A Writer Who Unravels People's Pain In Poems, Lee So-youn
There is a tone in all poetry books. A book of poems contains many works. However, if you read them carefully, you can feel the complete ocean. The book <I Need a Girl Who Will Die Slowly> feels sharp and cold, but it also gives us words of comfort. There is the pain that is prevalent in our society, or the sorrow which society consigns to the past, or that of someone's suffering right now, none of which this book ignores even for one second. Lee So-youn, the author of <I Need a Girl Who Will Die Slowly>, gives people warm pieces of poetry over her painful past. She brutally points out the wounds to someone who has not known, or passed by with their eyes closed, and touches the hurt with her writing. Let us listen to her story with CAH.
1. Last February, you published a novel called <I Need a Girl Who Will Die Slowly.>. Please introduce this novel to the students.
This is my first book of poems to be published in six years since I started my literary career after winning from ‘The Korea Economic Daily (Hankyung)’ literary contest in 2014. In the book, there are poems about women who are deeply wounded. The problems that these women have are closely related to not only their personal and social structural problems, but also to a comprehensive range of issues, such as animal rights and environmental issues.
2. Is there a reason why you decided to publish <I Need a Girl Who Will Die Slowly>?
I've been writing poems for a long time since I started my career, but compared to now, my values and thoughts have changed a lot. So I thought it is time for me to deal with it. In the process of tying up scattered poems, I had time to weed through many of my poems. I decided that finishing one world inside me was essential, and I think that the world was finally completed through this book of poems.
3. The collection of poems contains stories that would be hard to understand unless the person is directly involved. We wonder if the stories are related to your experience.
A lot of poems are based on my experience. Of course, there are poems written for coverage and collaboration, but I think my experiences and thoughts are bound to melt into those poems as well. One of the poems I wrote was about my sexual assault. It took 28 years for me to write a poem about what actually happened to me on my way home from elementary school. It was hard to tell my mother who the assailant was. The only time I could talk to my parents was when I could tell everyone in the world.
4. This book is not a bright book. We wonder if you felt pressured or emotionally difficult when you published this.
The Nth Room Case has shocked South Korea these days. I've been sick and could not sleep since the incident. I got angry every time whenever I close my eyes to sleep. I think I'm too absorbed in the case that I can barely control it. Because the Nth Room Case is cruelly picking at my wounds that I’ve tried so hard to cover. As such, I think my past experience has created my sympathetic personality. So I think it was emotionally difficult and tired because I was too immersed in writing dark poems. However, after I say or write something, I feel like I'm getting a little bit of courage, only as small as my fingernail, but that’s enough to keep writing poems.
5. What is the message you want to send people through <I Need a Girl Who Will Die Slowly.>? Or what do you expect from your readers?
I hope the society does not take anything away from people. My poems were written dreaming of a world where even the smallest things are not taken away. It seems that violence is practiced in the process of exploitation. I know how sad it is to protect something from violence. Nevertheless, I hope many people who are hurt will succeed in protecting something from cruelty. And I hope they are able to protect themselves more than anything else. I believe that the world will be different if such things are kept piling up inside.
6. You're the member of the echo feminism group ‘Kyeom’. I wonder what kind of team 'Kyeom' is and why it was made.
'Kyeom' is a creative club formed by several poets and critics. It was actually a joint review meeting, but we gradually put more emphasis on speaking out together at social incidents. Thanks to the fact that all the members are women, we are most actively engaged in solidarity of women. We are hosting a 'Waste Reading' where people give us trash instead of admission fees. And we're continuing new style of writing poetry and reading it with our readers. Among my poems, there are many works about ecofeminism. Actually, the concept of ecofeminism is a core value of mine, so I don't think there will be any poems that are far from this topic. Especially, <Han River> and <Waltz of Pills> which were read during the ‘Waste Reading’ are poems about ecofeminism. I wanted to talk about things that were left behind and thrown away. But I think it doesn't matter if readers don't read these poems within a certain concept.
7. Looking at the poems you wrote or the clubs you're actively working on, you seem to be very interested in the pain of women. Is there a reason?
I usually find the subject of poetry in my life. Conflicts exist wherever humans meet. Because of the conflict, we get upset and want to say something about strange and frustrating situations, and I think that's the time when I write my poetry. I tend to write poems when I'm angry. That's why what I've been through as a woman determines the areas where I can sympathize most. I think my experiences in the past naturally made me pay attention to women's pain. I like people so much that I get hurt a lot too. When I get wounded, I want to say something, and I’m able to do so through poetry. When I write a poem, I feel like I'm getting rid of my anger, which is one reason I write.
8. When did you think you wanted to get a job in writing? What made you write a novel?
I've loved writing since I was very young. I sat on my desk alone and just wrote constantly. And I'm obsessed with keeping a diary. There's nothing to be ashamed of and there's no one to see, so you can tell your diary things you haven’t told anyone else. You can just say whatever you want. That really makes me feel better.
