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Poet Kim Hye-soon's 'Phantom Pain Wings' published in English

May 30, 2023 - 20:42 By Hwang Dong-hee
Poet Kim Hye-soon in 2022 (Moonji Publishing)

The English edition of acclaimed poet Kim Hye-soon's 2019 collection of poems, "Phantom Pain Wings," translated by Don Mee Choi, was published in the US in May.

The book of 72 poems “depicts the memory or war trauma and the collective grief of parting through what (Kim) calls an ‘I-do-bird-sequence,’ where ‘Bird-human is the ‘I,’” said New Directions Publishing about its latest release by Kim. The publishing company also published Kim’s award-winning “Autobiography of Death” in 2018.

Kim explained in her 2021 essay “Bird Rider”: I came to write “Phantom Pain Wings” after Daddy passed away. I called out for birds endlessly. I wanted to become a translator of bird language. Bird language that flies to places I’ve never been.

To explore the relentless physical and existential struggles against power, the poet mixes traditional folklore and mythology with contemporary psychodramatic realities as she taps into numerous cultural legacies including the works of French poet Arthur Rimbaud, Korean writer Yi Sang, French director Agnes Varda and Irish British painter Francis Bacon.

Korean edition (left) and English edition of "Phantom Pain Wings" by Kim Hye-soon, translated by Don Mee Choi (Moonji Publishing, New Directions Publishing)

Notably, Kim became the first Asian woman to win Canada’s prestigious International Griffin Poetry Prize in 2019 for her "Autobiography of Death” (2016), also translated by Choi.

Korean American poet-translator Choi became the two-time winner of the Lucien Styrk Asian Translation Prize for her translation of Kim's “All the Garbage of the World, Unite!” and “Autobiography of Death” in 2012 and 2019, respectively. Kim described Choi as “a person who translates not only my poetry, but also (its) time and history.”

Kim will participate in the Berlin Poetry Festival taking place June 9-16.

She will give a lecture titled “Tongueless Mother Tongue,” exploring her experiences as an editor during the repressive Park Chung-hee regime in the 1970s and their connection to her poetry. She will also have a conversation with Choi and German poet-translator Uljana Wolf.

Kim will then embark on a series of poetry readings, traveling to Poland and Sweden, and then to New York and Boston in the fall.