Kim Hyesoon’s viscerally charged poetry channels the violence of South Korea and global capitalism. She writes out of illness and ecstasy. Instead of standing aside and criticizing global capitalism, she moves through its sick movement with grotesque humor: In »I’m OK, I’m Pig«, she becomes the mass-slaughtered pigs. The result is funny and horrifying:
»We return as hot pigs
We return for our final act
The act in which our fingers rot
even before we lie down in our coffins.«
(from Marilyn Monroe, translated by Don Mee Choi)
This is not poetry for those readers who want to be uplifted or who want to be given an easy political stance. Kim writes not out of an enlightened state but out of a state saturated with illness and violence.
When asked why she started to write, Kim replies that she was introduced to poetry when she became ill as a child, that poetry came into her in that permeable state. She sees the grotesquerie of her poetry as testifying to the violence of the modern world (including the South Korean dictatorship, followed by neo-colonial global capitalism):
»We carve on our body what society teaches us and continue this task, not knowing the identity they force us to have. This identity is carved on our faces and our skins. Not knowing our bodies have become »the paper made of human meat,« we stuff our bodies and make them a theater where cultural symbols or suppressed symbols play. It is not possible to explain women’s poetry until you sympathize with how women painfully go through the experience of having these tattoos carved on their bodies. At this point, women’s language is the butcher’s language who sells his or her body. It is grotesque and miserable.«
The Female Grotesque – Ruth Williams interviews Kim Hyesson [Guernica, 2012]
To write poetry is not to find a hopeful space away from the violence of the world; it is to speak in »the butcher’s language.« The result will naturally be grotesque and often horrifying.
But there is also a shamanic element to Kim’s poetry, a way in which the poet can protest. In Princess Abandoned, her book of criticism, Kim talks about the artist as the Abandoned (paradaegi), the princess who is abandoned to die in Korean folklore. Like the princess, the artist has to hear the dead and “make contact with ghosts« in order to make art and expose the violence of patriarchy with her poems.
As such this is a deeply feminist model of the poet, coming out of a country that has been colonized and exploited by a sequence of foreign invaders, including – most recently – United States and global capitalism. Kim’s poetry both speaks in the butcher’s language of those occupations, but it channels the butchery through the body of the abandoned princess, the shamanic poet who is uniquely capable of taking on the patriarchy.