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Translator's Note: Long Finger Poem

by Peter Campion


I met Jin Eun-Young at the Seoul Young Writers' Festival in May 2006. We sat on a panel together in a sleek, windowless room. Everyone at our table and in the audience wore an earpiece with a double-channeled control; in the back of the room, inside a brown box, sat two women frantically translating between Korean and English. We heard many grand statements about creativity and internationalism, and also a good deal of squeak and crackle from those earpieces. But during our week in Seoul, the British poet Polly Clark and I pleaded with Eun-Young until she gave us a folder of poems transliterated into English. Working from that folder, and from our discussions, I wrote this version of "Long Finger Poem."

Since Jin Eun-Young's poems work by virtue of their directness, their simple surfaces beneath which larger insinuations ripple, I tried to employ no embellishment in the English. I worked phrase by phrase, paralleling the original. I did take liberties with prosody. The original is in free verse, but I found that pentameter best accommodated my impression of the tone, its play between convention and immediacy. In a statement about her work, Jin Eun-Young writes of her strange position in Korean literary culture. She admits to feeling caught between the contemporary avant-garde poets—who are often accused of being "uncommunicative," and whom she admires—and her own sincere respect for tradition. Her style rests on an edge. Like one of her great inspirations, Pak No-Hae, the leading poet of the labor movement in the eighties, she writes in a straightforward, but not an easily "accessible," order of poetic speech.

Jin Eun-Young's sensibility is one of attentive restlessness. She writes, "I have a bad memory, I am careless and forgetful. No sooner do I get deeply involved and happy reading, or meeting people and gazing at things, than I forget about them. García Márquez said he got up in the morning and wrote 'before the hands grew cold.' I want to write before the memory of things that touched me grows cold in my hands." The tone of those sentences, the humble but persistent curiosity, seems to me characteristic of Jin Eun-Young. She has a unique talent for registering the imprint of observed particulars even as they disappear.

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2007

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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