Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sijo West

On I ordered several issues of the English journal Sijo West from which these two sijo poems come. If you can get your hands on any of these old issues I highly recommend them. For 3-4 years poets from across North America (many of them haiku poets) were writing sijo poems and sending them in to the journal. There are quite a few gems. Here's just two I dug up:

Natural Selection

A well-bred bride for the prince
    is what the emporor seeks
As he studies hopefuls sipping tea;
    the one the prince loves
Chews gum with a snap, and slants glances
    that make promises.

--- name obscured, From Sijo West #3 Fall 1997 pg.21.

Sorry I couldn't make out the author of that one, it was blurry on the copy I had, although I distinctly remember reading it in one of my sijo books as well.....
Here's one on a very modern theme bringing the ancient form of shijo into our times:

Space Waste

Since blasting free from earth
to travel in reaches of space,

a gang of astronauts gaze
on a cloud-clad Blue Marble

dump their pots of pee to streak
as icy shards in our communal void.

--Ronan, Eugene, of Oregon a noted writer of haiku and related verse.
From Sijo West #2 Summer 1996 p.9

As we can see demonstrated in this sijo, traditionally, a sijo should have a surprize or twist in the narrative in the last couplet. This one definitely fits the bill.

These days my blogging shall be a little infrequent; I'm busy giving and marking exams these next three weeks. I'm also attempting to recreate one of the earliest instances of tea recorded from 350 A.D. Its more of a soup than a tea using onion ginger and oranges. I call it Kuo Po soup after the man who wrote the dictionary in which a discription of it is found. You can read about it on my other blog in a few weeks time. --MWT.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rainy season preparations: Calligraphy and Tea.

Rainy season is coming along with the exciting typhoons. According to the KMA weather website the first typhoon of the season will miss us, hitting Osaka instead.

Lately I've been stocking up on tea to prepare for the weekends when its too rainy to go outside. I also set up my calligraphy set on the veranda. Here's a shijo I wrote a few weeks ago:

 Trees point angrily at sky,
black branches sprout like old vines.

Cherry blossoms floated like cloud!
spring here is a cold grey thief.

Grind the mok, paint a scroll,
only tea can save us from him.

Mok is charcoal that comes in stick form, sold at any art or stationery store here, used for brush form calligraphy.

Years ago I bought a cheap calligraphy set at a small 문벙구/stationery store. It came with everything but the paper. (화선지 is korean for calligraphy paper sold anywhere you can get a good stick of mok). The set (pictured to the right here) cost only 12,000 won ! It might be hard to find, although it might not. You'll have to check your local MoombangGu.

 I recommend this set to anyone starting in on Asian calligraphy; Japanese Korean Chinese: the line strokes are all the same just varying characters. Over the years I'd been upgrading the parts of it: I got a more expensive pointier brush, a stone 벼루 instead of the plastic one in the set, etc.
Another good purchase was a good beginners book on calligraphy. I recommend 꽃들 한글서예/flowers Korean calligraphy. I got mine at the calligraphy & paper store in Nampodong. Its great as it shows you how to make each individual brush stroke. I still have much to learn with calligraphy, having taken only 3 months at a calligraphy hagwon and 1 semester at a college here so I don't plan on teaching it for another year.
For those interested in learning and finding their Korean skills lacking I recommend getting one of your friends to set you up for 1-2 months at one of the calligraphy hagwons. The teachers mainly instruct you by drawing a few lines for you and then you try it. Its instruction by copying little langage ability is needed as you're learning a skill. The only vocabulary you'll need is up, down, left and right (things you can get with a decent level 1 Korean). The only other vocabulary you'll need is : 

화선지: white paper
붓: brush
먹: your charcoal ink stick. You grind this down in your 벼루.
벼루: graduated stone for grinding charcoal into the water.

