjak sijip (poems), Chonyewon (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Konan ui kkot, Hangilsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Maninbo, Ch'angjaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Munhak kwa minjok: Uri sidae salm ui ch'oe chongang eso chon'gaehan minjok kwa minjok munhak ui nolli, Han'gilsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Si wa yuonsil (poems), Silch'on Munhaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Si yo nara kara (poems), Silch'on Munhaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Chugum ul salcha: Mun Ik-hwan sonjip, Hyongsongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Twenty-one Plus One (poems), Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

Minjok siga (poems), Tonga (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

Chol ul ch'ajaso: Ch'ehomjok munhwa kihaeng, Ch'aek Sesang (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

Hullora mul, Kirinwon (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

No wa na ui hwangt'o: Ko Un sisonjip, Koryowon (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

Paektusan, Ch'angjaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

Haebyon ui unmunjip, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1988.

Ip'n p'io ch'ongsan i toene: Ko Un Kyore wa norae, Koryowon (Seoul, South Korea), 1988.

Ku nal ui taehaengjin: Ko Un sijip (poems), Chonyewon (Seoul, South Korea), 1988.

Munui maul e kaso, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1988.

Na ui chonyok, Hanguk Munhaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1988.

Ne nuntongja: Ko Un sijip, Ch'angjak kwa Pip'yongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1988.

Taeryuk, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1988.

Aa, nuinun sansae chorom nara katkuna: Naeil e puch'inun ku nal ui yaksok, Tonga (Seoul, South Korea), 1989.

Chomun nal namp'unk i solleinda, Tonga (Seoul, South Korea), 1989.

Kurum man puk uro mollyo kanun'guna, Tonga (Seoul, South Korea), 1989.

1950-yondae, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1989.

Hwanmyol ul wihayo chinsil ul wihayo, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1989.

Ko Un t'ongsin; mal i sidae rul ikkunun ku nal kkaji, Choson Ilbosa (Seoul, South Korea), 1989.

Otton sunyon, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1989.

Kangjwa, minjok munhwa, Chongmin (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Hanul iyo ttang iyo aa, Kwangju yo: 5.18 Kwangju minjung 10-chunyon kinyom sijip, Hwangt'o (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Konghwaguk ul wihayo: Pan sach'al pan komun sijip, Hwangt'o (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Nam-Pukhan munhaksa yonp'yo, 1945-1989, Han'gilsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Saebyok kang e ttunun pyoltul ui nun uro, Nun (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Sesang eso kajang sulgiroun iyagi, Tongtchok Nara (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Ach'im isul, Tonga (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Hwanghon kwa chonwi: Na ui munhakchok chonmang, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Nunmul ul wiyayo, P'ulpit (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Panghwang kurigo chilju: Ko Un esei, Mihaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Yoksa nun hurunda: Ko Un sahoe munhwa susangnok, P'ulpit (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Munhak kwa yoksa wa in'gan "T'aebaek sanmaek" ui sosolchok songkwa wa t'ongil munhak ui chonmang, Hangilsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Haegumgang, Hangilsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Hwaomgyong: Ko Un changp'yon sosol, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Mwonya simma: Ko Un sonsi, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Sesok ui kil: Na ui sanha na ui pangnang, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Sojong sijip, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Kudul ui polp'an: Ko Un changp'yon sosol, Ch'aek Sesang (Seoul, South Korea), 1992.

Nae ka mandun samak: Ko Un changp'yon sosol, Ch'aek Sesang (Seoul, South Korea), 1992.

Naeil ui norae: Ko Un sijip, Ch'angjak kwa Pip'yongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1992.

Paramil: Ko Un changp'yon sosol, Hanbot (Seoul, South Korea), 1992.

Yi Chung-sop p'yongjon, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1992.

Yi Sang p'yongjon, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1992.

Ajik kaji anun kil: Ko Un sijip, Hyondae Munhak (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

Kwangya eso ui sasaek: Ko Un sanmunjip, Tonga Ch'ulp'ansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

Na, Ko Un: Ko Un chajon sosol, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

Sin wan o ch'onch'ukkuk chon: Pulgyo songji sullye, Tonga Ch'ulp'ansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

The Sound of My Waves: Selected Poems, translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Young-Moo Kim, Cornell University, East Asia Program (Ithaca, NY), 1993.

Ch'aek, ottok'e ilgul kosin'ga, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1994.

Nae insaeng ui ch'aektul: Han'guk ui taep'yo chisong 51-in ch'aek kwa insaeng, Han'gyore Sinmunsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1995.

Kim Sakkat: Ko Un changp'yon sosol, P'ulpit (Seoul, South Korea), 1995.

Na ui ch'ongdong sidae: Ko Un cajon sosol, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1995.

Sosol son, Ch'angjak kwa Pip'yongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1995.