9. Is there any writer or work that affected your writing?
I like Koh Jung-hee's poems. Besides her, I love poems from Huh Su-kyung, Choi Seong-ja and more. I think I liked most of the works of women poets in the past. Thanks to the women poets who were saying what I wanted to say first, I could pluck up the courage to write. When I first saw Koh Jung-hee's poem <Is being a woman like living with a lion?>, I think I wanted to write this kind of poem. I was deeply shocked when I realized how forced and confined women are living a stifling life in this society.
10. We heard that your husband is also a poet. Is there anything that helps you as a writer?
My husband and I got married when I was in graduate school with a master's degree. We talked a lot about poetry then and still do now. When I sit face-to-face with him and talk about which poem I read and what it was like, I just feel like the world he lives in is very close to the world I live in. I think it's a great advantage between husband and wife that we can communicate through common interests and experiences. Well, there is also times when I don't understand almost anything either, but that is also interesting to me.
11. What is your favorite piece of poetry in this collection? And why.
It's a poem called <Light Ice>. Shortly after I gave birth to my child, I was diagnosed as thyroid cancer. That's when I realized that there are many relationships that are fragile in the face of misfortune. Especially, I thought the relationship between husband and wife seems to be more fragile. Everything in the world was like light ice. <Light Ice> is a poem I wrote to say about the fear and love that I feel for my husband, who takes care of me, who also hurls abuses at me. I still can't erase what my husband said during an argument then. My husband, with whom I’d be fighting so fiercely only the day before, set a date for my surgery, saying he'd save me even if he had to sell parts of his body. I think some love is too harsh. Anyway, I think it's most memorable because it's a poem that allowed me to pass through those harsh times.
12. How do you write your poems? I wonder how long it takes to write a poem and if you have your own way of writing.
When I have something that I want to say, I tend to do so fearlessly. I don't think about whether it will be a poem or not, but I just write what I wanted to say. After writing it like that, I work hard on polishing it to see if it seems like it's going to be a poem. And I keep fixing it until I like it. Sometimes I just announce a poem when the deadline is close, but in those cases, I polish it even after the announcement. So, I think there are quite a few poems that are different between when I first put it to paper, and what ends up published.
13. Are there any classes or professors you remember the most? Or do you have any other favorite memories from Chung-Ang University?
I came to Chung-Ang University to become a poet, but when I got into a college, I became interested in writing novels. When I was a freshman I took a number of classes on literature and novels. So the first novel class I took was Professor Bang Hyun-seok 's class. There, I felt that real novelists speak very profoundly. What they said was different in depth from what ordinary people said and I felt wisdom in whatever they said. What they said wasn't something you could hear in high school classes. I can't even imitate it now, but I just got drunk on it and took the class. After that, I started writing a novel, but I gave up. Novels are too long for me. I don't have that much to say. I could say everything I wanted in just a few sentences, but I wondered if that was enough. If I went back to my college days, I would have just written poems instead of trying to write novels. I'm still thinking about what it would have been like if I could have started my career earlier.
14. What is the most memorable thing from your college days? If so, I would like to know why.
I remember studying with my seniors in the club 'Jingun Napal' I think I used to stay in the club, read, discuss with them. I still remember sitting around the lawn reading the writings of Blanchot and chatting with my seniors. I miss those days when I didn't know well but I talked about it like I did. Now I'm old enough to know that if I don't know, I shouldn't talk. I still feel so warm and grateful to my seniors giving those days for me.
15. Can we ask you what you're planning now, or what topics you're interested in?
Last year, I went to Okinawa and Hawaii to explore. Now, based on my experience in Hawaii, I am planning a long prose poem and doing various experiments to collaborate with art. The formal aspect, I mean. I'm thinking about dealing with the U.S. military base issue in earnest. After the previous ones that I wrote you know.
16. What is your goal you want to get from your job?
I want to spend more time meeting people than writing poems. I don't care if I waste my whole life loving my loved ones more, laughing, crying, fighting, and making up with them. I'm going to save each happy experience and carry them to my home and write it down every night sitting in front of my desk. I hope to write about them until I'm 100 years old. And I hope to write a poem for someone who reads it and thinks that they want to talk about themselves with me.
17. What would you like to say to young university students dreaming of becoming writers and Chung-Ang University Students?
If you dream of becoming a poet, don't get tired and just keep writing. And I want you to imagine that you've already become a poet and do anything you want. I've been subscribing to the mailing service of the ordinary people these days, and I was so surprised. The writings were very new because they were cute but strong. And Chung-Ang University students, please take care of your health during this pandemic and let's spend every day happily.
If you read <I Need a Girl Who Will Die Slowly>, or just look at this interview, you can see how interested she is in other people's lives, and how warm she is looking at them. If you read about the cracks that permeate our twisted society, you will also feel pain with them. In particular, looking at the life of the woman she is talking about from her perspective may make you reflect on other things about which you are ignorant. We hope everything she wants to accomplish goes well, and we’re looking forward to more of her beautiful poems.
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