Really, that's it. Then its class time: where you'll follow the teacher, doing as they do. At the hagwon I spent 4 classes doing horizontal lines. Then another month doing verticle lines. This summer its circles for me and presto! I'll be able to do hangul! All at the Sawyeah hagwon. (I got alot of other instruction from the college but more on flowers and teapots later)...Don't let the langage barrier stop you! Make the effort ! Fear not : you can only win. --MWT.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Tales of a Gisaeng

Perhaps its the atmosphere of living next to Igigdae Hill/Park where two gisaeng jumped off the cliff with a Japanese general inspiring me. Old legends have a certain power that grows beyond what a real factual account would have. The story sounds suspiciously like another story "a patriotic kisaeng named Nongae in the late 16th century...while entertaining Japanese generals at the Choksongnu Pavilion that overlooks the Nam River in South Kyongsang Province, Nongae led Japanese general Keyamura Rokusuke to a cliff, embraced him and cast herself into the river, killing them both". I found the latter version of the story here @ Han Cinema. The story sounds more reliable than the Igigdae story which doesn't mention which general and gisaeng. Perhaps the Igidae story came from this one.

The story of the gisaeng taking out a general reminds me of the story of koreas ninja the Ja-gaek who were male acrobats trained to be assassins by a korean general of the Hwa-ryung warriors...but I digress...

Lately I've been reading up on all things gisaeng. Gisaeng were the Goryo and Choseon Dynasty entertainers. They were very much like the Japanese Geisha. Later this week I shall find myself in the comic book room beneath the Kyungsung McDonalds reading "Gisaeng Iyagi/Story" by Kim Dong-hwa.

One of the most legendary gisaeng was Hwang Jini. In part, due to the success of "Memoirs of a Geisha" back in 2005, interest in Hwang Jini sparked the production of both a Hwang Jini movie and TV series.
Of the gisaeng she was one of the more prolific, writing 60 shijo poems that still survive today, (I've got a book on order about gisaeng shijo poems, book review coming in a few months...).
Her beauty and talents became legendary as she charmed great scholars of the era, among them a Buddhist monk named Jijok who later was excommunicated because of her.
This picture entitled "7 girls" from the Franklin Francis Carpeter Library of Congress Collection shows 7 young girls who were gisaeng in training. Girls as young as 8 years old began training as gisaeng becoming actual gisaeng at 16 or 17 years old.  According to legend, Hwang Jini was the illigitimate child of a yangban and the gisaeng Heon Keum.  

Gisaeng girl 1890. Gisaeng went through 8 or 9 years of strict training in poetry, song, dance and tea ceremony.

In 2006 actress Ha Ji Won played Hwang-Jini in a TV series entitled Hwang-Jini.  I'm wondering what happened to the 2007 TV production entitled Haeauhwa  (해어화, 解語花) which is about another, though less famous, gisaeng. You can pick up some parts of the Hwang-Jini TV series with English subtitles on youtube. Though to watch the entire series you'll probably have to purchase it on DVD at Someyeon's DVD/CD store. The one with all the korean TV series' on DVD there.  
Actress Song Hye Kyo playing Hwang Jini in a movie (I'm off to rent and watch it this afternoon. Most video stores here have a copy of it. All you have to do is give the video store your phone number to start an account with them and maybe your foreign card which has your address. Videos are usually 2000 won each for 1-2 days.  

As Harvard Professor and shijo poet David R. McCann relates,  "some of the most famous kisaeng poems were composed to persuade prominent scholars to spend the night".
Here's one by Hwang-Jini below:

청산리 靑山裡 벽계수碧溪水야 수이 감을 자랑마라.
일도창해一到滄海하면 다시 오기 어려워라
명월(明月)이 만공산滿空山하니 쉬어간들 어떠리.
In this poem 벽계수/Byuk-Gye Soo is the name of the Yangban Hwang-Jini is addressing the poem to. Historical records show there was a man of royal birth of that name.
명월 (明月)or bright moon is Hwang-Jini's nickname. Thus the poem translates as:

Don't be proud, clear water/Byuk-GyeSoo of running free to the beach!
You will find it hard to go back, once the azure ocean you reach.
Take a break, while the moon is bright in the sky, I beseech.
--Hwang-Jini. Translated by Kim Young Nahg.

As part of the Hwang-Jini craze that has swept Korea, Korean Vogue brought a bunch of models to Paris and dressed them up like gisaeng for a photoshoot. Later I'll bring you more of Hwang-Jini and other gisaeng's shijo poems. Until then, I'm logging off so I can watch the Hwang-Jini movie. Till next time...

