My desire to say things in other languages is manifesting itself as an obsession with Korean dramas. This obsession being a direct result of my determination to learn passable Korean before I return to Seoul in February. And naturally, this desire to learn Korean well enough to do more than order food in a restaurant and take a taxi has extended to my poet self. I mean, I know how I like for words to look next to one another and there is something about a SOV syntax that I cannot resist.
And then there is the thing of thinking in another language. Of understanding beyond the grammatical structure, right? How surprised I was to figure out that verbs in Korean can mean so much (Meokdah, “Let’s eat.” “I ate.”“I want to eat.” depending on the context). I am always, I think, as concerned with the culture of a language as I am with the mechanics of it. Formal and informal language, casual and polite.
Earlier this year I attended a reading/lecture by a poet, who spoke of the importance of cultural immersion when learning language. About the moment when you realize you are thinking in a language as opposed to just translating from your native tongue. She said this was critical to her work intranslation. I want to be that good.
And then I wonder if my Korean speaking/thinking self would be different than my English speaking/thinking self. Can I learn this language well enough to incorporate all the subtleties into my poems? I don’t know. I am obsessing over this. I want to know. Even now, after just about catching up on my Korean dramas over the past two weeks, I will sometimes say things differently. The melody of the Korean language is stuck in my head. Unfortunately, at the moment, I only have sufficient Korean language knowledge to speak of common restaurant fare and shopping.
I was not a productive poet my last time in Korea. Truthfully, I was unable to write about my time there. Not because nothing meaningful happened, but more because I did not know how to say the things I wanted to say, and a stubborn determination to not say it in English. After all, I was not experiencing things in my native tongue and I do not want to put my work in Korean, I want to write new work that may never be said in English. That maybe can’t be said in English. I am thinking it will go better this time. I feel more equipped. After all, what better way to approach a language than from the context of young adults falling in and out of love?