Many are used to reading novels, but poetry is a genre that many are not that familiar with. In the past, literature was remembered orally, and poetry had been the popular genre. Novel as a genre appeared not so long ago and this is pretty surprising when thinking of its popularity. Nevertheless, poetry had been the leading literary genre in the past and its longevity implies poetry’s own significance even to the present. It seems that Hwang In-chan, the poet who has been pursuing the changeable since his debut, will show how poems can be charming.
Hello. We came from Chung-Ang University, Chung-Ang Herald! Before we start, we want to thank you for accepting the interview. Would you briefly introduce yourself to us?
My name is Hwang In-chan. I am living as a poet and entered Creative Writing Department of CAU in 2006. I received the master’s degree at CAU and for now, I am a doctoral student. However, I have not graduated yet. I am taking time off.
You were awarded the Kim Soo-young Contemporary Poetry Award in 2012. How has your life been since then?
I have been very busy writing poetry. At that time, I was attending graduate school. I made my debut as a poet in 2010 and that was when I had a semester left before getting my bachelor’s degree. I had been a student for nine semesters, and I started to be known as a poet in my eighth semester. From my debut, I felt the need to study further and decided to move on to graduate school. After becoming a graduate student, I have been writing poetry. Before finishing my master’s course, I released a book of poetry titled “Washing the Mynah” and released a second book “The World of Huiji” during my doctoral course. So, I have been spending time both attending school and writing poetry.
How does learning in graduate school differ from learning in undergraduate school as a Creative Writing major?
This is the question I am often asked whenever I give lectures to freshman. First but not least, undergraduate school is not a place where you can deepen your field of study as much. As an undergraduate student, neither did I think that I learned sufficiently nor was I confident on fully understanding my major. Undergraduate program provides what you could learn from your major, like a table of contents. You get an overall look on what you could study in an undergraduate program. Moving on to a graduate program, you select a specific field of study and need to focus. Rather than somebody instructing you, you are your own instructor who will have to research relevant works and find meaningful insight on your own. As a result, undergraduate program provides you a general summary of a field while a graduate program requires you to specify your study.
What is the main motivation for your activities as a poet?
Until now, I have been thinking that I could do something through poems—I have been pretty good in doing so and I have had the confidence that I will continue to be capable of doing something meaningful through poems. This has been the greatest motivation for me. If I begin to feel that I cannot write funny or novel poems, I guess that I would lose passion. Indeed, whenever I contemplate on the duration of my career, I have been thinking that I should stop at the moment when I cannot provide novelty anymore.
Are you writing poems for developing your capabilities? Or is it for delivering messages to others?
In my opinion, poems are written to be read. Those who are not familiar to poetry may think that poems are somehow very private and nature. However, those characteristics are for diaries or daily journals. All literary works are for communication. In other words, literary works are written with the purpose that someone will read them. Readers could exist throughout time. This means that literature could link the past, the present, and the future. As such, I define writing poems as the action of communicating with readers.
Poems seem rather short compared to other literary works. Many feels that it requires a very condensed writing style because of this. Do you feel any difficulty in writing poems?
The thing is that I do not feel the pressure to condense the length of texts. I do not condense. Instead I write what I want to deliver, and those two concepts are very different. People often feel that texts should include “important” messages. However, messages inhered in poems do not need to be “important.” Poets speak through poems and what they are trying to deliver could be trivial. What really matters is including the poets’ intention. For me, difficulty arises when I am trying to write a more advanced poem than the previous one which has been written successfully to deliver my message. Finding novelty and having to change constantly are what I find difficult in being a professional poet.
Your poems seem to include personal experiences in daily routines. How do you find significance in things that may appear so trivial? Are there any special methods for this?
Daily routines do not become special. It is just that some moments remain in my mind longer when I recognize them. For instance, jokes from friends or even words on the street suddenly come into my mind. Neither are they something special nor do I have the power to make them so. I just feel that these moments could be changed into something else and that is when I seek to exert something become different from trivial and daily materials.
Are there required attitudes for becoming a good poet?
You must question everything in order to become a good poet. Without doubt, people stop to think and believe. Settling for the present, nothing could be produced. In this sense, questioning everything is an important attitude for being a poet. Personally, I write about things that I dislike more than things I do not. For liking something, there may be no reasons at all and thinking of something that you like stops the critical thinking process. Conversely, things that are hateful and uncomfortable motivate you to think on and on. Constant questioning should be maintained, and doubts should head even to your own self.