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Tale of 2 Wives: King Yuri of Goguryo's Dilemma.

In the year 17 BC, King Yuri of Goguryo had a problem. His two wives Hwahi and Chihi were not getting along prompting one of them to go back to her hometown in China. Feeling understandably torn King Yuri wrote a poem which became what is considered to be the earliest example of the Korean poetic tradition. Many parts of the poem are in Chinese and I'm currently just starting level 1 of chinese so I was lucky to find the poem translated into Korean from which I translated it into the English presented to you here :
the (bracketed) parts are the phonetic pronunciations for the Chinese. Some say the poem is titled Yellow bird's song. On close inspection it appears the poem almost has two titles: Yellow elegy or Oriole's Song. Perhaps King Yuri was caught between two titles along with being caught between two women...

黃鳥歌(황조가)-琉璃王(유리왕) Yellow elegy --King Yuri
꾀꼬리의 노래-琉璃王(유리왕) orioles song -- King Yuri
翩翩黃鳥(편편황조) : 펄펄 나니는 저 꾀꼬리 fluttering flying, that oriole.
雌雄相依(자웅상의) : 암수 서로 정답구나. Female and male birds look lovely together
念我之獨(염아지독) : 나의 외로움을 생각하니 I think on my loneliness
誰其與歸(수기여귀) : 그 누구와 함께 돌아가리.  With whom would I go back to?

Hence, King Yuri of Goguryo's dilemma. For those just learning Korean it's fun to sound out the bracketed parts to form the sounds of the original Chinese character poem. A fine first step to eventually reading Korean. Poems are also very rewarding practice. A few words with a dictionary and presto! You have a translation. --MWT.

Friday, May 6, 2011

More than just What The !? : Ordering books in Korea

As many of you may know, doesn't ship to Korea. Personally there are two main websites I use to order books here in Korea. The most famous here is another lesser known site is Abe books is a site that connects thousands of used bookstores in the U.S and in Canada. Their prices are very low! I recently ordered a few books and journals on English shijo poems.
One particular gem was titled "Sunset in a Spider Web" a collection of Korean shijo translated into English. It is available from Abe Books only. That's why I use both sites; covers more ground. Abe books is the place for those rare hard to find volumes, though you can also get The Davinci Code there as well. Here's a few shijo from "Sunset in a Spider Web" shijo adapted by Virginia Olsen Baron :
Oh, do not pull yourself away
If I, weeping, grasp your sleeve.
You have a long way to go over the hills,
And it is almost dark.

In the lonely night ahead, you will understand,
When you must light the lamp alone.
-- Yi Myung-Han.

This next one seems to have been written by a gisaeng though we can't be certain...

When I think about why
You sent that fan to me,
I wonder if you meant
For me to blow out the fire in my heart.

How could I put out a fire with a fan
When teardrops failed ?
-- Anonymous.

I like this style: instead of the Korean style 3 lines of couplets, breaking them up a bit into 6 lines but putting the "twist" ending as a separated couplet.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Samurai Suicide

The snow here in Busan is quite an event as with the spring cherry blossoms. Koreans tend to be more exuberant about such things more so than westerners.

Here's two shijo I wrote while on Pu'er tea earlier this evening. They can be read separately or as a shijo sequence. I'll blog more about sequences later...

Samurai Suicide,The Snow Here

Korean students learn shijo,
memorize how for the exam.
Trudge home late sometimes 9 o'clock,
study more then to bed
Mercedez Benz at 50 years,
poetry a luxury.

Samurai suicide,
Korean student jumps off roof.
Honor saving from shame,
both blunt ends with other options
Creative west has more colors,
the snow here, is whiter. -- MWT.

These poems were inspired by three things: An article about tea rescuing over 160 australians from suicide. Located at The Ancient Art of Tea blog. Another inspiration came from Busan English radio where an ESL teacher was talking about one of his students committing suicide. The third souce of inspiration came from all the Pu'er tea I had been drinking since this afternoon. Sipping tea invites the muses indeed. --MWT.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Here's an English shijo poem I wrote over the weekend:

Teahouse in Nampodong, B-boy group outside raging tunes
Young to old, we take our photos, turn to traditional ways
Work, shopping, tired to the teahouse, we are all tourists here.

