The title section of Kim Hyesoon’s powerful new book, Autobiography of Death, consists of forty-nine poems, each poem representing a single day during which the spirit roams after death before it enters the cycle of reincarnation. The poems not only give voice to those who met unjust deaths during Korea’s violent contemporary history, but also unveil what Kim calls “the structure of death, that we remain living in.” Autobiography of Death, Kim’s most compelling work to date, at once reenacts trauma and narrates death—how we die and how we survive within this cyclical structure. In this sea of mirrors, the plural “you” speaks as a body of multitudes that has been beaten, bombed, and buried many times over by history. The volume concludes on the other side of the mirror with “Face of Rhythm,” a poem about individual pain, illness, and meditation. Published by New Directions, 2018
2019 Griffin Poetry Prize International Shortlist:
“In the grievous wake of the Sewol Ferry incident of 2014, the Korean poet Kim Hyesoon composed a cycle of forty-nine poems – one for each day the dead must await reincarnation – to produce a harrowing work of shock, outrage, and veneration for the children lost to this disaster. Through Don Mee Choi’s extraordinary translations, we hear the clamorous registers of Kim’s art – a transnational collision of shamanism, Modernism, and feminism – yield ‘a low note no one has ever sung before.’ That otherworldly tone may sound like life itself, the poet sings, ‘for even death can’t enter this deep inside me.’”
“Questions of the agency and effects of death, in both individual and mass tragedies, are central to this extraordinary collective elegy from Kim…it fully reveals the startling architecture Kim develops to display structural horrors, individual loss, and the links between them.” Publishers Weekly
“In forty-nine poems, each representing a day, Kim captures death’s cycle between life and reincarnation: pages filled with wings and shadows, female laughter and weeping, bloody rabbits and dead mothers.” Madeline Vardell in The Arkansas International
“All refracted through individual bodies/lives which disintegrate, reshape themselves, are invaded by and themselves invade other bodies/beings — In the corner of Mommy’s heart, a small black vole lifts its head — always focused on the particular, not on anyone’s story-line. Boundaries disappear. “ Judith Roitman in Galatea Resurrects
“For Kim, poetry is a place in which “names are never called out. It’s a place where names are erased…To write poetry is to witness the names that die inside poetry.” Rather than attempting to bridge (and therefore, like “bridge” translations, disappear) the gaps within language and living—between life and death, self and other, absence and presence, memory and future—that Kim’s work has always alerted us to, Autobiography of Death recognizes the possibilities of preserving the gap—of inhabiting the gap, the gutter.” Lotte L.S. in Ploughshares
"The monstrous body remains a vital figure in these poems, and Kim’s speaker assumes imaginative and precise postures of disfigurement." --Publishers Weekly
"Poor Love Machine exists, exploring the way extreme states of dispossession can co-exist with fortitude, the grotesque with tenderness. Kyesoon’s explores an outsider position where voices merge easily with their other, where no identity is fully in possession of itself.." by Alexis Almeida in Asymptote
Praises: "Kim Hyesoon is Korea's most important living poet and by far its most imaginative writer... she and Don Mee Choi have become the most important writer-translator partnership in Korea in the new millennium." Bruce Fulton, Young-Bin Min Chair in Korean Literature and Literary Translation, University of British Columbia
"Kim Hyesoon portrays a panorama of hovering love-hate feelings for the birthing body and for the cruelty of existence, creating an expansively conceived and dizzyingly borderless cosmic geography." Aase Berg
"I first heard Kim Hyesoon at Poetry Parnassus, the global festival of poetry which took place in London’s Olympic year. Kim Hyesoon shared the stage with Seamus Heaney. It was the last time I heard Seamus Heaney read in public and the first time I heard Kim Hyesoon, and even at the time it felt momentous.... the birdlike Kim Hyesoon wove a pattern of poems, so strangely compelling and curious, and utterly unlike anything I had heard before.” Sasha Dugdale, Editor of Modern Poetry in Translation
"Don Mee Choi's dynamic translation brings Hyesoon's miserable, beautiful body into English pungent and fresh, both alive and dead. Her informative introduction provides readers in English the context to interpret these poems as responses to patriarchal, neoliberal, neocolonial control, at once resistance to and inscription of the trauma inflicted by that control." Molly Weigel, translator of In The Moremarrow by Oliverio Girondo
"In Kim, the body is inextricably and painfully knitted into the industrial landscape...In this topology, darkness governs. But Kim sides with darkness." Joel Scott, Cordite
"While most people seem blinded by Capital, [Kim Hyesoon] shines her spotlight on things that are dark and absurd, the comic and horrifying at the same time." Swedish Public Television
The book consists of selections from Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers, All the Garbage of the World, Unite!, and Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream.
