Poet Kim Hye-soon wins Swedish literary prize

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Poet Kim Hye-soon wins Swedish literary prize

The Cikada-winning poet, Kim Hye-soon / Yonhap

By Park Han-sol

Poet Kim Hye-soon was named the winner of this year’s Cikada Prize, a prestigious Swedish literary award that recognizes East Asian poets, Thursday.

The award was first established in 2004 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Harry Martinson (1904-1978), a Swedish writer best known for 1956 epic poem, “Aniara,” and a recipient of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Literature. Its name, meaning “cicada” in English, comes from Martinson’s 1953 poetry collection of the same title.

It celebrates East Asian artists writing in Korean, Chinese or Japanese, whose works “defend the inviolability of life,” thus bringing into the spotlight achievements made by figures long often marginalized in the global literary system.

Before Kim, three other Korean poets ― Ko Un, Shin Kyung-rim and Moon Chung-hee ― have been recipients of the prize.

According to the judge’s citation, Kim’s poems remain faithful to the emotions and identity that constitute a woman’s body. Through her voice, where the feelings of tenderness and outrage coexist, her works, they wrote, take readers both to a nightmarish world and to new poetic ecstasy.

The 66-year-old poet will receive 30,000 Swedish krona ($3,300), as well as an art piece designed by ceramics artist Gunilla Sundstrom. The awards ceremony will take place Dec. 21 at the Embassy of Sweden in Seoul.

Poet Kim Hye-soon wins Swedish literary prize

The cover of “Autobiography of Death” (2018), written by Kim Hye-soon and translated by Choi Don-mee / Courtesy of New Directions

Kim made her debut in 1979 with five of her poems, including “Corpse Smoking a Cigarette,” published in the quarterly literary magazine, “Literature and Intelligence.”

Throughout her career, spanning over four decades, she has published multiple poetry collections, of which English translations include: “Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers,” “Princess Abandoned,” “All the Garbage of the World, Unite!” and “I’m OK, I’m Pig!”

The award-winning writer has also been known for her pieces on poetics ― or the theory of poetry ― dealing with nature and forms of poetry that intersect with feminism: “To Write as a Woman: Lover, Patient, Poet and You” and “Woman, I Do Poetry.”

In 2019, Kim made headlines as the first Asian woman to be named the winner of the International Griffin Poetry Prize with “Autobiography of Death,” which was translated into English in 2018 and is currently scheduled for publication in Sweden.

As its title plainly indicates, the book is about the experience surrounding death. However, it does not speak about individual death, instead turning to structural violence and the resulting death that continue to haunt the living.

It consists of 49 poems, with each piece representing one of the 49 days during which the souls of the dead navigate the journey to their next rebirth, according to Buddhist tradition.

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