I wrote it last Saturday. I went to a Nampo teahouse to mark my midterm exams and outside, infront of the Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop, they had a b-boy group (Korean for a group of boy dancers) and several famous singers. I think it was a promotion for the BeanPole Clothing brand as that store was right across from the doughnut shop.

 Heres another I wrote a few hours earlier:

What we write or tell the young ones can only last for so long
Through our lives we work and play, slaves to a moments sensation
Take lovely pictures while ye may; we are all tourists here.

The Korean for the English shijo is as follows:

잚을 이들에게 말하거나 쓴것을 그 한게가 있다
우리는 인생을 통해 일하고 즐깁니다 한 순가의 욕망의 노예가
아름다운 사진을 가능한 찍어보세요 우리는 모두 관광객 입니다.

Translation above by Sung-Yirahn 성이란. Typing by myself so any typos are mine --MWT.
먹을수있는한 김밥을 드새요, 우리는 모두 관광객 입니다.
(Eat kimbap while ye may, we are all tourists here).

A decent substitute for the last line in the English could be:
Eat delicious hamburgers while ye may; we are all tourists here.
(먹을수있는한 맛있는 함버거드새요, 우리는 모두 관광객 입니다).
That last line with hamburgers makes me laugh, especially as I love Thomas Grill in Daeyeon/Kyungsung.

Living in Busan for 8 years I have had alot of time to reflect on what it means to be a long time resident here, versus my being a foreigner, always learning but never to become a true native Korean (caucasian face and race aside). I began to reflect on what it means then, to be a tourist. I realized that I am forever to be a kind of tourist here. But in essence, aren't we all tourists...

I had that final line buzzing in my head for the past 3 months now: Take your pictures while ye may, we are all tourists here. A modern day Carpe Diem kind of thing. In the 2nd poem I changed it to "lovely" to match a common traditional shijo form of 15,15,14 syllables.
Welcome, tourists all, to my blog. MWT.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Writing an English Shijo : The Romance of Couplets

This article should be subtitled : couplet combinations found within a Shijo line; a discovery I had made in my readings on the English shijo. Originally Shijo poems were sung by Korean gisaeng and were thus quite lyrical.
(as a side note, my cellphone dictionary describes a gisaeng/기생 as a female entertainer who makes a feast or a drinking party more enjoyable :-).
Incidentally, my apartment overlooks Igidae Park: a narrow mountainous peninsula that runs along the shore of the East Sea. It is called Igidae as, according to legend, two gisaengs partying along with a Japanese general, grabbed him and plunged to their deaths off the cliffs of Igidae. Not your typical end to a party with a gisaeng I presume, unless you are an unwelcome occupier. 

As described earlier, a korean shijo/sijo poem has three lines consisting of any of the syllable  combinations below:

Many 15, 15, 14.
Many 15, 14, 15
Some 15, 15, 17. 
Some 14, 14, 15
Few  14, 15, 15.
Few  15, 15, 16
Rarely 13, 15, 16
Rarely 16, 14, 15.

As with haiku there are many many combinations beyond the traditional 5,7,5 for haiku as there is beyond the 15, 15, 14 for shijo.
Although there are other combinations beyond my simple list here, other combinations are, to my knowledge, extremely rare.

Looking more closely and more importantly, reading the various writings of the three English sijo masters, I have found that each line of a sijo contains couplets!
There is some disagreement between Canadian poet Elizabeth St.Jacques and Professor McCann on how to divide the sijo line. Like the slicing of a cake, there are fine slender slices and then there's your generous helpings.

