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This report is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

Letter from South Korea David Miller
AFTER THE KOREAN WAR, the ruins of the Myeongdong district of Seoul became a place where poets gathered. They would eat on credit, drinking rice wine and playing traditional board games in the hope of paying their debts eventually. In Myeongdong today the poets are silent. Credit, however, abounds. In place of penniless poets are crowds of shoppers. Kpop and hundreds of cosmetics stores cater to visiting Chinese tourists. It has become a cliché to refer to the ‘economic miracle’ of South Korea, but amidst the din of Seoul it is more obvious than anywhere else.

Scratch the surface, however, and a different city emerges. If you had dimmed the lights last November and December, if you had pierced the glamour for a minute, you would have heard the chants for President Park’s impeachment travelling downwind from Gwanghwamun Square. In an altogether different kind of gathering, South Koreans assembled successfully to face down the daughter of a former dictator.

At Gwanghwamun Square the poets were also silent (or ‘silenced’). Blacklisted by the state, they were among 9,500 artists and 3,000 organisations targeted by Park Guen Hye as troublemakers. This list included Korea’s most famous – and socially committed – poet, Ko Un. History on the peninsula continually returns to haunt the present, and the issues coalesce around the same figures as before. For the youth of today it was thought that politics had been exchanged for the gleam of the city, even though the older generation warned how quickly hard-won victories could ...


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