"It takes a close look to see that it is pretty. It takes a long look to see that it is lovable. You are the same." The poem <Pulkkot (Wildflower)>, composed in 2002, is a steady classic and thought of fondly by the public. The 'Pulkkot Poet' comforted people's hearts and was also selected as the most beloved poet by Koreans. He writes poems with simple and warm sensibilities about nature in an easy and concise style. He has never gone a single day without writing poetry, as publishing about 40 books of poetry over a period of 50 years. SMT met Na Taejoo, a representative national poet for all generations.
First of all, please introduce who you are to our readers.
Hello. I'm a pretty old man and live in Gongju in South Chungcheong province. I am 77 years of age and have written poems for a long time. I debuted in 1979, so it's been more than 50 years. I was a teacher in an elementary school from 19 to 62. After I retired, I was a director of Gongju Cultural Center for 8 years, and a president of the Korean Poets Association for 2 years. And I have run the Gongju Pulkkot Literary House that I set up. Sometimes, I think that maybe I'm a man on the verge of expiration.
Please tell us about the Gongju Pulkkot Literary House you mentioned.
Well, I think it was designed in 2014. There was some restoration work done on an old Japanese-style house on Bonghwa Mountain in Gongju. When I mentioned how to use this restored place, I agreed to set up a literary house using my 'Pulkkot' poetry. I thought maybe it could be a real project because I was the Director of the Gongju Cultural Center at that time. The full name is 'Gongju Pulkkot Literary House,' which 1,000 people visit every month, although it isn't a regular museum of literature yet. Plus, it was selected by the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport to be the beginning of the project to revive the old city center in Gongju. our literary house is planning to build a building of about 9963-sqft (280-pyeong) with funding of 5 billion won from Gongju City. Now we have completed the design and are taking the first step in the construction.
It seems that people could feel your poetry while there. Then, how did you start writing poetry?
I have been asked that question so many times. When I was 16 years old, I liked a girl very much, but it was unrequited love. To express my feelings about her, writing poetry was the only thing I had. So, I thought poetry was a love letter. At first, it was just a love letter for one, but in the future, it became a love letter for more people. This remains my thought forever.
We wonder how you begin your literary career in earnest. Was there any attraction to the job to you?
First of all, being a poet is not a job. It's because a job has a fixed income, but a poet does not. From the first time I wrote a poem, I decided to be a poet. It was just because I liked poems. That mindset attracted me to become a poet and has lasted for 60 years. That's all. I think the charm of being a poet is just thinking like that. Now, let me tell you the background story of how I became a poet. In 1969, I met a fellow female teacher and fell in love with her. But she didn't like me, so I fell into despair. To get over it, I started writing a poem, and that experience made me a poet because that poem was elected for the Seoul Shinmun New Writer's Contest. So, I think the woman that I loved is my hero for making me the poet I have now been for a long time. Just like the girl that caused me to write poetry for the first time when I was 16.
Just like your most famous poem 'Pulkkot,' there are so many poems about flowers. It means you get a lot of inspiration from them, so what do flowers mean to you?
Flowers mean the pinnacle of anything. The most beautiful, loveliest, cutest things are called flowers. A flower of the wedding hall is the bride; a family's flower is a kid, and a school's flower is students. I really love it, and it gives me a lot of inspiration. I can get a warm, soft, and hopeful feeling, which means the feeling of joy and also maintains happiness and satisfaction. I can't help using flowers as a poetic object. Actually, I got the inspiration for the poem, 'Pulkkot,' from having to think positively about some mischievous children in the elementary school where I was principal in 2002. So, it means that the poem arose out of the children's negative behavior. Therefore, not only good things give positive results, but sometimes negative things also give me positive inspiration. That is finally the charm and grace that poems, flowers, and life give us.
The prose collection <Boy with Luv> published this year is a work that repeats the lyrics of BTS's songs from the poet's perspective. How did you get this kind of inspiration?
Oh, that book? It is very exceptional for me. I'm a person who is unfamiliar with fashion and doesn't keep up with TV or media. But one day, I got a proposal from a publishing company to write something. They told me, "You are a nature lover living in the countryside, and looking at your poems, you seem to pay endless attention to everyday, trivial things, and that's why we would like you to write a commentary on BTS's lyric book." For a more specific reason, they said they would name the book "Boy with Luv," and I was the perfect person for that. That's why I wrote the book, and I learned a lot from writing this collection of poems.
Please tell us a way or tip to write good poetry.