"Since 1980, Kim Hyesoon has broken the rigid gender traditions of Korean poetry. Unconfined by the so-called “feminine” subjects of love and loss, she creates a seething, imaginative under- and over-world where myth and politics, the everyday and the fabulous, bleed into each other. Her enormously energetic poems are full of dizzying transitions and tonal shifts" – Sean O'Brien, Independent.
"[Kim] Hyesoon’s poetry is like nothing I’ve ever read before." - Katherine Stansfield, Poetry Wales.
"Experimental Korean poet Kim Hyesoon’s work is shocking, liberating, brutal, grotesque, burlesque, gurlesque. Published by the aptly-named Action Books, Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream has Kim’s longtime translator Don Mee Choi bringing this into an English that will not only jolt readers, but hopefully jolt them out of a stagnant vision of what Korean and Asian poetry represents: We return as hot pigs / We return for our final act / The act in which our fingers even before we lie down in our coffins" - Erica Mena, ALTA Blog
"Kim Hyesoon’s fearless poetics suggests a grossly visceral alternative to the capitalist world. These poems conjure both feelings of desire and disgust, awe and repulsion. I want to read more. I need it. Please stop. Don’t stop. You make me sick." - Christine Shan Shan Hou, Hyperallergic, April 2014
"...in Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream, and we often are left asking ourselves who is acting on whom, who is speaking for whom. Choi’s translations excel, in fact, in how she allows the language to perplex us; she is unafraid of sacrificing the coherence of English grammar if she can maintain a trace of Kim’s linguistic play. In the book’s opening poem, “Dear Choly, from Melan,” Kim not only personifies melancholy, she splits it into two separate and not always compatible, nor complementary, beings:
Melan covered herself with a cloud, Choly with a shadow
Melan endured the wind, Choly clung to the sea
Melan said It’s flesh-scented, Choly said It’s water-scented
Melan disliked sunlight, Choly’s feet were cold
Melan didn’t eat, Choly didn’t drink
I was absent with Melan ate, also when Choly drank water
“...Choi’s translation takes us someplace new in language. The book is filled with unforgettable turns of phrase, visionary solutions to difficult language problems, and a flow of individual poems that unites in a seamless whole.” - Stryk Prize selection committee.
Manhole Humanity, the final poem in Kim Hyesoon’s collection All the Garbage of the World, Unite! excellently translated by Don Mee Choi and published by Action Books in 2011, is a poem of such life-consuming, life-barfing, life-giving, life-gulping intensity, I’ve fallen into its hole trying to choose a line or two from which to begin talking about it. - Ellen Welcker, The Quarterly Conversation, Fall 2012
"Miraculous weaponary! Miraculous translations! This kind of undomesticated engagement and lawlessness and risk and defiance and somatic exorbitance posits a world and a relation to the world where everything excluded is included--the animal and the vegetal, the molten and the mineral, the gaseous and the liquid, not to mention shame, disgust, failure, terror, raunch. The final poem "Manhole Humanity" deserves its place alongside Cesaire's "Notebook of a Return to the Native Land" or Ginsberg's "Howl" or Inger Christensen's It. Kim Hyesoon's new book is armament and salve, shield and medicinal chant. It's here to protect us. - Christian Hawkey
Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers (Translation)
In Kim Hyesoon's saturated political fables, horror is packed inside cuteness, cuteness inside horror. Interior and exterior, political and intimate, human and animal, agent and victim become interchangeable, interbreeding elements. No subjecthood is fixed in this microscape of shifts, swellings, tender subjugations and acts of cruel selflessness.
