Korean poetry workshop

This online workshop focuses on ‘SPACE BOY WEARING SKIRT’ by Lee Jenny, chosen by Writer in Residence, So J. Lee. Beneath you can see the original Korean text, presented along with a ‘literal’ translation, provided by So J. Lee.

You can submit your translation through the form at the bottom of this page. It may help to format your poem in Word (or another text editor) to adjust the shaping of your text, and then copy/paste this into the submissions box. We’ll endeavour to preserve your poem’s shape when we publish it online.

Please send us your translations by 31 August and So J. Lee will pick their favourite submission to feature on the MPT website.

So J Lee’s residency is supported by LTI Korea. Find out more.
Submit a translation

Original Poem

치마를 입은 우주 소년

Original poem by Lee Jenny

A korean poem, shaped like a person in a dress

Listen to a reading of this poem by the poet Lee Jenny.

Literal Translation

SPACE BOY WEARING SKIRT

Literal translation by So J. Lee

 

STAR   STAR
STAR   STAR
PINE FOREST’S SUN
MAY’S MILD ACACIA
WEIRD AND LONELY VANISHINGPOINT
LIKE ROCKET FLYING HIGH
SPACE BOY WEARING SKIRT
FROM MIDHEAVEN
NOT SO FAR
BY SILENTLY CLOSING EYES AND OPENING EARS
NIGHT OF DANCING WITH TREES INSIDE FOREST
IN SKY CLOUDS DOONGDOONG DISTANT DRUMSOUND
LIKE SHADE SHADOWS CAST
BLACK-VEINEDWHITEBUTTERFLY WHITEPOWDER BRUSHING PAST
TREE SMELL THAT DISAPPEARS AS SOON AS IT IS SMELLED
WANT TO REMEMBER BUT CAN’T REMEMBER
OUTSIDE IS BRIGHT INSIDE DARK CAVE
AURORA AURORA NOISE INSIDE ATMOSPHERE
FUTURE’S LENGTH IS THE SAME AS PAST’S LENGTH
SO DON’T WAIT FOR ME MEMORY OF SPACE BOY
WIND HELIX TURNING THE CORNER BASEMENT WHERE TAMBOURINE SOUND CAN BE HEARD
WORD ENDLESSLY CIRCLING ALONG SUN’S EDGE BOOK FULL OF QUESTIONS
ROSY   ROSY
GRAPE   GRAPE
SATURN   SATURN
TANGERINEJAM   TANGERINEJAM
MERCURY   MERCURY
WATERDROPLET   WATERDROPLET

 

If this text is not displaying correctly, click here to view a screenshot.

Help on translating this poem

Notes from the poet, Lee Jenny:

This poem draws from my memory of visiting a white pine forest in Toechon-myeon of Gyeong-gi Province.

Though it was mid-day, when I looked up at the sky from the base of these tall trees, the sun was flickering between the branches

and gave a little dark yet cozy feeling that felt surreal, like a sanctuary for my heart.

Afterwards, looking at the photos I took of the sky sunlit between branches and of the white pine trees

I suddenly came to think about a different space than reality.

Just as I felt, without considering the meaning of the poem at all, 

just as it was being written, as if to write from dictation,

I started writing the first words: star star. 

 

As I kept writing, the ‘star star’ felt like the antennae of a space boy,

so I thought I’d center-align the poem and write about the space boy.

I wrote the poem on the next page, ‘Earth Girl Wearing a Rain Poncho,’ a year later, thinking it’d be nice for ‘Space Boy’ to have a buddy. 

Though I don’t have any special requests for the translators,

in case I can help,

It’d be nice if you could recreate the shape of this concrete poem illustrating a space boy

as well as his lonely but calm and dignified attitude. 

I wonder if you could make your translation a bit funky

but I also hope that the sounds and meanings can be conveyed well in the translation 🙂

Notes from the translator

Notes from Writer in Residence, So J. Lee:

  • We all sort of know what we mean by a ‘literal’ translation, but I seldom engage in it for reasons already expounded by Jen Calleja and Sophie Collins. I’d really appreciate it if every participant in this workshop could reflect on the role of ‘native speakers’ in literary translation. That said, I’m excited to introduce this poem to a wider readership and facilitate engagement with Korean poetry. 
  • Lee Jenny is a poet and a musician who sometimes sings her poems and plays guitar at readings. She is a master of rhythm and rhyme, as I said in the second issue of chogwa, and her poems made for/through/with the Korean language offer myriad translation opportunities. Though ‘Chimareul ibeun uju sonyeon’ (‘Space Boy Wearing a Skirt’) is not as rhythmically exacting as ‘Neoulgwa noeul,’ it is clearly exacting in its shape.
  • Korean doesn’t have capital or lowercase letters, so I capitalized everything to give participants more options for diverging from my version. 
  • Korean is a subject-object-verb language unlike English, so certain lines go more clearly together in the source poem than the literal translation, which has not rearranged any lines for clarity. (For more guidance, a list of related lines: ‘space boy wearing skirt, flying high like rocket,’ ‘not so far from midheaven,’ ‘night of dancing with trees inside forest by silently closing eyes and opening ears,’ ‘trees smell that disappears as soon as it is smelled / what one wants to remember but can’t remember’)
  • Korean is a pro-drop language, where pronouns are not specified. Whose eyes were closed and ears were opened? Who wants to remember but can’t?
  • The word between clouds and drum sounds (what I simply transliterated into ‘doongdoong’ is doubly onomatopoeic in that it describes both the clouds’ floating and the drums’ beating. I promise you, it works in Korean!)
  • The black-veined white butterfly is called an aporia, but I chose to describe it because I think Lee Jenny inserted the adjective ‘white’ into the butterfly’s name to go with the ‘white powder’ in the same line.
  • Rosy, Saturn, and mercury are transliterated from English to Korean in the source, despite there being Korean equivalents to these words. I also wanted to highlight how the space boy’s legs are comprised of single words, so I grouped what become compound nouns in English.