Beyond Self: 108 Korean Zen Poems, translated by Young-Moo Kim and Brother Anthony of Taizé, foreword by Allen Ginsberg, introduction by Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax Press (Berkeley, CA), 1997, revised edition with eleven original paintings by the author published as What? 108 Zen Poems, Parallax Press (Berkeley, CA), 2006.

Nam kwa puk: Ko Un sijip, Ch'angjak kwa pipyongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 2000.

Sun'gan ui kkot: Ko Un chagun sip'yon, Munhak Tongne (Seoul, South Korea), 2001.

Tugo on si: Ko Un sijip, Ch'angjak kwa Pip'yongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 2002.

Chonjaeng un Sin ul saenggak hage handa: Panjon, p'yonghwa munhak, No War! Stop War!, Hwanam (Seoul, South Korea), 2003.

Ko Un: Han'guk taep'yo siin sonjip Ko Un, Munhak Sasangsa (Seoul, South Korea), 2003.

Traveler Maps: Poems = Yojido, translated by David R. McCann, Tamal Vista Publications (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

Little Pilgrim, translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Young-Moo Kim, edited by Rachel Neumann, Parallax Press (Berkeley, CA), 2005.

Abiding Places: Korea South & North, translated by Sunny Jung and Hillel Schwartz, Tupelo Press (Dorset, VT), 2006.

Flowers of a Moment: Poems, translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé, Young-Moo Kim, and Gary Gach, BOA Editions (Rochester, NY), 2006.

The Three Way Tavern: Selected Poems, translations by Clare You and Richard Silberg, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2006.

Uju ui sat'uri: Ko Un munhak haengno, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 2007.

Also author of P'ianaeng, 1962, and Ilch'on-kubaekosimnyondae, 1973. Author's works have been translated into numerous languages.

SIDELIGHTS:

South Korean poet, novelist, and political activist Ko Un has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature multiple times, but he remains relatively unknown in the United States. "His poetry," stated a biographer for Korean Literature Today, "ranges from the short lyric to the vast epic sweep of the seven volumes of the still unfinished Paektu-san." Born in 1933, Ko Un has led an eventful life. He was forced into compulsory labor during the Korean War, where he permanently damaged his hearing during a suicide attempt. Later, plagued by alcoholism, he attempted suicide yet again. Ko Un's "main concern," as described in his biography on the Tupelo Press Web site, "has always been to express the historic identity of the Korean people."

"Ko Un was born into a farming family in a small village in North Cholla Province," stated a contributor to the Pegasos Web site. "Nowadays the village where he grew up is a part of the port city of Kunsan. At an early age, Ku Un already read classical Chinese texts, and in 1945 he started to write poems." The budding poet was scarred by the experience of growing up during the World War II Japanese occupation of Korea, especially since it impacted his love of language. "When I entered elementary school after quitting the private school where I studied Chinese classics," the poet wrote in a biographical essay published on his Web site, "the Korean language class had been abolished and replaced with Japanese. It was not only in school but also at home that we were forced to use Japanese not Korean." He continued: "Implemented along with the policy of abolishing the Korean language was one transforming Korean names into Japanese ones…. My name when I was a first grader at elementary school was Dakkabayai Doraske." The author explained: "The Korean language and writing system were identified as heritages that the cruel Japanese colonial rule found necessary to purge."

The wounds that the Japanese occupation inflicted on Ko Un were made worse by the fratricidal strife of the Korean War. "He was forcibly mobilized by the People's Army to repair the bomb-damaged runways of an air-force base," explained the writer of a chronology of Ko Un's life published on the poet's Web site. "His experience of fratricidal warfare effectively destroyed his rural childhood innocence, bringing him to the verge of mental breakdown, and to attempted suicides, which resulted in losing one ear. Before the war was over, in 1952," the writer continued, "he joined the Buddhist clergy and became the recognized disciple of the great monk Hyo Bong. For the next ten years he lived a life of Zen meditation, always on the move." His first volume of poetry, P'ian kamsong, was published while he was living as a monk.

Ko Un abandoned the Buddhist life in the early 1960s. While working as a teacher in a small charity school, he drank heavily and made several more suicide attempts, culminating in 1970 when he swallowed a hundred sleeping pills mixed with alcohol; he was revived after a thirty-hour coma. Eventually Ko Un discovered political activism, recognizing that Korean workers were oppressed in the same way that his rural family had been oppressed during the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. His stance led to his imprisonment several times during the 1970s and 1980s. It was not until a civilian government replaced the dictatorship in 1992 that he was allowed to travel outside Korea. Ko Un's stance reflected his commitment to the need for writers to take a stand against forces of oppression. "The role of a poet in Korea is not just to write about sentiment, but also to write about movements in history," Ko Un said in an article by Nicholas D. Kristof published in the New York Times. "Poetry is the song of history."

