Kim Sowohl (1902-1934) belongs to the first generation of modern poets of the early 20th century and remains one of the most beloved poets in Korea today. Born in 1902 in North Pyong’an province in Korea, Sowohl began writing poetry at age 16.
Sowohl came of age during the most tragic period in Korean history, the Japanese occupation (1910-1945). The “new literature movement,” which began at the end of 19th century, blossomed during this period. Solely using the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, instead of classical Chinese characters, this literature became a symbol of patriotic thinking: it was concerned with safeguarding vernacular expressions and national identity in response to the occupation. Sowohl was among many poets who experimented with integrating traditional folk rhythms to find a new poetic meter. He succeeded in refining this new poetic genre, and is thus considered to be a founder of Korean modern poetry.
In 1923, when forty of his poems were published in leading literary journals, he was hailed as a sensitive and brilliant poet. Azalea Flower, a collection of 127 poems, was published in 1925. Sowohl was prolific throughout his mid-20s, but as his financial situation deteriorated he ceased writing and committed suicide at the age of 32. In 1939, five years after his death, Poetry of Kim SoWohl, was published—a collection of 80 poems that secured his establishment in the canon of Korean modern poetry. Many of his poems were later set to music and are still sung widely in Korea.
Sekyo Nam Haines, born and raised in South Korea, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1973 as a registered nurse. She studied American literature and writing at the Goddard College ADP and poetry with the late Ottone M. Riccio in Boston, MA. Her poems have appeared in the anthologies Do Not Give Me Things Unbroken, Unlocking The Poem, and Beyond Words; and in the poetry journal Off the Coast. Her translations of Korean poetry have appeared in The Harvard Review and The Seventh Quarry Poetry Magazine in Wales, the Brooklyn Rail, Adelaide Magazine, Ezra (forthcoming), and Mass Review (forthcoming). Her translation of “Dawn” by Kim Sowohl was chosen by the Word/Song Project and was composed into four different art-song compositions. These compositions have been performed at the MFA Boston, Longy School of Music in Cambridge, and Emmanuel College in Boston, accompanied by a discussion with the composers, translator, and audience. Sekyo lives in Cambridge, MA with her family.