As a graduate of the Creative Writing Department of CAU, you should have had the chance to encounter many other literary genres. Why, then, did you choose poetry?
Not many people originally aim to become poets when first entering university. Most of them want to write novels. In one’s teen years, there is less chance to encounter poems while various kinds of novels are easily accessible. I entered CAU’s Creative Writing Department wanting to become a novelist as well. However, I learned that I was not great at writing novels but instead poetry suited me better. This is why I came to write poems.
Do you have a favorite poem out of your works?
I do not and I believe that many fellow poets would answer the same. To be honest, literary writers often do not like their own works very much. After completion, my work seems to move away from me. That is, whenever I read my works, I get the feeling that I am incapable and less talented. Sometimes I find mistakes that I looked over during the past. These are reasons for not liking my works. Expectedly, I can pick out which I dislike less for now, but I do not yet have a work that I actually like.
I heard you're participating in a subscription program that email stories regularly, called 'Alibaba and 30 Friends to Friends.' How did you get involved in the program?
An acquaintance of mine is very sick, and along with other friends of his, wanted to help him through our talents. And we are all artists. There are writers, designers, and painters and we thought about the ways to help him with what we have. And that's how it was this program was born. It's not just a one-time event, it's a six-month plan that starts a mailing service where 30 artists send one of their works, content, writing, or paintings every day. In the title, '30 Friends' refers to artists and 'Friends' in the end refers to people who subscribe to it.
We’ve heard that you participate in public reading sometimes and we want to ask why! Also, we wonder about the attractiveness of reading out loud together over simply reading alone.
These days, the number of local bookstores is increasing, and public readings are being held as a cultural event. The organizers of such a reading program have visited me a lot, so I try to go as far as I can if you call me. In fact, modern literature is mostly read silently. The same goes for poetry. But if you read a poem aloud, you can enjoy it in a different way. I like to share my experiences with others through reading. The best way to digest modern literature is to think about it by yourself and keep facing it, as I said. But now there's a sense that we're moving away from the way we've always been, and we're creating a temporary community where we share with many people’s story. I think that's what literature can do through public reading.
Are there any classes or professors you most remember? Or do you have any other favorite memories from Chung-Ang University?
I remember Jun Young-tae, who is now retired from Chung-Ang University. He liked fishing so much that he often talked about fishing while he was teaching. In literature class, the professor talked about literature and suddenly started talking about fishing. That stories were so interesting. And when I heard it for a long time, I suddenly came back to the literary world. And even the context and the message of the fishing story percolated into the class that the professor was trying to do when he came back. It's a completely different story in class, but when you wake up, it wasn't a different story. It was always fun.
If you could go back to Chung-Ang University, what would you like to do most?
If I could go back to college, I would study English or Japanese more. I didn't have to study other languages because of my major, but when I went to graduate school, all of my books were in English. In addition, in the case of Japanese language, it is very advantageous for researchers when studying Korean literature. Until the 1950s, literature was also in Japanese because Korea was under the influence of Japan. Therefore, I think it would have been nice if I had studied other languages more.
What is your goal you want to get from your job?
What I want to do as a poet is to keep writing poems. As I said earlier, I hope to continue writing poems for as long as I can. This question reminds me of what another poet told me when I was in school. There are writers and artists who have gone out to the ends of what people know and who have gone beyond the ends of their territory. So, they go through a process of looking outside the categories of beauty and poetry that others know about. And some of the true poets have come through this, and the place where they stand becomes the zenith, the end of the new. Therefore, the reason I want to write something new is that I want to go out of my territory and see something that I haven't seen before, and that is my goal as a poet.
What would you like to say to young university students dreaming of becoming poets?
First of all, to give them practical advice, a poet has to be financially prepared. Writing poetry is not something you do to get a lot of financial rewards for. Maybe I could have made more money if I had done something else. Of course, in the case of novels, there are exceptional cases of being loved by many people, but most authors don't find much financial reward. Nevertheless, I write poetry because I think there are other rewards besides economics. For me, the reward is a kind of euphoria that comes from writing. It's a joy to me that I'm creating new things that weren't in the world. I think people who think that the joy for writing a poem is greater than the financial rewards are the ones writing poems. So, in conclusion, I would like to say that even if there is little financial reward, the pleasure of achieving this work is more than enough.
Poet Hwang In-chan is a person who loves his job so much. He said he wanted to be the end of "territoriality" and wants to write poetry until he is certain that he could create something new. In an interview with him, he showed a clear picture of himself and told us clearly what poet he wanted to be. Chung-Ang Herald is cheering for him on his way.
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