Korean American poetry
Korean American poetry is a very young literature, coming to the fore mainly in the second half of the twentieth century. In the 1970’s, when memories of the Korean War were still fresh and were in fact heightened by the ongoing Vietnam War, there emerged a distinct voice centering on the historical and psychological issue of Koreans as a “lost” people whose destiny has been unfulfilled. This voice was often a questioning one, singing of the inexplicable predicament of a strong-spirited but disempowered people under oppression or in exile. In Gail Whang Desmond’s “Korean Declaration of Independence” (appended to her “Memories of My Grandfather: Rev. Whang Sa Sun”), she describes her attempt to understand her grandfather:
Korean Declaration of Independenceyellow from agebrittle from usage. . . . . . .How many times has he read it?Why does he read it?. . . . . . .Who are Koreans?
She explains how her grandfather arrived in the United States in 1913, full of dreams for a “good life,” for an “education,” but he has endured “nothing but pain, struggle.” She wonders about the tiny lapel pin of a flying goose that he never takes off: “Why?” Her poem is plaintive: “It’s the end of our first generation./ Will anyone ever understand?”
The questioning voice at times becomes an indictment, as in Kim Tong Il’s poems, which sing of dreams about an independent, unified “Morning Calm” (literal translation of Korea) turned into nightmares of “the land of oppressed calm”:
Tell me the silent hills,Isn’t it time...
(The entire section is 799 words.)