In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Hwang Yuwon
Your poem, “Dark and Clear Sleep” (translated by Jake Levine) takes the reader through a restless night. When I was reading it, I felt like I was right next to the speaker at the open window. What was your process in creating this poem? Where did you find your inspiration?
Firstly, thank you so much for your comment on the poem. As I am reading your comment, I also feel like you are standing or sitting right next to me, the old me I once was.
I wrote this poem like 7~8 years ago, but I can still remember the atmosphere of the moment. It was an autumn night, and as always, the first cool breeze of autumn stirred my mind and I really had to pour something out of me, and this was the result. The first few days of autumn always inspire me.
The repeated lines and phrases of your poem both soothe the reader and make them wonder what’s coming next. How do you develop rhythm and repetition when you write?
Well, the rhythm and repetition are probably the most important things in my poetry. There are times when a certain word or sentence gets stuck in my head, and one day it just starts flowing by itself and grows like a river, sometimes like an ocean.
I guess I learned that technique from music, not poetry. Or I’d rather say, in my case, poetry and music are not two separate things. They are one.
In this poem, the reader feels like they’re in two places at once, both at the window with the speaker and down the dark alleys mentioned. Can you talk about your process for writing in general? What surprises you when you write? What is the most essential part of craft for you?
Personally I call my poem ‘real time poem’ or ‘live poem’, which means I always write about what’s in front of me and what’s in my mind at the same time. So you are very right about saying that you feel like you’re in two places at once while reading the poem. One is real space, and the other is mental space, though it’s getting harder to tell which is which, as I am growing older.
Well, as my poem is mostly ‘real time poem’, I write it when it gets started. In other words, I never start writing a poem. It’s more like a poem starts me, using me as a tool to get materialized.
So, even when I revise a first draft, I try my best not to eliminate that real time feeling. I don’t revise that much though.
There’s a debate among some poets about the merits of hand-writing poems versus typing them. Do you have a preference?
I am surprised to hear this! I think most poets of my generation in Korea never use pen or pencil when writing. Well, maybe there are some, but I am quite sure there are only a few of them.
As I usually write very fast what’s pouring down like water through my hands, I need to be really quick. My hand-writing is not so fast, so I prefer typing.
What was your journey to becoming a poet like, and was there a moment you realized that you wanted to focus on poetry, or was it a gradual discovery?
Oh, I first started writing poems when I was a high school student. I think I wasn’t very happy with those poems in textbooks. So I kind of had to write what I wanted to read. I am not sure, but I guess that was the idea.
After that, it was such a long journey… To make a long and boring story short, I had decided to give up poetry and become an Indian philosophy researcher, but I failed to become one and instead became a poet. I have always been more interested in the essential matters than in the peripheral, and that was the reason I chose Indian philosophy over poetry. But now I believe I can reconcile the two different genres, and I am quite satisfied with the way I am now.
What are you reading now? Are there texts or books that you favor or keep going back to?
I’ve been working as a full-time translator for the last 7~8 years, so I usually read what I translate and the things that are related to that. After the day’s work is done, I don’t really feel like reading anything at all, especially literature. I spend too much time with literature.
Like everyone else, I always need something to comfort my troubled life. In my case, that something is Buddhist Sutras. The most beloved Sutras among Korean buddhists, like The Heart Sutra or The Diamond Sutra, are also my favorites. I am not a buddhist, though. Besides, I dislike empty formalities and vanity of institutional religions.
You are the author of many works, including “Everything in the World, Maximized.” What current projects are you working on?
As I am a person with diverse interests, I have been working on several different projects at the same time.
One of them is about volcanoes. It will be all about volcanoes and volcanic cones and the fiery screams of nature and people I know. For that, I am planning to go to Indonesia to look around all the famous volcanic regions. I get really excited just thinking about it. Hope I can really go!
Hwang Yuwon is a poet, translator, and student of Indian philosophy. He is the author of three collections of poetry: Supernatural 3D Printing; White Deer Lake; and Everything in the World, Maximized, which received Korea’s most distinguised first book award, the Kim Soo-young Prize. He translates poetry and novels from English to Korean. Among them are The Lyrics: 1961-2012 by Bob Dylan, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah, and Glass, Irony & God by Anne Carson.