On October 15, 2020, the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) announced Kim Yideum’s Hysteria (a collaborative translation by Hedgie Choi, Jake Levine, Soeun Seo) as the winner of both the 2020 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize and 2020 National Translation Award in Poetry! The Lucien Stryk prize, which was inaugurated in 2009, recognizes the importance of Asian translation for international literature and promotes the translation of Asian works into English. This year’s judges were Noh Anothai, John Balcom, and E. J. Koh.
Of Kim Yideum’s Hysteria, the judges of the Lucien Stryk prize wrote:
Kim Yideum’s Hysteria, translated by Jake Levine, Soeun Seo, and Hedgie Choi, resists established Korean literary culture in the tradition of Korean feminist poetics. Page by page, Yideum’s poems against rationality, lyricism, and polite society reckon with both political and personal revolutions. Accordingly, the rendering of her poems across languages is multifold as Yideum’s words must be as intentionally irrational as historical oppression. These taut, unsettled poems burst into flames in the hands of the reader, a burning fuse creating a clear path for contemporary Korean women’s poetry.
The NTA, which is administered by ALTA, is the only national award for translated fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction that includes a rigorous examination of both the source text and its relation to the finished English work. This year’s judges for poetry were Ilya Kaminsky, Lisa Katz, and Farid Matuk.
The judges of the NTA wrote:
One of the co-translators of this good-humored and confrontational book notes in his afterword that the style of Korean poet Kim Yideum is “intentionally excessive . . . and irrational.” Her speaker is a hipster who makes brash statements about quotidian experiences that may occur in any crowded city. In the title poem, a woman being groped on the subway imagines her revenge: “I want to kill the motherfucker. . . . If only I could go to the sandy beach on the red coast, moonlit. There, beside the cool waters, I would lay him down. If only.” Yideum turns her glance on her specifically Korean milieu as well. An intriguing, illuminating volume.
Poet Kim Hyesoon has also praised Kim Yideum’s Hysteria writing:
Kim Yideum’s poetry is the landscape of confession. The confession flows inside the landscape and the landscape soars inside the confession. These two elements of her poetry are interconnected in the way eros gets pulled up to the divine place. Her poetry appears as poetry, it also appears as prose. As poetry, it’s polyphonic, and as prose, it’s defiant. Her poetry is the theater of multiple personality. You hear the voices of hundreds of people, hundreds of things. These naked living things become her poetic subjects. In each poem, the different sensations of each body are invented. She punishes herself and accepts her own unsightly, gutless face. Her poetry is engaged in the difficult process of discovering the other inside her. Her rhythm, which emerges from the fishnet of interconnections, bites power and sets her free.
And poet Aase Berg adds:
In Kim Yideum‘s elegant and grotesque poetry, objective cool, violence and despairing megalomania all rage with the crystal-clear bitterness of vulnerability. When you read her beautiful, terrifying poems, you will go to pieces.
The following poem has been excerpted from Kim Yideum’s Hysteria (published in 2019 and translated by Jake Levine, Soeun Seo, and Hedgie Choi):
Ten Days of Blood
Let’s go to that island and catch a pig!
You said, Over by the well, let’s catch the pig. Split
the pig. Eat its overflowing guts! You said
Let’s grab a bag of salt.
Who will catch the pig after my friend is dead?
Who will I share the warm kidneys with?
Give me the bladder flying high to heaven!
Did you forget our promise
because you were busy translating, analyzing?
how was that time of the month?
Where in that sentence did you put the period?
Not even Kim Koo or Yukdang knew how to do it.
Tell me! Those that saw it kept their mouths shut.
They grew old and died.
Lately I’m a baby.
I need English desperately and I’m not resisting.
Don’t assume that the ashtray will survive the cigarette’s flame
that the cutting board can endure the knife.
Today is a date that has become extraordinary.
Hypersensitive, I want to steal shit I don’t need.
I pull my panties down and put the pad on straight
but running around all day, I think to myself
what’s the point?