Harvard Professor David R. McCann can be classified as a slender slicer. In his 1976 “The Structure of The Korean Sijo” he divides each line into 4 parts or groups as quoted below:
                              Group             I                    II                 III            IV
No. of Syllables:   Line 1            3                      4             3 or 4          4    
                                 Line 2            3                     4               3 or 4       4
                                 Line 3            3                     5              4                3

He also uses his 4 slices of line method to describe other variations of sijo syllable combinations:

                         Group               I                    II                   III              IV
                          Line 1            2-4                4-5                  2-4                4-5
                          Line 2             2-5                3-4              3-6                 3-4
                          Line 3              2-3                4-7              3-4                 3-5

Slender slices of 4 can become rather quite complicated. Myself, I prefer generous helpings when I either have my cake or work with a new poetry form. Canadian poet Elizabeth St.Jacques on her webpage article entitled About Sijo divides each line into 2 more simple parts. As you'll find in the writing of sijo, larger blocks are easier to work with. She suggests :

for 14 syllable lines use couplet combinations of 7 + 7; 6 + 8 or 8 + 6
for 15 syllable lines use 7 + 8 or 8 + 7
for 16 syllable lines use 8 + 8; 9 + 6 or 6 + 9. 

It is because of these couplet combinations that some English Shijo are written in 6 lines instead of 3. All Korean Shijo poems are in 3 lines but when translated there are sometimes commas placed in the middle of some lines.
Personally I prefer English Shijo poems in 3 lines but, the choice is yours.

Now, armed with these syllable combinations for couplets, I'm off to write a better, more lyrical sijo than before. Until then, here's a haiku about the spring cherry blossoms I wrote earlier today:

pink flecks float like cloud
with rain they fall and scatter
spring opens with loss. -- MWT.

English Sijo Masters we can all learn from.

Essentially, there are in fact three main English Sijo masters; a triad if you will. All of them have studied and written extensively about English Sijo. These masters of sijo are Canadian poet Elizabeth St. Jacques, Professor Larry Gross and Harvard Professor David R. McCann.

In 1995 St. Jacques and Gross started a poetry journal for English Sijo called Sijo West. It folded in 1999. In 1976 Professor David R. McCann published an article in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies entitled "The Structure o fthe Korean Sijo". Since then he has been working with, writing and studying Sijo in both Korean and English. McCann has been promoting the writing of English Sijo among highschool and elementary school teachers and has recently conducted several seminars on English Sijo writing in the Chicago area.

A great overview of shijo can be found here. It contains several articles from all three Sijo masters. At the bottom is a link that eventually leads to teaching guides for middle and highschool teachers to teach the sijo form in their writing classes. It is a fine alternative to doing haiku and is slightly more challenging for students.

A website containing poems from all three can be seen:
Here with the Sejong Society

Hands down, the best website that explains how to write English sijo poems is St.Jacques’ website. It is provides an excellent step by step guide to writing a Sijo.
In the west, it seems sijo writing is catching on. Since 2008 the Sejong Cultural Association has been holding a highschool Sijo writing contest. Every year, more and more students are submitting English Sijo poems to the contest. Here’s one of the winners from 2009:

First place - Creasy Clauser
A single sole was lost today, deep in the river Yalu,
Thrashing, twisting, torn to shreds with color quickly fading.
On the bridge a small boy laughs, holding out his empty shoe.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Korean Shijo/Sijo Form: kinda like a haiku.

Simply put, a Korean 시조/shijo is alot like a Japanese haiku: rhyming doesn't matter and its all in the syllables. I spell it shijo as it most closely matches the Korean pronunciation of shijo as opposed to the substandard sijo as sijo could be erroneously pronounced as see joe. Sijo? No. I see Dick and Jane.

A shijo is generally a three line poem with a pause in each of the three lines. The pause is not necessary but is found in some Korean shijo poems.

Like haiku, rhyming is not necessary.
Some may tell you that a shijo is not three lines but that it is more. They are referring to what may be called a shijo sequence. But lets not fill the air with noise and just stick to a shijo proper for now.
Many of these short three line shijos have been written as far back as the Goguryeo and Paekjae kingdoms. Many have been written during the Koryo and Joseon Dynasties.

