Fall 2017 Interviews

An Interview with Hwang Inchan

1. Having been born in the year of the 1988 Olympics and now having turned 30 years old, it seems like you’re at a really uncertain age. Though, of course, things aren’t perfect now, we think of the ‘88 Olympics as the symbolic time when the democracy in South Korea got started. It’s also the time that Korea started to get more international recognition. In that respect, there would be many common denominators with the generation born after the ‘88 Olympics. But at the same time, it is also the last generation to attend elementary school as “gukchoding” and pay tuition for middle school. In conclusion, I would say it feels like your generation ambiguously spans between the current and the older generations. So I’m curious how you, as someone born in 1988, perceive the lives of young people and the current times in which we live.  Also, if these phases of the times are reflected in your works, how so?

Hwang Inchan: I’m not particularly conscious of the generation that I belong to. However, I do think a lot about what it means to live as a young person of Korea in the 2010s. I always contemplate life that is not despairing, even in the age where the prospect of the future is becoming increasingly uncertain. This would be my biggest theme, which is reflected in the poems I’m writing now.

2. Your friends who don’t write literature are managing ordinary life as thirty-year-olds. I’m curious as to what kind of differences you feel between yourself, managing life as a thirty-year-old novelist, and your friends.

Life as a poet is not that affluent. But since I can only talk about what I’ve experienced myself, it’s hard to say how much different it is from the lives of my peers. I think my worries about living—like worries about the housing situation in Seoul and the uncertain future—are common among many others. From that point of view, I think it’s rather difficult to say that there is a big difference.

3. I see tiny living things or objects like a myna, bird, bee, and seaweed often appear as a medium of self-reflection. In other words, these things are the meeting points of the inner and outer world. Are you aware of these points in daily lives? If so, what would it mean to live along with these things as a human being?

“Self-reflection” feels alien to me. I think “surprise” feels more familiar than “self-reflection” because the depth and discernment required for “self-reflection” do not befit me. There are times when I suddenly feel a strange something from tiny things or things I see on a daily basis. Although I do not precisely understand what they are, I am enchanted by them, and I develop other thoughts from that enchantment. I think those things are what constitutes the elements of my life. The configuration of life, for me, feels like a huge blueprint on which numerous things that are superficial, fragmented, and floating are entangled and mixed. I think it would be exceptionally hard for us to distinguish things that are more important, more fundamental, and more in depth. The only thing we can do is to sense the distance between us and things that are relevant to us. 

4. In your interview, you often talked about the definition of “good” poetry and the poet’s attitude for writing it. Then, what kind of poems would you consider “bad” or “not okay”? And what features would they have in common?

Actually, it’s not so important to sort out bad poems from good ones. But if there is one thing that I try to refrain myself from writing, it is a poem that has given up on self-reflection. I try to avoid writing a poem which is not constructed from the reflection of the poet oneself, or which fails to bring about any changes after being composed. For me, writing such a poem is writing virtually nothing. In other words, the poetry that I aim to write is the kind that arises from processes of ceaseless self-reflection and, in such processes, discovers and brings about a certain change.

5. What will your next poems’ venture be like?

My next work will probably come out after a long while. I’m still thinking about how to proceed to the next step, following my last two works.

 

Read Hwang Inchan’s
“Washing a Myna” and four poems here

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