Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Songs of the Kisaeng" Chosun Dynasty Poems in English.

 My post "Tales of a Gisaeng" is almost over 1,500 pageviews versus the mere 100-200 page views for my other posts. Thus I bring you more Gisaeng poetry!

 During the Chosun dynasty Korean society was strictly Confucian; marriages were most often arranged and young ladies were not permitted to go out. There is the often told tale of girls on a swing set, swinging as high as they could, just to get a view over their courtyard wall.

In this context, where women had few freedoms, even that of expression, the Gisaeng may be viewed as a 'feminist' one. Although their lives were confined to their role as concubines, serving at the pleasure of the state, they did have the education and freedom to write with their most often form of expression being the shijo poem, many of which were made into songs. It is important to note that many of these poems express both their loves and longings as well as their complicated emotions they had for their clients. Being unmarried, the Gisaeng also had great financial freedom and many were known throughout the open air markets of Chosun Dynasty Korea.

From a used bookseller conglomerate I received a copy of Songs of the Kisaeng a collection of shijo poems by various Kisaeng translated by Constantine Contogenis and Wolhee Choe.

All of the translated poems come with the original Korean so it is a great source for English speakers wishing to expand their Korean vocabulary.

Many of the poems are by the famous Hwang Jini. Reviewer and author Sam Hamill aptly describes the poems as "courtesan blues from the Chosun Dynasty". Indeed many of the poems are of longing and loss while others are passionate love poems. Here are a few samples from the book:

Ah, What Have I Done?

Ah, What have I done -- as though I didn't 
know my feelings would remain.
I would not add the few
words that would keep him.

I want to understand the joy
I felt as I was letting him go.
     -- Hwang Jini.

An Anchor Lifts

An anchor lifts, a ship is leaving
he goes this time, when to return.
Far over the sea's vast waverings
one can see a going as return.

But as the sound of that anchor lifting,
the night could hear her insides turn.
     -- Anonymous Gisaeng. 

Iron, We Were Told

Iron, we were told; iron had arrived again
Sure I remember brittle pig iron,
but your close, cold surface told me iron
again that was hammered and annealed.

This time I will use a furnace of earth, bellows
of such breath you will not withstand the fire. 
     -- Chinok.

Overall I'd say this book is an excellent read providing much insight into the midset of the Gisaeng. There is a fine selection of poems: some love poems, some speak of longing and loss while others are of renunciation. Theirs is a poetry of passion whereas many of the poems written by the literati yangban at the time are of historical or of topical themes and tend to be rather dry overall. Perhaps this explains current interest in the emotional complexities found in Gisaeng poetry. Indeed, it is one of their more intriguing charms.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tea haiku

Last week I wrote several haiku on tea. Enjoy!

Busan 山 (Kettle Mountain)
mist morning calm
got tea?

A surprising number of Busanites are unaware of the meaning of Busan/ Kettle Mountain.

most Asia
iced green tea
Hello Kitty tray

However there are tonnes of exceptions beyond the tea that is taken most casually at home by most people here in Asia. Some other extremely common occurrences of tea in Asia:

birdcage on wall
grey chipped cups
Pu'er in YiXing

janggi board
smack of the piece
dashi kongmool.

(janggi: Korean chess dashi kongmool is a broth made with tiny fish. The fish are removed leaving a fishy taste to it. It was brought to Korea from Japan and is quite commonly drunken from a dish along with a meal).


adjummas monks
dewy bowl

(adjummas: Korean for a married woman. Omejacha is tea, actually a tisane from the omeja fruit. It is commonly taken in summer: google images of omijacha


frosty stepping stones
icy wind
chado indoors

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Typhoon hits Tokyo

A typhoon recently passed over most of Japan dissapating over Tokyo.
Korea or The Weather Here
Tokyo typhoon
short walks
between clouds

June 16th : Captain Picard Day
Role model
Cpt.Picard says
"Tea, Earl Grey"

The Captain ordering tea, Earl Grey, hot in various episodes.

A 300 haiku:

Spartan haiku
sun boy spear
dead donkey

Airports and planes:

Sparrow skips
flurry of feathers
jet engine.

Headset two light sticks
guiding planes
silent break moon

I wrote this one while out hiking from LG MetroCity apartments towards Gwangali beach :

Headset loud trance tunes
moon follows
city seashore.

