Kim Kyung Ju is a multitalented creative who is a poet, dramatist, and performance artist based in Seoul, South Korea. Before becoming a well-known poet, he worked as a copywriter, ghostwriter, and wrote pornographic novels. His plays reached a multinational level in several countries. He has written and translated many books of poetry, essays, and plays. He has been the recipient of many prizes and awards and one prestigious prize bestowed by the Korean government called Today’s Young Artist Prize. Jake Levine is an American translator, academic, and poet who is an editor for the Korean Poetry series Moon Country published by Black Ocean.

Nature and man blend together to create a verisimilitude of South Korea’s natural elements and wonder. The inner romantic of the reader will magically spill out in “The 13 Phases of the Moon.” This poem evokes the hungry senses, immersing the reader to palpable imagery of unseen softness found through nature. The unnamed narrator explores the forest, city, and mountains as if they are indulging all of their primal pleasure in the present. The connection to nature beautifully reoccurs in the collection in an otherwise overwhelming majority of poems depicting harsh milieu.

Hauntingly tragic describes many of the poems in Whale and Vapor. The poem “Feet Left After Being Burned” starts off revealing two feet in a crematorium kiln. The poem describes the corpse being boiled in a kiln, previously an unidentifiable man who was found washed up on a shore alone. Who was this man? Why does this dead person seem insignificant?

You can’t help but wonder why this man was found dead on the beach. The dead body being burned seems like a commonplace incident, almost ritualistic. It is reminiscent of the tragic ferry MV Sewol ship sinking on April 2014 in South Korea. The capsized ship had a death count of 304 people. Many poems are reminiscent of historical or cultural incidents as if it is imbedded in South Korean livelihood like a permanent scar to be reminded of.

There are striking amounts of poems pertaining to mysterious heritage, missing family members, orphans, and disappearances. In “Seasonal Intervals,” victims of accidents and estranged people seem to be akin according to the narrator as the narrator humorously yet sternly ruminates while using the bathroom. In “Registering Family to the Place Where Father Was Born,” the narrator recalls not knowing a father’s hometown. It comes to the point where a baby needs a hometown on their registry, but is left for further assumption. When it comes to community, belonging, and family, there is a mixed bag of emotions stemming from loss, grief, and disillusionment. This collection gets deep into the heart of unspoken feelings and experiences.

Kim Kyung Ju was one of the pioneers to lead a new style of poetry called Miraepa (also known as future-wave, future movement, or new wave). This style of poetry emerged during the time of the International Monetary Fund crisis (IMF). South Korea’s conglomerates engaged in risky business behavior and thus led to the country’s financial demise. The country faced years of major economic downturn and stunted recovery.

In this series, you will find yourself immersed in the economy and culture reminiscent of that period and a period when the country went through dark times. It is a romantic collection full of beauty despite misfortunes. These poems are a collective of South Korean lived experiences such as in shared tragedy, shared thoughts, shared emotions, and happiness. Read this collection for a refreshingly modern new wave perspective that is breaking tradition in South Korean poetry.   

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