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What the Spider Said

Translated by:
Publisher: , 2005
Link to online store *

From the publisher’s website:

This is a collection of short “epigrammatic” poems by Chang Soo Ko originally written in Korean. The narrator of the poems is conceived to be a “spider,” which to the poet’s mind represents a mystic observer with “spiderly” sense of humor. The poems were written with substantial attention to poetic vision and metaphor.

Some of the poems in Korean have been published in Korean literary magazines while a dozen of the poems in English translation have been carried in English-language literary journals such as Modern Poetry in Translation of U.S. and Ceide of Ireland as well as in Between Sound and Silence, a dual-language book of Ko’s poetry in Korean and English, published in Seoul and New York by Hollym International.

As a career diplomat, Chang Soo Ko has served his native Korea as the Consul General in Seattle, and as Ambassador in Ethiopia and Pakistan. His poems, both in Korean and in English translation, have appeared in many Korean and American literary publications such as World Poetry (W.W. Norton), ViewPoint 11 (Pearson Education Canada), and Curious Cats (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Ko has received the Poetry Prize, the Poetry Prize Chosen by Poets, and the Modern Korean Literature Translation Award, in Korea. He has also received the Bolan Prize for International Merit (for poetry) in Pakistan and the Lucian Blaga International Poetry Festival Grand Prize in Romania.

Ex-diplomat Poet Weaves Metaphors from Spider Web
by Iris Moon, The Korea Herald

After stints as an ambassador, translator and filmmaker, the latest embodiment of poet Ko Chang-soo is a tiny, eight-legged creature that spends most of its time in the dark corners of houses, weaving, catching its prey and observing the curious nature of humans.
In “What the Spider Said,” his newest book of poetry, Ko, 69, uses a spider as a narrator and filter for his philosophical reflections on things both great and small.
Translated from Korean to English by the author, the book is a departure from Ko’s previous collections such as “Between Sound and Silence,” which mainly contained longer free-verse poems. His latest book consists of 177 short, epigrammatic fragments that discuss music, poetry, language and of course, the art of spinning webs.
The spider has rich connotations for authors in Western literature, from Arachne, the maiden from Greek mythology who impudently challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving match, to E. B. White’s gentle Charlotte. However, the spider was not an often seen character in Korean literature, according to Ko.
He said he chose the spider because it “is an extremely mysterious, mythical creature and it has a sense of humor.”
Although Western poets such as T. S. Eliot and Rainer Maria Rilke have been large influences on his work, he said it had also been shaped by Zen poetry. His epigrams are also strongly reminiscent of “sijo,” a traditional form of Korean poetry characterized by short, potent verses mastered by Joseon Dynasty poet Yun Seon-do and “gisaeng” (professional female entertainer) Hwang Jini.
Ko’s fluid English translation easily weaves together the spider’s point of view with his own more philosophical reflections on the nature of human life and activity. Initially, each fragment seems self-contained and only tangentially linked to the succeeding one. Yet after reading each poem, which is no longer than seven or eight lines, shared themes begin to interweave with one another, forming a web of connected thoughts and musings.
Weaving filaments, the spider’s central activity and its raison d’etre, becomes a metaphor for Ko’s art of transforming ordinary language into lyrical verse. A line from poem 61 serves to clarify the nature of these poems: “I am more moved by metaphors/Than the actual object./ My filament is a potent metaphor.”
Fluidity and metaphors open to musings of the imagination, rather than the visualization of concrete objects or concepts, are the central strengths of Ko’s light and reflective poetry.
Born in 1934, Ko served Korea as ambassador to Ethiopia and Pakistan. Since the 1960s, Ko has published several books of poetry and has translated the work of other Korean poets.

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