All the above haiku were written by me Matthew Thivierge and are subject to copyright.
Next week I'll have more haiku based on tea. Till then, stay inspired!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Gisaeng Nongae Festival at Jinju Castle in May

In Jinju every May they have a Non-gae festival. Named after the Gisaeng who embraced a Japanese General and took him plunging to their deaths. This is apparently where the Busan, Igidae legend of the two gisaeng jumping off a cliff to kill a Japanese General.
 In Jinju Castle there is a shrine dedicated to her with a plaque telling her story:

A portrait of Non-gae in the shrine

Children can draw pictures of gisaeng to post on a wall display there in the castle. They also can dress up in gisaeng clothes. 
Non-gae by JangMin

A view from the castle ramparts near where she fell.

 In the evening they have special events for the 3 day festival. On the day we were there they had traditional gisaeng dances and singing. They also had pansori singing.

 Later the castle walls are lit for a night performance set in the location where Non-gae plunged to her death, taking the Japanese General with her.

 The main event of the festival is a reinactment of Nongaes life and suicide. They portrayed her relationship with the Korean Generals protecting Jinju from the Japanese. The fall of Jinju to the Japanese and the Korean General's suicide (everybody cheers when the actors jump into the water in full costume) (There were alot of old adjulshis there).

Here you can see the Korean defenders with torches.

The battle rages...

After Nongae plunges into the water with the General, there is a brief memorial dance. Some may call it an exorcism dance for Non-gae.

To view the performance they set up a pontoon platform for the audience. So we were actually sitting on the water, looking up at the castle and across to where Non-gae was last alive upon this earth. A wonderful and haunting experience that is a must see !

At a restaurant we found a tea-cloth that had a sijo written by Non-gae. The owner told us that such items could be purchased from the souvenir shop in Jinju City Hall.

Sadly, as it is in City Hall it isn't open on the weekends when the festival occurs and when most tourists residing in Korea would drop by Jinju it is inaccessable to their main market.  As it is a long way to drive for only souvenirs sadly and well, I must work on the weekdays it seems this 'souvenir shop' is something I am unable to report on. Regardless, the festival was awesome (registered trademark of Busan Awesome ?)

Friday, May 25, 2012

University Festivals in Busan

Yesterday night Pukyong National university had its school festival and rock concert. Today in the evening the neighbouring university Kyungsung dae had its festival on the beach at Gwangan. I snapped this photo of the event and wrote this haiku commemorating the monent :                   Hazy sun / Geumyeonsan Gwangan / Kyungsung Dae rock concert.
Hazy sun
cool wind gasps out
dying breath of spring

Via facebook I've been getting news of the violent thunder storms in my hometown Thunder Bay. I was surprised to hear of the lightening strike that shattered the stonework on a tall building there.
I was reminded of the times I'd take tea during storms, enjoying the sound of the rainfall. Here are a few articles on it. Ironically it was the hydro building that was hit, destroying one of the terra cotta turrets on the top corner of the building.

Thunder Bay
whole sky rumbles
kettle matches then whistles

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gwangali Shijo and a Haiku.

A haiku I wrote during last years rainy season. Sadly no typhoons on our way lately. I find them so exciting.

Typhoon at sea
Night clouds drift sprinkle rain
On the writing table moon.
Here are two pictures of Gwangali Bridge otherwise now known as 'Diamond Bridge' with Gwangali beach infront. It is my favorite beach in Busan.

The hill on the right is Igidae Hill half way up on it is a small temple. Yiran and I have met the monk there several times Dae Bang is his name.
On the extreme right you can see the Samick Beach Apartments and a black speck that is a statue of a red flower pot. Every night over the last few weeks its been either rainy or foggy in Gwangan so I still don't have a picture of the flower pot lit up nor the lights from the temple on the hill. If you're ever there in Gwangali at night, do look out to Igidae hill for the temple lights. They're quite beautiful.

I thought it appropriate to write a shijo about our neighborhood beach Gwangali, instead of the Japanese form haiku. Here are two versions of it : (I wish shijo were eight lines instead of six)

Diamond bridge shines in blue,
coffee shops bars a bustle

Igidae hill dark pyramid, lone light of a temple there
across at Cafe Pascucci, I slowly write this shijo,

Monk, poet here are both
United Nations observers.

