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Are You Running ErrandsKim Haeng-sook

You have just witnessed an alien lifeform. You want to spread this news all across the universe, but your entire body is shaking from fear and excitement, especially your jaw is shuddering as if it would come out of its sockets./ I am completely a dream of an insect. - From “Metamorphosis”

『Are You Running Errands』

Author : Kim Haeng-sook
Publisher : Moonji
Publication date : July 22, 2020
Number of pages : 138
Format : 128x205mm
ISBN : 9788932037547

Kim Haeng-sook

Born in 1970 in Seoul. Debuted in 1999 through Hyundae Munhak. Published the poetry collections Capacity of Break-ups, The Significance of Others and others. Recipient of the 2020 Daesan Literary Awards, 2016 Midang Literary Award, 2015 Jeon Bong-geon Literary Award and 2009 Nojak Literary Prize.

Night Among Night


What is poetry writing to a poet? It is what transforms the past self – in school, forever contemplating suicide – from a bloody body to an invisible one. It is slipping into the world of the past self brooding over death and discovering another “self” existing in it, the future “self,” and reclaiming the past as something that one could properly call a past. Such poetry writing allows the poet to dare to return to the time when death, not life, was compelling, and at the same time, to discover a “powerful” future within the repeated obsession to face and endure pain.

That is how we can ascertain that the shattering which comes from the poet’s own accord, and her will for deconstruction, has as foundation a solid faith. Because she has faith that within the past that is nothing more than “chaos” (“A Half-molded Vase”) there is a power from the future that uncovers another past, and she stakes “everything” on it, the poet can shatter the everyday, present self and return time and again to the past. The poet, through this poetry writing, places the self in chaos through obsession with pain. This process divulges that the past is the very cause of our enigmatic present; ascertains the power from the future that was there and reorganizes the present and consequently, her own self.

My memory has started to create a person/ What do I consist of, so what am I/ Like a person, my memory would drag me by the arm all over the place, would pull me in a fast pace, a sense of déjà vu, like a shadow cast on a wall by the candle, flickered chillingly/ A shadow of a person bigger than the person, the shadow of an acacia tree bigger than the acacia tree/ But I’ve never seen that old person before … so strong, if my memory has already created an old person, then what has become of me/ I could not think, someone that was doing the thinking was watching over me// My memory is beginning to precede me
— “In Search of Lost Time”

I am watching a shadow. A person’s shadow bigger than the person, a tree shadow bigger than the tree. What the poet is looking at is not “us” that exists with the light that we believed was the light, but the shadow that was always present with us – the poet is looking at the shadow. Wouldn’t that world of the shadow be the ambiguous “past” that we remember, or hardly remember but face in our dreams? The past that is always bigger and stronger than us. It is our present that is being swayed by the shadows. The past is, quite obviously, the cause of the present, and the past generates the present. However, the poet, through poetry writing with this certainty, meets in the past an old person probably from far into the future, then lets them have control over “me.”

My memory precedes me. “My memory,” with the old person, confronts the new past that I failed to remember, so the new memory overtakes “me.” This is because the poet, while writing poetry, has ascertained a power that existed in the past, stronger than anything. A power that is stronger than death, something that can change a bloody body to an invisible one. Isn’t this confirmation of power a bit distant from Kafka’s desperation or the concept of death as a savior? In this aporia between hope and desperation, aren’t we leaning a little further towards hope?\

This poetry writing as another form of storytelling, of returning to the past where one was close to death – even if it is death a little short of death –  and ascertaining a stronger power from the future, forms a device with which the story can repeat and continue. The poet now has faith in this strength; therefore, can now dare to confirm my death that I could only look away from in the past, and now has converted it to life, and with this proof of victory can head further into the past I further avoided, where I was closer to death. Then in this repeated pseudo-death experience, in this story that keeps freshly repeating itself, couldn’t the poet come gradually closer to deeper death?

It returns every night, returns, it returns again, it returns like the tanned, blistered child returning from summer camp (…) night has come who dances like slim girls/ Night among night has come// Every night there is something that builds up like the snow, every night there is something that melts like the snow, there is the old man with both feet buried in the deep deep white snow, the snow built up then melted down built up then melted down and now it all melted down so there was this old man who had shivered alone for a long while with no trace of footprints of time
– “The Child Has Come”

Are You Running Errands? On closing the book of poetry collection with such a title, we realize that the question is not only being asked of the poet but to the readers as well. But really, what errands were we running? Can we say we truly feel and know what is awaiting us at the end of that road? If not, if we’re only repeating a “chilling hope,” then I’d suggest shattering a little along with the poet. The child has come. “The dark pupils that appeared as stains on that window have now all disappeared” (“That Window”). Then how about we put our faith in this beauty that the poet has shown us, and head a little into the “Night Among Night”?


By Yang Soon-mo
Literary critic

Translated by