"Kim’s poems, whether lineated or in prose, whether mythic or idiosyncratic (though rarely only one of these for long), reside at precisely those places between what the body is and what it is not, between the corporeal machinery by which meaning is generated and the meanings which thus emerge, tethered to the body by a string of cat guts and vibrating words." Jessica Lawson, Jacket2
Read Kim Hyesoon's poem "Why Can't We" in Guernica
Poems by Ch'oe Sung-ja, Kim Hyesoon, and Yi Yon-ju
Anxiety of Words is the first anthology of Korean women's poetry that challenges one of Korea's most enduring literary traditions: that “yoryu” (female) poetry must be gentle and subservient. By using innovative language, and vividly depicting women's lives and struggles within an often repressive society, these three contemporary poets defiantly insist that poetry can be part of social change—indeed, that it must be. Ch'oe Sung-ja, Kim Hyesoon, and Yi Yon-ju have written unforgettable poems that now, thanks to Don Mee Choi's translations, are available to English-speaking readers for the first time. With a lengthy introduction on the history of women's poetry in Korea, and biographical notes on the three poets, this volume is an eye-opening exploration for any reader interested in Korea, poetry, and contemporary women's literature.
“Don Mee Choi, a fine poet herself, has translated both the spirit and words of these outsiders and experimenters into poetry that is just as striking to English-speakers as it was to Koreans under the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee when it was first written. Anxiety of Words has widened the conversation of Korean poetry to include the voice of Korean women—a voice that needs to be heard.” —American Poet, Spring 2007
“The gravity of the situation in Anxiety of Words is unmistakable. Choi’s work renders each human voice distinctly, with a consistent precision and grace that makes the struggles of a people feel personal. It’s a thrilling achievement, and hopefully only the beginning of Choi’s presentation of these extraordinary poets.” – Travis Nichols, The Brooklyn Rail, Spring 2007
“These poems force me to imagine cities I've never visited, and to see those cities echoed throughout the landscape… They teach me how to listen, and to look.” –Jamison Crabtree, DIAGRAM, 2016
When the Plug Gets Unplugged (Translation Chapbook)
The poems in When the Plug Gets Unplugged, by prominent Korean poet, Kim Hyesoon, are spoken by rats, rats who forage, rats endangered by human beings, rats who listen to people die in a collapsing department store–rats who are, in other words, the voices of modern Seoul, or (to risk the pun) the modern soul. Kim Hyesoon’s work is only know receiving the attention it deserves in the United States, due to the efforts of her fine translator, Don Mee Choi. Anyone interested in poetry from Korea, or poetry written in a distinctive voice, should read this collection. Published by Tinfish Press (2005).
Tinfish’s eleventh Retro Chapbook presents three brief essays by prominent Korean feminist poet, Kim Hyesoon. These essays are about being a woman poet in a patriarchal society. But they are not about the everyday struggles of the poet; instead, they engage issues of femininity and inspiration by way of shaman songs and heroine myths. And so “it becomes possible to explain why the women-poets of South Korea enjoy overlapping the space of the real with the space of illusions.”
“In Kim Yideum‘s elegant and grotesque poetry, objective cool, violence and despairing megalomania all rage with the crystal-clear bitterness of vulnerability. When you read her beautiful, terrifying poems, you will go to pieces.”
– Aase Berg
“Kim Yi-Deum’s poetry is the landscape of confession. The confession flows inside the landscape and the landscape soars inside the confession. These two elements of her poetry are interconnected in the way eros gets pulled up to the divine place. Her poetry appears as poetry, it also appears as prose. As poetry, it’s polyphonic, and as prose, it’s defiant. Her poetry is the theater of multiple personality. You hear the voices of hundreds of people, hundreds of things. These naked living things become her poetic subjects. In each poem, the different sensations of each body are invented. She punishes herself and accepts her own unsightly, gutless face. Her poetry is engaged in the difficult process of discovering the other inside her. Her rhythm, which emerges from the fishnet of interconnections, bites power and sets her free. ”
"Contradictory and self-aware, she engages our critical thinking, and is concerned particularly with the body and the marginal." -- Johan W.W. Zeiser in Words Without Borders
Read Kim Yideum's poem "I Hate Uniforms" in PEN America