|▲ Poet Chunwon Im|
“Li Bai writes a hundreds of poems at a drink and sleeps at the bar. The king calls him to join the boat but he refuses saying he is a drunken Taoist hermit” said Du Fu, the famous poet alongside Li Bai during the Tang dynasty China.
Li Bai was called ‘poet hermit’ and Du Fu ‘poet saint’. While Li Bai was fluent in words, Du Fu was a poor wanderer who had a deep love and compassion on the people for whom he poured his bitter words out against the ruling classes of the time.
Thinking of these two great poets, they remind me of Korean poet Chunwon Im. So I packed a laptop and headed to Insa-dong, Seoul, to meet her.
Dreaming the evergreen
Im was born to a miner father who lived in Icheon City, Gyeonggi Province. She spent relatively rich childhood but suffered from nephritis which made her the final year of high school twice.
She liked the protagonist Youngshin Chae in the novel <Sangnoksu – evergreen> very much from her childhood. So she wanted to lead her life like Chae who had a firm belief in philanthropy. Chae was based on the real person named Yongshin Chae who devoted her life to enlighten the people in the current Bono Village, Ansan City.
“I chose not to go to university. Instead, I started teaching students at a middle school in Yeoju County like the protagonist Chae did. I just wanted to lead my life as a volunteer and a poet and that was enough” said Im.
Im’s talent as a poet was well spotted in her early 20s by poet Kumchan Hwang who made a contribution to development of modern literature in Korea.
“In a word, I’ve lived my life for promoting national movement” said Im. She served the Unification Promotion Association’s women’s division head in her early 30s, deputy head of <Art and Life>, editor of <Modern Poem> and executive editor of <Munhak Vatang>. During her period of working for an art magazine, she made acquaintances with many artists and held 4 times of exhibitions with her collections within 5 years.
She released her collection of poems <Bonghwa> in 1988 melted with nationalism, and <I Am White Unlined Summer Jacket, Might I Become a Butterfly?> in 1998 melted with lyricism. Because she lived in Insa-dong for many years, the nickname ‘Countess Insa-dong’ has always followed her like a tail. Much encouraged, she released a collection of poems actually titled <Countess Insa-dong>.
When asked her future plan, she said she would like to open a space where people talk about poems, music and art over a cup of tea. And the name of the space will be Countess Insa-dong which indeed is due open in autumn this year.
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