You are the kind of person
who doesn’t talk about what happened at the well and in the market
the day your hometown fell into martial law
and I’m like the so-called youth
I count my birth control pills and bitch about everything.
Next to the burning police station
I want to tear out my uterus and kick it to heaven.
The following poem has been excerpted from Kim Yideum’s Cheer Up Femme Fatale (published in 2016 and translated by Ji yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson:
FluxFilm No 4. (Lesbian)
When I take a walk on the bridge with my dead cat in my arms, people say strange things to me. They show unprecedented interest; they must feel certain urges at the sight of a dead thing.
When I approach, mirrors crack and coats rip. Beds fall apart, and bookcases topple. When I approach, motorcycles fall over, canned meat cracks, and plastic bags fly away. Cement becomes rice pudding, the sun hides in the river’s womb. When I approach, things run away.
A writer has his hands deep in his pockets, pulling out his machine guns and rifles. Now the four-eyes who wears glasses without lenses is aiming straight into my pupil. The guy with prosthetic legs pretends to want to shake my hand but trips me instead. I am strangled by his neckties. And I know that the guy dozing off on the bench, next to the dog, is wiretapping me, tailing me. These guys are all plotting to make love to my dead body.
A knife sweeps the guts off the cutting board, and people push me off the bridge. They blackmail me about the emails I sent about whether or not to show the black and white 16mm film I shot at my sister’s apartment. How could a film be such a threat to those who only eat things that are safely dead, who put spotlights on the dead and make special features, people with such ordinary taste?
Reviews of Cheer Up, Femme Fatale:
“In Kim’s world, the ghosts never disappear, but instead linger to demand acknowledgement for poetry that justifies its own existence.” –Publishers Weekly
“Many of these poems are devastatingly funny—a comedy that is morbid, perverse, searing, and all the more powerful for when the bubbles of mirth pop to expose a grim reality.” –Fanzine
“Kim Yideum’s texts can be read as allegories, tiny epics, and morality tales; this is a samizdat scrutinizing a country where everything—maybe anything—is for sale; acting as if ‘a clerk at a résumé service’ and taking down a necessary dictation, Kim is compelled to record her ’emptiness sutra[s]’ that reveal, finally, an emergent posthuman condition.” –World Literature Today
“This book is a bathtub ready to swallow you up and spit you out as bones. This book is a cage and a key. You should be alarmed. You should be agonizing to hold this book in your hands.” –Entropy
“If you choose to take up the scissors, be warned—as she refuses coherence into a traditional feminist narrative and formation of selfhood, Kim’s femme fatale is a subject willing to take you down with her.” –The Bind
Hedgie Choi is a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers. She co-translated Hysteria by Kim Yideum, which was shortlisted for both the 2020 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize and the 2020 National Translation Award in poetry. Her translation of Pillar of Books by Moon Bo Young is forthcoming with Black Ocean in 2021, and individual poems from the book can be found on Asymptote, The Adroit Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Columbia Journal, and Copper Nickel. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in The Iowa Review Online, Washington Square Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, West Branch, and The Journal.
Jake Levine is an American translator, poet, and scholar. He works as an assistant professor of creative writing at Keimyung University and as a lecturer at the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. He edits the Korean poetry series Moon Country at Black Ocean. Previously he served as the editor-in-chief of Sonora Review, as the poetry editor of Spork Press, and as an assistant editor at Acta Koreana. His co-translation with Soeun Seo of Kim Minjeong’s Beautiful and Useless (Black Ocean) and a book he edited and co-translated, The Poems of Hwang Yuwon, Ha Jaeyoun, and Seo Dae-kyung (Vagabond Press) will both be out this fall. You can find him at http://jakelevine.org
Soeun Seo is a poet and translator from South Korea and a current fellow at the Michener Center for Writers. They co-translated Kim Yideum’s Hysteria (Action Books, 2019) and is currently co-translating Kim Min Jeong’s Beautiful and Useless which will be coming out in October 2020 with Black Ocean.