Monthly Lecture Series on Korean Arts and Culture: Korean Sijo, the Wave Hits Shore

Friday, May 29, 2009 at 6:30 PM

Korean Cultural Service NY


David R. McCann
Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Literature and Director of the Korea Institute at the Harvard University

The sijo is Korea’s classical vernacular verse form. Famous practitioners include Hwang Chini, a woman whose work and life were the subject of a recent, popular TV drama series, Cheong Cheol, a 16th century official who composed many sijo as well as the longer kasa form, and numerous others, both illustrious political and intellectual leaders as well as a large number of anonymous figures. In the twentieth century, a series of writers set forth plans to bring the sijo form and its practice into the modern age.  

What about writing sijo in English, however? Can it be done? The answer to the question, and to more general interest in the sijo form, will be the subject of David McCann’s lecture and reading on May 29. He has studied and translated many sijo texts over the course of his engagement with Korean poetry, starting back in 1966 when he first went to Korea as a Peace Corps Volunteer. His sijo translations are included in his book Early Korean Literature, Selections and Introductions, from Columbia University Press, as well as the most recent issue of the journal Azalea, which he edits. He is also a published poet himself, with credits in Poetry magazine, Ploughshares, Epoch, Prairie Schooner, as well as the Pushcart Prize Anthology. In his Harvard course, Writing Asian Poetry, several students two years ago happened to mention how they had as fourth graders experienced a “haiku day.” They heard about, read, and then wrote some haiku, they remembered. So what about a “sijo day”? Would it work? A result of such ruminations, a new book of sijo poems which Professor McCann wrote in English, Urban Temple, from Bo-Leaf Press, will be published in May. 

His presentation will present an overview of the Korean sijo form, especially its performance dimensions, followed by a reading of some of the poems from his new book. And perhaps some in the audience may find themselves moved to try writing one themselves!

Miro Yoon