When I first became a poet, I wanted to write pretty credible poems. I thought that was a real poem. So, I started imitating some poems that other poets had written. As time has passed, now I write in my own way. That is writing a poem like it's not a poem. In other words, it's about not imitating others. Actually, my goal is to bring out empathy in many people using a never-before-seen poem. I mean, I write poetry that not only guarantees specificity but also maximizes universality, that is, empathy. To do this, I tell myself four things. Be short. Be simple. Be easy, and have an impact. On top of that, I order my poems to be lighter. So, I ask them to go further, to the unknown readers, and to take root. The next thing I want to say is, when writing a poem specifically, I focus on words spoken by mouth, not words spoken in writing. As such, I memorize and write them in my mouth. Using that way, it's good that I don't have to modify many poems after I write them.
You have published a collection of poems with various concepts, including the fragrant book of poetry with the scent artist Han Seohyung, a collection of poems containing paintings by the artist Kim Dooyeop who is famous for 'Drawing Grandmother.' Also, you have collaborated with Yura, a member of the girl group Girl's Day. How do you plan these various projects, or by what criteria do you decide who you want to collaborate with?
Most of the books were written at the suggestion of publishers. But it's not that I had no connection with them at all. Most importantly, I know them personally, I like them, and I understand what they do. I have never met Kim Dooyeop, the grandmother painter, but I wrote a congratulatory poem when she first published her collection of paintings. I already knew that Yura, the actress and singer, liked my poetry, and we met each other when I held an exhibition after publishing one of my books. The latest scented collection of poems, "To Your Green, Again," was also published by scent artist Han Seohyung because she wanted to come to the Pulkkot Literary House and publish a book connected to it. It's not that I decide who to collaborate with, but rather that I follow it. So, the initiative isn't with 'me,' it's with 'you.' And there are more of these books to come. Na Taejoo's book of poetry with comics, Na Taejoo's transcription of poetical works, Na Taejoo's collection of poetry with miniature paintings of wildflowers, and the illustrated book of poems with the fairy tale artist Shin Sunmi.
What people in particular do you recommend become poets?
Writing poetry is impossible as a job, yet who would I suggest should write poetry? I would encourage someone with a special soul to write a poem. Compared to other people, I would like to recommend poetry to someone who is lonely for no reason, sad for no reason, and has a lot of things that she or he misses and regrets. In other words, if you are an exceptionally susceptible person with a particularly sensitive and picky personality, you would be suitable for writing poetry, and it seems that would help save that person's soul and life.
If there's anything you want to say to university students who are writing poems somewhere, please go ahead.
To write a poem, you must first be soft-hearted and humble. It is fundamental to have a good heart. I cite curiosity, longing, and love as the driving force for writing poems. And I pick passion as the energy that supports those three things. I'd like to ask you if you have them. you also should be diligent about writing poetry. You must listen to everything and record it fully and carefully. When inspiration comes, you need the quickness and sincerity to make note of it immediately. Also, there must be interest and love for others and the world. After all, I'm talking about communication and interaction here. Poems and poets should try to be the ones who have a good influence on the world. Looking closely, looking for a long time, and listening attentively to others' words will lead you to become a poet.
It's September, the beginning of fall, so what's your most recommended poem for this time of year?
When I was young, I liked fall very much and I wrote a lot of poems at that time of year. Well, let me see. Is there any fall poem that I recommend? My debut poem "Under the Bamboo Grove" is also a fall poem, and so are "Song of the Empty Hands," "Fall Letter" and "Deulgukhwa." My latest book, "I Wish from Far Away," is also about fall. The poem goes like this:
Somewhere I don't know
smiling like an invisible flower
the world, by you, the only one,
gets a brilliant morning once again
Somewhere you don't know
breathing like invisible grass
the world, by me, the only one,
gets a quiet evening once again
It's autumn, please take care.
Lastly, are there any words you'd like to say to Sookmyungians?
People who live during good times tend not to know that they are lucky to live in that time. It's like when the person in the eye of a typhoon doesn't feel the typhoon. Please live knowing that good times are good times. Sookmyung Women's University is the cradle of women's education. Women are like furnaces that protect the world and create a new and beautiful world. Love yourself and love the world more with that power.
- Master's degree from the Graduate School of Education, Chungnam National University
- Elementary school teacher (1964~2007)
- Literary debut via the Seoul Shinmun New Writer's Contest (1971)
- Director of the Gongju Cultural Center (2010~2017)
- 43rd President of the Korean Poets Association (2020~2022)
Park Gil Yeonseo / Society Section Editor
Kim Jang Yunsun / Reporter