Study authors life and works
By Han Sang-hee
Translating poetry can be difficult as it expresses multiple, abstract meanings and words. This was exactly the case for Kim Ha-na and John Mokrynskyj, the winners of the Commendation Award in the 41st Modern Korean Literature Translations Awards contest in poetry.
The duo translated Kwon Cheon-hak’s works, who is, surprisingly, Kim's mother.
``In order to introduce her works to a broader audience outside Korea, I have been diligently translating her poems,'' Kim told The Korea Times. According to Kim, the works of Kwon are very visual, which makes the poems more powerful, and thereby very tricky to translate.
``She uses a broad range of techniques when composing her poems by giving each poem a unique flavor,’’ Kim added.
Choosing the right pieces is always hard, but the two agreed that they wanted to introduce more of Kwon's works to more readers.
``I felt it a shame that we had such a talented poet in our midst, but that due to the barrier of language, no one here was able to appreciate her work,’’ Mokrynskyj explained.
``The poems that we chose illustrate well a unique style of the poet and represent Korean culture and history,’’ Kim added.
Kim and Mokrynskyj have been on the literary scene for quite some time: Kim working as the Korea Studies Librarian at the East Asian Library of the University of Toronto, in Canada and Mokrynskyj working on translating and interpreting in multiple languages of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Ukrainian and Russian.
``After learning Chinese and Japanese, I became curious about how Korea’s culture, language and history fit into the picture. And after learning the language, it was my pleasure to begin to explore Korean literature, because literature is a direct window into the mind and very soul of a people,’’ Mokrynskyj said.
``I feel that Korean writers and their works have been deeply affected by the tumultuous history that the country has gone through, and this suffering and endurance comes through in their works,’’ he added.
Translating word for word can be quite a challenge, especially when you can’t find that perfect replacement, but for the two winners, it required a bit more than just searching for the exact match.
``I think that to become a good translator you will need to study the life of the author whose works you are translating and try to understand how his or her life and philosophy were embedded into his or her works,’’ Kim said.
This was why they continuously spent time communicating and discussing the works with Kwon, trying to understand her intentions, and perhaps this also worked as an important factor for their award as well.
The two have translated 52 poems by Kwon, and they are in the process of searching for a publisher. Perhaps their win will help them speed up the process and introduce more works by the poet.
``Translating Korean literary works is an important task for Korean literature to be introduced to the world. That will eventually help Korea to become a force in the world of literature,’’ Kim advised, with Mokrynskyj adding a bit of Korean to the already colorful interview.
``(To) my fellow translators I say, ``bunbalhaseyo!’’ (Keep it up!).