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First Person Sorrowful Paperback – 4 Nov 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Bloodaxe Books Ltd (4 Nov 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1852249536
  • ISBN-13: 978-1852249533
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 1 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 519,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Un's poems take the ordinary world and peel the skin off, so that a gentle meditation on the passage of hours becomes something both beautiful and terrible as light shining through blood." -- The Quarterly Conversation "The Quarterly Conversation"

About the Author

Born in 1933 in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, Korea, Ko Un is Korea's foremost living writer. After immense suffering during the Korean War, he became a Buddhist monk. His first poems were published in 1958, his first collection in 1960. A few years later he returned to the world. After years of dark nihilism, he became a leading spokesman in the struggle for freedom and democracy during the 1970s and 1980s, when he was often arrested and imprisoned. He has published more than 150 volumes of poems, essays, and fiction, including the monumental seven-volume epic Mount Paekdu and the 30-volume Maninbo (Ten Thousand Lives) series. In recent years, more than thirty volumes of translations of his work have been published in some twenty languages. He has been invited to talk and give readings of his work at major poetry and literary festivals all over the world. Ko Un has been nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature several times, and is widely tipped to be the next Asian writer to win the award.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Graham Mummery TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 10 Nov 2012
Format: Paperback
As I write this it's less than a week since I first made acquaintance with Ko Un, both the man and the poems, at the 2012 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. That was an extraordinary experience. Ko writes in one poem:

"I write with my body alone
with my soul alone."

Whether this is a reflection of his Korean roots, or a feature of him, I don't know, but as he read and spoke, it was as if everything was delivered with his whole body and not just his voice.

Reading these in a book is not quite as powerful as that. Even Ko's marvelous writing perhaps cannot completely capture his presence -he sometimes suggests that poems themselves are not completely adequate to capture experience- but this collection does give something special. Indeed it surprises me that this is his first book to be published in Britain because he already has a substantial international reputation with plaudits on the cover from the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure and Andrew Motion. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Prize. What we get here makes me understand why.

Korea's (both North and South) history has been checkered with being caught between China and Japan who at times in history seem to have occupied the country and tried to suppress its culture. Having studied a Korean martial art, I have a cursory awareness of its history which is alluded to in some of the poems which the translators have provided notes to explain when necessary, But there is much more than that here.

Readers of translations of Japanese, Chinese and Zen poetry will also find similarities in some poems with focus on the moment, the love of nature, mountains, rivers the seasons and clouds.
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I bought First Person Sorrowful because I've been trying to get to know more about Korean culture, since my son married a Korean woman six years ago. I saw some videos of Ko On on Youtube and liked him as a person. He is the most famous living Korean poet, a prolific writer. In Maninbo, (Ten Thousand Lives) he painstakingly documented those lives of "ordinary people" who had influenced, and contributed to, his own life. He has a background of political protest and imprisonment for his belief in individual and national worth and freedom. These themes are echoed in this wide-ranging selection. His rootedness in, and love for, Korea, is ever present, a fitting landscape in which to explore many intriquing and thought-provoking perceptions. An excellent introduction to Korean culture. A courageous man and wonderful poet.
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