April 11, 2014
In a wonderfully unconventional piece on Ko Un’s Flowers of a Moment (BOA, 2006), Dave Bonta of Via Negativa says, “Tonight, I don’t feel like pretending to be a book reviewer. (Does it really matter what I have to say about a guy who’s been nominated so many times for the Nobel Prize?) Tonight I would rather respond to a few of Ko Un’s brief poems as if he were right here, sharing drinks and conversation.”
Bonta continues, attempting an intimate “conversation” in verse with selections from Flowers of a Moment.
Here are a few conversation excerpts we especially enjoy:
Ko Un: From across the river
the sound of a bell reached the two of us
for us to listen to together
The sound of a bell reached us
We had decided to part
but then we decided not to part
Bonta: I remember the big bronze temple bells in Japan, how they boomed rather than clanged, the sound going on and on: the bells of Mt. Hiei that I listened to with a lover as we gazed into each other’s eyes, and the bell at Ikkyu’s old temple in the country where I trespassed one night so I could stand inside it, whispering hello to the spiders and the thousand-year-old bronze.
Ko Un: No need to know its whereabouts
A small spring in a mountain ravine
is like a sister
a younger sister
like a long lost younger sister
now found again
Bonta: The whole point of drinking, it seems to me, is that moment of recognition. I’ve had brotherly feelings toward mosquitoes sinking their drilling rigs into my arm.
Ko Un: A warship moves through the sea
near Paekryong Island in the Yellow Sea
Not one seagull’s in sight
looks as if someone has disappeared in it
I’m carrying an empty soju bottle
Bonta: When war becomes permanent, who but a poet or crackpot remembers the kind of peace that doesn’t involve desolation? The deafening howl of A-10 fighter jets can linger for half a minute after they’ve passed from view, the air like a fresh wound that hasn’t yet learned how to bleed. Then, slowly, the whine of cicadas, and this old wrinkle of earth goes back to being a mountain.
Co-translator Gary Gach also recognized Ko Un at a reading honoring and launching Flowers of a Moment. ”He’s like a waterfall,” Gach says of Ko Un and his 100+ published works. Click here to listen to the reading.