Now for the syllables.
Generally a shijo has the first line 15 syllables, the next 15 and the final line with either 14 or 17 syllables.
Naver will back me up on that as well as one of my books on shijo. Thus, this goes for a traditional shijo.
You will notice that most haiku follow a 17 syllable total with lines being 5,7,5 syllables pattern. I say most. There are many in the world haiku association who deviate from this and still call their poems haiku. You need only to look to the Internet for examples illustrating this mass proliferation of haiku poems.
 The proliferation of syllable patterns with shijo runs about the same as with haiku.
In my book which contains mostly choseon era shijo in Korean with English translations contains many syllable pattern deviations in the original korean.
Thus you may write in any of the line/syllable patterns below at your leisure (as how the best poetry is written for it is in leisure that the mischevious muse seems to find us best). These were the patterns found in my book:
Many in the traditional 15, 15, 14. Some in the 15, 15, 17. Some 14, 14, 15
Many with 15, 14, 15.  A few were 14, 15, 15.
I found a few that were 15, 15, 16 and two, one was 13, 15, 16 and another 16, 14, 15.
So you can see they are generally with 15 and 14 syllables.
Here's one I'd written while waiting for my wife to come home:

Fukushima reactor radiating the countryside
Korean people showing only the slightest of concern
amid the busy bustle of people, life carries on.

See! 15, 15 14. A pitiful shijo. I even used the word people twice! Now you know enough. Go forth and kick my ass. Later we'll get into shijo sequences. MWT.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Imjin River Poem.

This one, written by Yi Ki Ban is about the Imjin river. The river runs from North Korea into South Korea, at times forming the border between both. Occasionally North Korean farmers are found floating dead in its waters.

The River Imjin
The river is tongue-tied,
too full of sorrow.
Wrenched with the pain of parting
my heart has grown numb.
Insects in the grass rend the air
as if to grieve for the nation.

Smiles on the faces of those in white
once streamed there like flapping flags;
those hillsides used to be crossed freely
by all, hand in hand.
Now they have turned into guns
that glare at each other. O river of sighs!
--Yi Ki Ban (b. 1931).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cold weather & Seoul Shijo.

With the weather at times turning cold (-1C a few nights ago!) I've decided to post an old poem of mine. A haiku, in the English, with Korean translation by me.

Early autumn green
wind whispering other colors in cold
trees lean nearer to listen.

이린 카을 녹
바람 다른 색으로 차갑에 속삭인다
나무들이 기대어 그 소리를 듣는다.
-- Matthew Thivierge.

I'll get my wife to check my spelling later. My spelling is usually terrible.
I do love the word 속삭인다: to whisper. Its a word you _can_ whisper more smoothly than 'whisper'.

Heres a Shijo from a poet who wrote mostly in the 60s. Sadly the book I'm taking him from doesn't have the original Korean. Still, its a great read. As the poems in the book have translated so well, I'm dying to get my hands on the original Korean for them! Suffice: here's one by Seo-Pol. I'm sure many visiting Seoul or foreigners living there can relate to this one:

Today I've come up to Seoul
and purchased a thousand acres of loneliness.
I wish to scatter it like mist;
sprinkle it like drizzling rain.
Penniless are my pockets, but I have a friend's
name card in its place.
-- So Pol (b. 1939).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Similar to a Japanese Haiku is the Korean Shijo poetry. Here's a sample Shijo below. More details on Shijo form later.

십 년을 경영하여 초려삼간 지어내니
나 한 간 달 한 간에 청풍 한 간 맡겨두고
강산은 들일 데 없으니 둘러두고 보리라.
-- 미상

I worked for ten years, and built at last a thatched cottage.
A room for myself, a room for the moon, and a room for the wind,
And no room for the hills and brooks; I'll view them standing around me.
-- Anonymous.
Translated by Kim Young Nahg.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Deepest Sea

The Deepest Sea

we drift
like sand upon sea
then, into the deep
we dive,
with the elements of our day
and dream.

This East Sea
is the Pacific
later the Atlantic
reaches all continents.

This East Sea
is rain
falling on mountains
drunken by millions of mothers
swishing around babies
that are being formed.

Our dreams, you see
in that sea
always being formed.

The sea connects us all
forms us
carries us
as when we die

we become all undone as dust
washed by rain
we drift
to become like sand upon sea
into the deep
we further die
to swim with the elements of our days
and dream
in the deepest sea.

-- presented Aug 4 2009 2:10pm Busan Sea/Marine Literature Festival
Written a week before in a taxi coming to LG Metrocity from Busan Immigration.