Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature and Culture: Volume Thirteen
Edited by Young-Jun Lee, Professor, Kyung Hee University, South Korea
Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture promotes Korean literature among English-language readers. Each issue may include works of contemporary Korean writers and poets, as well as essays and book reviews by Korean studies professors in the United States. Azalea introduces to the world new writers as well as promising translators, providing the academic community of Korean studies with well-translated texts for college courses. Writers from around the world also share their experience of Korean literature or culture with wider audiences.
South Korea is a republic of poetry. A phenomenon absent in other countries can be found in the South Korean poetry publishing world. In recent decades, the scale of poetry sales seems to be staggering, but in the 1980s and 1990s, there were several poetry books selling at least a million volumes, including some selling in the multi-millions. The number of new poetry books has been steady for decades, averaging around 500 each year. In almost every bookstore, there is a dedicated poetry section, and in large bookstores, there are sections where poetry bestsellers are exclusively collected and displayed.
Several large publishers continue to publish poetry series that have lasted for decades, and it is an honor to be included in these series. A poet who has their work included in such a series can earn an annual royalty based on book sales. In most countries, receiving royalty payments for publishing poetry is unrealistic, except for Nobel Prize–winning poets. Perhaps South Korea is the only country where it is not strange for poets to get paid to publish their work in literary magazines and receive a royalty for their books. Of course, it does not mean that there are millionaire poets. However, some poets in South Korea are paid considerably for their poetry; it is not rare that bookshops will hold book-signings for poets, whose books sometimes sell more than a hundred thousand volumes.
The most popular poets become celebrities and even appear on TV talk shows. In this cultural environment, it is only natural that there are many people who aspire to become poets, and compete for inclusion in prestigious series of poetry. Critics have at times decried the phenomenon that some were related to such major publishers as literary powers. This phenomenon goes to show how the Republic of Korea is indeed a republic of poetry.
The special feature of this issue of Azalea carries a feast of research: eight essays on modern Korean poetry, thanks to the endeavors of the two guest editors, Jae Won Chung and Benoit Berthelier. From the beginning period of the 1920s, described by Ku In-mo and David Krolikoski, to the genealogy of modernism, written by Jae Won Edward Chung, to North Korean poetry, covered by Benoit Berthelier and Sonja Haeussler, to twenty-first-century South Korean poetry, examined by Cho Kang-sŏk and Ivanna Sang Een Yi, this feature evinces that the field of modern Korean poetry has gotten in firm stakes.
In the poetry section, alongside the somewhat male-dominant history of modern Korean poetry sketched by the aforementioned research, we have three women poets: Choi Jeongrye, Kim So Yeon, and Kim Yideum. Their poems, deeply immersed in their interiorities, stand out in the current field of Korean poetry.
The Writer in Focus introduces Kim Hoon, currently one of the most popular writers in South Korea. Kim Hoon's literary world, which is often said to have opened a unique style of vernacular Korean writing, especially in historical novels, shows how much poetry has combined with prose. The metaphoric images in his writing often reach poetry, about which Korean readers have been enthusiastic.
Bookstores in Korea are said to have recently seen increased sales of books because people are remaining at home, much like those in the era of the Decameron. After 9/11 in America, poetry was suddenly summoned to public interest, and poetry reading events became quite popular for a while. We send this issue to readers with the hope that they might have more time for reading poems than before.
Published by the Korea Institute, Harvard University