Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Brother Enemy, Poems Of The Korean War

by lizard

Brother Enemy (White Pine Press, 2002) is a collection of poems from the Korean War. Edited and translated by Suh Ji-Moon, the introduction begins with this:

The Korean War started with a surprise attack launched by North Korea at dawn on the 25th of june, 1950. Although South Korea was quite unprepared for the invasion that shattered the peace of a bright Sunday morning, it wasn’t wholly unexpected. THe mood of hostility between the Communist-controlled north and the U.S.-bolstered south had been such that disaster hung in the air. “I knew this was bound to happen./ And it has come at last” poet Cho Chi-hun says in “Journal of Despair, June 25, 1950.”

A lot of research went in to compiling this collection, and we are lucky work like this is being done. After 63 years, we are once again witnessing a significant mood of hostility developing on the Korean peninsula. The US media is framing this mood of hostility as a purely irrational North Korean escalation, meaning provocative maneuvers being taken by the US are never mentioned. “Alternative” media must provide more context:

The corporate media reduces the DPRK (North Korea) to the Kim family and prefaces their names with the terms “madman”, “evil” and “brutal”. Such vilifications of foreign leaders are used here not only to signify they are target for US overthrow. They are meant to intimidate and isolate anti-war activists as being out in left field for ever wanting to oppose a war against countries ruled by “madmen” – be they Saddam, Fidel, Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Qaddaffi.

Yet to a sensible person, it is crazy that the US, with nuclear weapons thousands of miles from home, in South Korea, denies North Korea has a right to have its own nuclear weapons on its own land – particularly when the North says it is developing nuclear weapons only as a deterrent because the US won’t take its own weapons out of the Korean peninsula.

Missing in what passes for discourse on the DPRK in the corporate media is that the US was conducting month-long war maneuvers last March in Korea, now extended into April, using stealth bombers, undetectable by radar, capable of carrying nuclear weapons. And this year these are not “deterrent” war maneuvers, but “pre-emptive war” maneuvers.

Would the US government and people get a little “irrational” if a foreign country that previously had killed millions of our people, sent nuclear capable stealth bombers off the coasts of New York City, Washington DC, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, there to fly around for a month in preparation for a possible nuclear attack on us? For what is called, in warped US language, war “games”?

Violence and the threat of violence is escalating across the globe. The more the US perpetrates and escalates that violence, the more our chances of directly experiencing that violence here at home increase.

This week’s poem is by Cho Chi-hun.


Journal of Despair (June 26, 1950)

Two o’clock in the afternoon,
I’m lecturing on poetics in a third-floor classroom of Korea University.

I hear the noise of guns from the direction of Uijongbu.
The loudspeaker on the campus tremulously relays news from the

Youths seem to regard poetry as irrelevant to the moment.
But it is at moments of crises that poetry can be our support.

“Now you’ll realize the meaning of the anxiety of being,”
I tell them.

Saddened by the possibility that after parting today
They may not meet again,
Students close their eyes to still the tumult in their hearts.

How precious and noble is the affection
That makes them mourn parting from friends
At this desperate juncture.

Pushing the door open and coming out into the hallway,
I see poetry sucked away by the smoke of battle.

The hill is draped with dense cannon smoke.
At sunset Mognam came for a visit.

Seoul will have to be abandoned, he said.
So, what are we going to do?

Well, what can we do?
My heart feels like lead.
Mognam says he knows the feeling,
And that’s why he sought me out.

Who can remain calm
In the face of the terror of death?

“Let us not seek to prolong life
At the cost of our honor.”

The willpower fired by that resolution
Enables me to face death today.

Be grateful
For this short reprieve.

—Cho Chi-hun

  1. Pogo Possum

    “Selling My Daughter for One Hundred Won.” Jang Jin-sung

    She was desolate.
    ‘I Am Selling My Daughter for 100 Won.’
    With that placard on her neck
    with her daughter by her side
    the woman standing in the market place –

    she was mute.
    People looked at the daughter being sold
    and the mother who was selling.
    The people cast their curses at them
    but keeping her eyes downcast

    she was tearless.
    Even when the daughter
    wrapped herself
    in her mother’s skirt
    shouting, screaming
    that her mother was dying
    the woman kept her lips
    tight and trembled –
    she did not know how to be grateful.
    ‘I’m not buying the daughter
    I want to buy the mother.’
    That soldier came by
    with a 100 won note in his hand.
    The woman who ran off with the money

    she was a mother.
    With the money
    she got for her daughter
    she bought a loaf of bread
    and put a chunk of bread
    in her daughter’s mouth
    as they said goodbye.
    ‘Forgive me,’ she cried.
    She was desolate.

    Jang Jin-sung, North Korean Poet, Writes Of Hunger, Brutality In The Country

    LONDON — He says he was one of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s favorite propaganda artists, singing the praises of the Dear Leader in dozens of poems. But these days Jang
    Jin-sung says he prefers to tell the truth about North Korea.

    The former state poet, who defected to South Korea, now writes to tell the world about what he calls the brutality of everyday life in the North.

  1. 1 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Brother Enemy, Poems of the Korean War […]

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