Ex-diplomat Poet Weaves Metaphors from Spider Web
by Iris Moon, The Korea Herald
After stints as an ambassador, translator and filmmaker,
the latest embodiment of poet Ko Chang-soo is a tiny, eight-legged
creature that spends most of its time in the dark corners
of houses, weaving, catching its prey and observing the curious
nature of humans.
In “What the Spider Said,” his newest book of
poetry, Ko, 69, uses a spider as a narrator and filter for
his philosophical reflections on things both great and small.
Translated from Korean to English by the author, the book
is a departure from Ko’s previous collections such as
“Between Sound and Silence,” which mainly contained
longer free-verse poems. His latest book consists of 177 short,
epigrammatic fragments that discuss music, poetry, language
and of course, the art of spinning webs.
The spider has rich connotations for authors in Western literature,
from Arachne, the maiden from Greek mythology who impudently
challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving match, to E. B.
White’s gentle Charlotte. However, the spider was not
an often seen character in Korean literature, according to
He said he chose the spider because it “is an extremely
mysterious, mythical creature and it has a sense of humor.”
Although Western poets such as T. S. Eliot and Rainer Maria
Rilke have been large influences on his work, he said it had
also been shaped by Zen poetry. His epigrams are also strongly
reminiscent of “sijo,” a traditional form of Korean
poetry characterized by short, potent verses mastered by Joseon
Dynasty poet Yun Seon-do and “gisaeng” (professional
female entertainer) Hwang Jini.
Ko’s fluid English translation easily weaves together
the spider’s point of view with his own more philosophical
reflections on the nature of human life and activity. Initially,
each fragment seems self-contained and only tangentially linked
to the succeeding one. Yet after reading each poem, which
is no longer than seven or eight lines, shared themes begin
to interweave with one another, forming a web of connected
thoughts and musings.
Weaving filaments, the spider’s central activity and
its raison d’etre, becomes a metaphor for Ko’s
art of transforming ordinary language into lyrical verse.
A line from poem 61 serves to clarify the nature of these
poems: “I am more moved by metaphors/Than the actual
object./ My filament is a potent metaphor.”
Fluidity and metaphors open to musings of the imagination,
rather than the visualization of concrete objects or concepts,
are the central strengths of Ko’s light and reflective
Born in 1934, Ko served Korea as ambassador to Ethiopia and
Pakistan. Since the 1960s, Ko has published several books
of poetry and has translated the work of other Korean poets.
“What the Spider Said” (74 pages, Homa & Sekey
Books) is available at www.amazon.com. (firstname.lastname@example.org)