Heres another version, with a different first couplet. Geumyeonsan is the mountain that faces the sea and Igidae hill is on a peninsula that stretches out into the sea making the beach area a bit of a bay. I wish I could fit Igidae in to the shijo form along with Geumeyonsan but alas, both don't seem to fit into the frame.

Sunset, clouds crest Geumyeonsan
Red flowerpot lit to gold

Igidae hill dark pyramid, lone light of a temple there
across at Cafe Pascucci, I slowly write this shijo,

Monk, poet here are both
United Nations observers.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gisaeng/Kisaeng Poetry: The sijo/Shijo

I have recently noticed that my Gisaeng post is up over 1000 readers now! So it seems I shall research and post more in that area, greater serving my readers out there in cyberland.

It is important to note, in the comparison between Japanese and Korean culture that Japan had both Geisha and Courtesans. The Geisha most strictly were the artists and entertainers while there was another separate group of courtesans who entertained sexually. There were strict laws definine each groups work ensuring that the Geisha would not encroach upon the courtesans area of expertise. (For reference I refer to Liza Dalby's well researched and footnoted work Geisha.
However, in Korea Gisaeng were both courtesan and artistic entertainer. Their clientele were the upper class yangban; the educated elite.

Love Poems From Old Korea in sijo form purchased at Yong-gwan bookstore in Someyeon (Busan) has many sijo, some of them written by Gisaeng.

I will cut into halves the waist
of the long mid-winter night;
roll it up to be placed
under the warm spring-breeze quilt
and I will unroll it in the night
when my beloved arrives.
-- Hwang Chini (1511~1541).

Sadly, this work only has the English and does not include the Korean. Regardless, it seems to be a good poetic translation in that the translation is still in sijo form. Other poems in this work are from the yangban though some purport to be from commoners. Were they educated to write sijo? It would be a rare occurrence for certain !
The bright moon in the blue heaven
shall be able to see my fair one's face.
Why can't I be like the moon
sailing across the skies?
Will my love ever think of me
while watching the moon?
---Won Wi

Recently from a used bookseller aggragator I purchased Songs of the Kisaeng. I should have it by this summer. There are a few rare copies of it out there. I will review it as soon as I get it and rifle through it. Until then, may you stay inspired !

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Tea Source for Kigo in Haiku

In writing haiku poems, at times, one may employ a kigo or word or phrase that signifies a particular season. Certain kigo that are obvious to us westerners would be snow, freezing rain, falling leaves etc.
In Japanese haiku there are also many very specific kigo that one may employ in their English haiku. One excellent source of Japanese kigo is the Japanese Tea Master's Almanac pictured below.
This book serves as a resource for those practicing Chanoyu or the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
For each month the book has Japanese festivals and ceremonies that are practiced for that particular month, Memorial days (mainly for commemorating people important to the history of the tea ceremony), Flowers that are symbolic or bloom that particular month, Cakes and Meals that are served for that month and finally Kigo for that particular month.

What makes this book so useful for haiku writers is that the kigo are very often specific to a particular month though they may also be used a bit beyond at times to connect to the broader season depending on the particular words connotations.

The book also provides one or more famous haiku using that particular kigo. The poems are written in Japanese, phonetically in English then with English translation making it an excellent source for haiku writers.
One example from the book is :
"U no hana kudahsi
This expression refers to the drizzling rain that spoils (kudasu or kuchisasu) u no hana in bloom. To overcome the resulatant ennui, it might be an idea to have tea using the tea box called u no hana. A cloudy sky at this time is called u no hana gumori.

Yuki no na no/ tokete u no hana/ kudashi kana
The image of snow has disappeared now that
the rain drenched un no hana decay"
hana is the Japanese word for flower or flowers as in hanami: flower viewing.
This book is available from in America and from in Korea.
Other kigo in may are Baku shu ya: wheat harvest time, Natsu no tsuki: the summer moon
For May it also has a long description of how in Japan people would change their tatami mats, put on lighter kimono 'koromo gae' and wear colors for May such as light purple and very light pink 'kakitsubata goromo.

Following the Japanse way of tea is about following the seasons and changes in nature. These changes are reflected in changes in the tearoom. They are also reflected in the scroll hung in the tokonoma. Often times the scroll with have a haiku that employs a kigo.

One other websource for kigo is
500 Essential Kigo selected by Kenkichi Yamamoto. Best wishes and happy writing ! MWT.