Baek Seok: Po­ems of the North:백석 시 모음집: 북에서 온 시들

Baek Seok Choi Joong­won (Il­lus­tra­tor) Peter Lip­tak (Trans­la­tor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction -

Ex­ile Press (SEPTEM­BER) Hard­cover $28.95 (324pp) 978-1-936342-09-9

Re­veal­ing a hid­den light of Korean po­etry, the hand­somely col­lected Baek Seok shines with sim­ple and uni­ver­sal splen­dor, set in the homes, yards, and farm­land of twen­ti­eth-cen­tury Korea.

Peter Lip­tak ap­plies his ex­ten­sive skills in English and Korean to the po­etry of Baek Seok, who wrote his po­ems when Korea was oc­cu­pied by Ja­pan and was later split in two af­ter World War II. De­spite such tur­moil, his po­ems fo­cus on uni­ver­sal as­pects of Korean cul­ture: har­mony with na­ture, fam­ily, love, and sad­ness. His work was re­dis­cov­ered by mod­ern schol­ars in 1987, and his grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion prompted this col­lec­tion.

Baek Seok’s po­ems carry a sense of nos­tal­gia and com­mu­nity, de­liv­ered from an in­di­vid­ual’s point of view. Ev­ery line con­trib­utes to the whole, paint­ing a pic­ture in words. But Baek Seok’s strength is his fru­gal­ity, as seen in the poem “Green Per­sim­mon,” which cre­ates an in­deli­ble im­age in just three lines: On a night of count­less stars To the cool cur­rent of a north wind The per­sim­mon fell green to a dog’s harsh bark. One can con­tem­plate deeper mean­ings or ac­cept the poem at face value; ei­ther way, the strong sense of place and vivid im­agery that are om­nipresent in Baek Seok’s work are ev­i­dent.

Each poem is printed in English and Korean, ac­com­pa­nied by foot­notes ex­plain­ing ref­er­ences to spe­cific lo­ca­tions, Korean terms, and other de­tails. Choi Joong­won’s ex­quis­ite art­work il­lus­trates scenes in the book’s color scheme of blue and white. It’s hard to imag­ine a bet­ter in­tro­duc­tion to Baek Seok’s work.

With Baek Seok: Po­ems of the North, Lip­tak has proven wrong the pro­fes­sor who called Baek Seok “The Great Un­trans­lat­able Poet”; in do­ing so, he has per­formed a great ser­vice to Western readers. PETER DABBENE

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