In addition to his political activism, Ko Un is celebrated for his audacious attempt to almost single-handedly construct a Korean literature free from colonial and other influences, rooted in the painful experiences of the Korean people during World War II and during the Korean War and its aftermath. In Maninbo, he tries to create a way to recapture the lives lost in these conflicts and the political purges that followed them. "Ko Un conceived of this project holed up in a military prison with other prominent dissidents," stated John Feffer, writing in the Nation. "He vowed to write a poem for every person he had ever known, from his closest relatives to historical figures he'd only met in books." This ongoing project is called "Ten Thousand Lives." "Ko Un has ‘gone to the people’ for his inspiration," Feffer continued, "much like the narodniks, the Russian radicals of the nineteenth century, and the South Korean student movement activists of the 1980s who emulated them. But Ko Un has not summoned up some ethereal concept of the People. Maninbo, his masterpiece, is the People made flesh. Thanks to Ko Un, they continue to walk among us, all 10,000 of them."

Little Pilgrim is a series of fifty-three poems describing encounters between the orphan boy Sudhana and a variety of teachers as he wanders throughout India searching for spiritual enlightenment. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly observed that the poems contain "beautiful descriptions" of natural phenomena and scenery. The Sound of My Waves: Selected Poems includes poems from Ko Un's "Ten Thousand Lives" project. Other poems address Ko Un's deeply held beliefs about freedom and nationalism. "These poems are lively and sound true to life, but they do not seek to gloss over ugliness," commented Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr., in World Literature Today.

Ko Un's multiple shortlistings for the Nobel Prize for literature—and his failure to achieve the prize—has been a continual disappointment for students of Korean literature for years. The poet's work has an "international appeal," stated a writer for YON—Yonhap News Agency of Korea, "as his poetry exerts a form of Buddhist healing power." Kim Seung-hee, a fellow poet and a professor of literature, told the YON writer: "He hugged all the germs of Korean society with his entire body, and contracted its diseases. He threw his body into the wilderness of Korea's past and dreamed of a new Korea, another future."

Recently Ko Un has expanded his political activism to reach out to fellow poets in North Korea, attempting to bridge the social, political, and cultural gap that separates the two countries. In July 2005 he chaired the South Korean party in a joint meeting with writers from North Korea on the subject of creating a dictionary for all speakers of Korean. In doing so, he implies on his Web page, he hopes to create a new identity that can be shared by all Koreans, regardless of the politics under which they live. "The literature of a new era is not one that has simply descended from the past but is one that is currently newly born rooted in the soil of the past. This literature, a chorus creatively maintaining the horizontal relationship, is what I dream of," he declared. "I hope my literature will wander around and not stay in one place. The Nirvana that I dream of is a Nirvana without any permanency. It is a dream with no leftovers."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

AsiaPulse News, July 11, 2005, "S. Korean Linguists Arrive in Pyongyang for Unified Dictionary," author profile.

Booklist, April 1, 2006, Janet St. John, review of The Three Way Tavern: Selected Poems, p. 13.

Korea Journal, March 22, 1998, review of Beyond Self: 108 Korean Zen Poems, p. 397.

Korean Literature Today, April, 1997, author profile.

Nation, September 18, 2006, John Feffer, "Writers from the Other Asia," author profile.

New York Review of Books, November 3, 2005, "Poet of Wonders," author profile, p. 59.

New York Times, July 31, 1987, "Voice of Dissent in South Korea Speaks in Verse," author profile.

Publishers Weekly, July 18, 2005, review of Little Pilgrim, p. 185.

World Literature Today, spring, 1994, Edgar C. Knowlton, review of The Sound of My Waves: Selected Poems, p. 435.

YON—Yonhap News Agency of Korea, October 14, 2005, "Nobel Literature Prize Eludes South Korean Poet"; January 21, 2006, "Ko Un's Meditative Poetry Debuts in Italy"; October 26, 2006, "S. Korean Poet Ko Un Wins Swedish Literary Prize"; October 24, 2007, "S. Korean Poet Chosen for Canadian Lifetime Recognition Award."

ONLINE

Pegasos,http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ (August 14, 2008), author profile.

Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin Web site,http://www.literaturfestival.com/ (August 14, 2008), author profile.

Ko Un Web site,http://www.koun.co.kr (August 14, 2008), author profile.

Sogang University Web site,http://www.sogang.ac.kr (August 14, 2008), author profile.

Tupelo Press,http://www.tupelopress.org/ (August 14, 2008), author profile.

University of California Press Web site,http://ucpress.typepad.com/ (August 14, 2008), "Robin Blaser and Ko Un Win Griffin Poetry Prizes."

[Entry reviewed by Lee Sang-Wha on behalf of author.]

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Ko Un 1933- (Un Ko)

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