Lantern Review | Issue 6

Don Mee Choi

Translation in Process: From “I’m OK, I’m Pig”

Don Mee Choi

About the Translator

Don Mee Choi was born and grew up in Seoul and Hong Kong and now lives in Seattle. She is the author of The Morning News is Exciting (Action Books, 2010) and a recipient of a 2011 Whiting Writers Award and the 2012 Lucien Stryk Translation Prize. She has translated the following titles: When the Plug Gets Unplugged (Tinfish, 2005), Anxiety of Words (Zephyr, 2006), Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers (Action Books, 2008), All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (Action Books, 2011), Princess Abandoned (Tinfish, 2012), and Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (Action Books, 2014).

Artist's Statement

Don Mee Choi's writing space

(Above) The poet's writing space

The official written language of the Korean elite for many centuries has been classical Chinese. The Korean script, Hangûl, was promulgated in 1446 for women and commoners and did not become adopted as the official written language till 1919, the year when massive anti-colonial protests took place all over Korea. The use of Korean was banned, in varying degrees, during the Japanese occupation (1910–1945). I wanted to mention this historical linguistic hierarchy within Korea before I point out any difference between Korean and English. Korean is radically different from English in terms of grammar and syntax, to say the least. Here is a very rough literal translation of the first few lines of the poem “Dear Pig, From Pig”:

We future of some day documentary shooting. Forever live ego for organ farm project filming during. The amongst I am most beautiful actress. This thought my acting enormously help give. I am your heart become raised.

And if I were to say more, I would say that Korean is subordinate to English, to say the least. South Korea has been a neocolony of the US since 1945. So, in brief, this is the linguistic context of my translation process. It is not joyfully cross-cultural. It impacts what I choose to translate and how I translate it. For me, contextualizing the work may be the most important part of my translation process. All of my nitty-gritty translation decisions, conscious or unconscious, are affected by it. But I won’t go into detail about why this word and not that word because details are suffocating to me. I am obsessive-compulsive enough. My translation intent has nothing to do with personal growth, intellectual exercise, or cultural exchange, which implies an equal standing of some sort. South Korea and the U.S. are not equal. I am not transnationally equal. My intent is to expose what a neocolony is, what it does to its own, what it eats and shits. Kim Hyesoon’s poetry reveals all this, and this is why I translate her work.

The following poems are from a long poem called “I’m OK, I’m Pig” by Kim Hyesoon, which will be in Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream, scheduled to be published in March 2014, by Action Books. The poem is about torture. Kim Hyesoon told me that she watched a documentary about the survivors of torture during the military dictatorships of former presidents, Park and Chun, and read a book about the history of torture in Korea. She also watched a documentary about how diseased pigs are disposed of. Tortured bodies, diseased bodies, pig organs, human organs overlap and chatter and squeal incessantly, boring into each other as many things often do in Kim Hyesoon’s poems. I was ecstatic while I was translating this poem just as I was when I translated her other long poem, “Manhole Humanity,” in All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (Action Books, 2011).


Pig Pigs Out

by Kim Hyesoon (trans. Don Mee Choi)

It’s Pig, Pig who has never seen the outside, always Pig, depressed Pig, Pig who cries wolf, Pig who has chosen the most terrified pig in the world to be the king, Pig who shouts Oh, fantastic sewer! while hugging its pillow, Pig who laughs alone hoping mommy will get arrested, mommy who gave birth to Pig who will pig out till it drops dead, Pig with bloated lips who thinks the whole world is rice porridge, it's XXXL Pig, Pig who takes up the entire bed, its name can only be Pig, shivering-shivering Pig whenever it hears Cross the ocean, yes-yes Pig who has never once raised its head, Pig who pigs out from fear when it looks up at the vast night sky, Pig who pigs out thinking that Pig who pigs out is Pig

Droopy front and back limbs Pig, oinks with its tail tucked between its legs Pig, air is bundled up but why is it so heavy Pig, smells like a steaming cloud when you put your hand in its armpit Pig, unbelievably soft Pig, ultimately snuggly Pig, play all your life riding on me Pig, rats gnaw on piglets yet cozy Pig, what have you stuffed into your eyes Pig, why doesn’t Pig know that it's Pig Pig, a photograph knows a mirror knows only you don't know Pig, never has looked out a window Pig, teeth pulled Pig, sigh Pig, regret Pig, after its teeth are pulled out and its tail cut off its tongue is lonely all by itself in its mouth Pig, but whenever it opens its mouth makes pig pig sounds Pig, pork Pig

qqqq the sound of Pig crying along with a crow perched on its head
qqqq naturally it’s Pig screaming when its owner goes to jail and piss and shit rises
up to Pig’s knees
qqqq the words that Pig yells inside when it denies being Pig
qqqq the words that Pig utters You’re Pig when you turn around to look at
your mommy being taken away

qqqq most of all, the squeals of our nation’s pigs that don’t know that I’m Pig

Dear Pig, From Pig

by Kim Hyesoon (trans. Don Mee Choi)

Some day in the future, we are shooting a documentary. We are in the middle of filming an organ farm project that will provide organs for an ego that will live forever. I’m the most beautiful actress in the cast. This thought helps me a great deal with my acting. I’m raised to be your heart. I’m raised to be your lungs. I’m raised to be your skin. I’m raised to be your gall bladder. Furthermore, I’m raised to be your brain. That is to say, I keep an eye on you then quickly swap your eyes with mine. As I smile, I quickly switch your liver with my fresh liver. You never die since you replace your organs endlessly. In other words, it helps tremendously, in this line of work, that I’m a beautiful actress. I’m raised to be your sorrow, your tears, your anxiety, your fear, your defect. At times I’ve asked you Do you want to be the most bored person in the world without me? But you raise me to have me become you. Yes, yes, Master. I imagine that day when my heart goes to greet you, the day when I become you completely. But as lumpy flesh, would I be able to recognize my face? You come wearing a green fluorescent vest and tie my limbs to drag me. You are my liver, you are my kidneys, you are my heart, you are my eyes, you are my skin, no matter how much I wail, you drag me away not knowing that I am you. You occasionally shove a wooden club into me as you drag me. You need to be jailed for pig surveillance blasphemy embezzlement torture threat. You say You cancer-ridden lump of meat as you shove me into a tiny sty.