The Fate Called a Poet's Wife Memoir of Mok-sun-ok, wife of deceased poet Chon Sang-pyong A deeply personal account of life as a poet's wife is now available in English. Mok Sun-ok, poet Chon Sang-pyong's wife of over 20 years, writes about her years with the poet in My Husband the Poet, published by Seoul Selection. Dead poets are usually quickly forgotten in Korea, yet his is still a familiar name to most Koreans. Younger people know him as the poet with a childlike heart who wrote the beautiful poem "Kwichon" that they read in high school. Older people remember him as a picturesque eccentric who enjoyed hanging out with artistic, bohemian friends in the bars of Myeong-dong, drinking makkolli, talking and laughing loudly, and writing poems and essays for a pittance. Likewise, anyone familiar with Insa-dong knows the tiny tea-house also called "Kwichon," which is run by the poet's wife since 1985. Since his death in 1993, the story of their life together has been portrayed in stage plays, musicals, and TV dramas: his life in total poverty, his arrest and torture on the groundless suspicion of being a spy, his dramatic disappearance, then reappearance just when his friends had concluded he was dead, his love of children, and above all, the faithful and selfless care he received through twenty years from Mok Sun-ok, his wife. It is entirely thanks to her efforts that now, a dozen years after his death, Chon Sang-pyong is commemorated by memorial stones in several parts of the country and an annual Chong Sang-pyong Literary Award, as well a yearly Chon Sang-pyong Festival in Uijongbu, where he lived, died and is buried.
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Herself a survivor of the Hiroshima atom bomb, Mok Sun-ok wrote and published the story of their life together soon after he died. Mok Sun-ok has previously described Chon Sang-pyung as "having the innocence of a 7-year old." In the book, she tells the story of living with her childlike husband, who writes like an angel but has no other abilities. It is Mok Sun-ok who has to take care of him like a baby, while keeping up the teahouse. People who know the couple say that without her patience and selflessness, his writings would not have been possible. Through its frank and honest narrative, the book offers interesting insights into one of Korean literature's most famous couples. English translation was undertaken by Brother Anthony, professor of English literature at Sogang University. About the book, he says, "It is a remarkable story, a beautiful one; very "Korean" in the way it is told, and one that many people across the world ought to read. It is intensely human, funny and sad at the same time." This is the 20th volume he has published of translations from Korean. Beginning in 1990, most of his work has been on poetry, including a volume of poems by Chon Sang-pyong published in the United States at Cornell University in 1995, then reprinted in a bilingual edition by DapGae (Seoul) that has gone into 17 reprints so far. Other translations he has published include several volumes of works by Ko Un, and by Ku Sang, by So Chong-ju, Shin Kyong-Nim, Kim Kwang-kyu etc. In the coming weeks he will be publishing 4 more volumes: translations of poems by Kim Kwang-kyu, by Ko Un, and by Mah Chonggi, and a book about Korean green tea written by himself in English.
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