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Repetition for Love’s SakeHwang In-chan
『Repetition for Love’s Sake』Author : Hwang In-chan
Publisher : Changbi
Publication date : November 30, 2019
Pages : 174
Format : 128x188mm
ISBN : 9788936424374
Repetition of Love That Is Yet To Come
According to the poet, the title of his poetry collection is an homage that takes a 60-year leap back in time to Jeon Bong-geon’s Repetition for Love’s Sake. The title poem from Jeon’s debut poetry collection is a recreation of the shattered time-space of the Korean War, a reminiscence of the past resulting from his encounter with developing children. He had proclaimed that the children, born during the war, are “a testament of love that burns more powerfully than any artillery of war.” The changed social landscape and the children who arrived seven years after the war had transformed Jeon’s memories of the past from a period of horror to love. Then, in our current landscape, what shattered memories and loves is the poet Hwang In-chan trying to restore?
His poem “Our Generation is Different” derives its title, as cited in the footnote, from the event tagline of the Candlelight Festival for Sexual Minorities: “Change has begun, Our Generation is Different.” The prologue to the poem features an “angel of the night” who caresses people’s cheeks to bless them. But after touching “my” and “his” cheeks, he runs away. No clear reason is offered for his sudden departure, but the angel’s disappearing shape seems to overlap with the lines about how “the motel room near Seoul Station vanished upon the sight of ‘he’ and ‘me’ standing hand in hand.” The “me,” whom the angel of the night won’t bless and the monsters of the dark won’t seize, doesn’t feel like a person. From the prologue material, poetic symbolisms and the Jongno sam-ga reference, the tie-in to homosexuality is not a far-fetched one. This explains why this poem, which was “rewritten during my military service,” “couldn’t be published during my military service.” The taboo of same-sex love in the military is such that until recently, its policies dictated that homosexuals be tracked down. Inside the Jongno-bound cab, the “I” repeatedly mutters in a self-mocking tone that “these things cannot be written into poetry” — that he and I holding hands cannot be love, that it cannot be a poem. And if “this cannot be poetry,” then “I am no longer afraid.” In a place where love and poetry are taboo, “I” and “he” are estranged from reality, like a pair of worn-out metaphors lasting an eternity like a taxidermied form.
“But because this is a poem, just a no-good poem,” he and I must endure the pitiful reality and people’s stares on the street. When the external constraints that prevent us from being poetry and the outdated stipulations are lifted, only the ordinary fear, which is neither sublime nor resolute, and a no-good poem remain. Rewriting them into something beautiful is a responsibility I must now bear.
There are people who hand-smack rice cakes.
Are there such people these days smacking rice cakes?
Walking down the street, I see this and that event going on.
Today, well, I see rice cakes.
The sweet rice dough is taken from the tray and is
and smacked some more.
Watching the men smacking the rice cake, I think of my uncle whom I loved as a child, whom I can’t ever see again.
I keep thinking about his delicate, pale hand
kneading the dough.
The unsteamed songpyeon I received reeked of raw beans, the most intense smell indelible from my memory.
Ah the songpyeon story is not about me
but a story I heard from a friend.
The men have finished smacking, cut the rice cakes into bite-size pieces, coated them with soybean powder and handed them out.
The dough is chewy and the bean powder is flavorful,
the kind of taste I liked as a child.
Everyone’s lined up to get a piece.
(A gust of cold breeze sends a dust of bean powder, and something deepens).
An excerpt from “Things Left Over from Smacking Rice Cakes”
The above poem has two overlapping timelines of “I,” the current one watching men hand-smacking rice cakes on a street and the one from the past with a beloved uncle. Readers may differ in their interpretations of the sensory experiences presented in the poem. But in addition to the obvious reference to sex in the phrase “smacking rice cakes,” the other phrases such as “kneading the dough,” “uncle’s pale hand” and “reeked of raw beans” imply love and sexuality between men. The difference in the two timelines is important because the present-day “I” will relive and reevaluate the sensory experiences from the past. The rice cake tasted after witnessing the male couple is reminiscent of “the taste I liked as a child.” Thus, thanks to the courageous couple and their display of love on the street, my past that was forgotten or suppressed to the depths of the subconscious is reborn as a fond memory to be cherished. The poem’s title uses the phrase “things left over” instead of “will leave” or “will be left behind” because it is perhaps oriented toward the shattered pieces of the past rather than unencountered moments in the future.
By Cho Dae-han