Lantern Review

Don Mee Choi

Artist's Statement

Don Mee Choi's writing space

(Above) The poet's writing space

The official written language of the Korean elite for many centuries has been classical Chinese. The Korean script, Hangûl, was promulgated in 1446 for women and commoners and did not become adopted as the official written language till 1919, the year when massive anti-colonial protests took place all over Korea. The use of Korean was banned, in varying degrees, during the Japanese occupation (1910–1945). I wanted to mention this historical linguistic hierarchy within Korea before I point out any difference between Korean and English. Korean is radically different from English in terms of grammar and syntax, to say the least. Here is a very rough literal translation of the first few lines of the poem “Dear Pig, From Pig”:

We future of some day documentary shooting. Forever live ego for organ farm project filming during. The amongst I am most beautiful actress. This thought my acting enormously help give. I am your heart become raised.

And if I were to say more, I would say that Korean is subordinate to English, to say the least. South Korea has been a neocolony of the US since 1945. So, in brief, this is the linguistic context of my translation process. It is not joyfully cross-cultural. It impacts what I choose to translate and how I translate it. For me, contextualizing the work may be the most important part of my translation process. All of my nitty-gritty translation decisions, conscious or unconscious, are affected by it. But I won’t go into detail about why this word and not that word because details are suffocating to me. I am obsessive-compulsive enough. My translation intent has nothing to do with personal growth, intellectual exercise, or cultural exchange, which implies an equal standing of some sort. South Korea and the US are not equal. I am not transnationally equal. My intent is to expose what a neocolony is, what it does to its own, what it eats and shits. Kim Hyesoon’s poetry reveals all this, and this is why I translate her work.