Kim Shin-Suk: A Poet Who Writes with Orphans

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Interview with a culture designer – Poet Kim Shin-suk
Date of report: October 12, 2016 (Interviewed on October 2, 2016
Culture reporter: Kim Eun-jeong


We describe childhood and adolescence as bright and good times. It is said to be the time when flowers bloom or to be the best time for a life. But children who are in those days do not know it. When we think about it, we might not be very happy back then. Who am I? What is the world? What will I become? It was a time when we were frustrated by unanswered questions.

In this report, you will learn about a poet who gives writing lessons at orphanages and local children’s centers for low-income children. Below is the interview I had with Kim Shin-suk, the very poet who teaches children how to write and tries to be available for them during their beautiful but difficult times.

What made you become interested in children?
My family gave me a nickname ‘Everyone’s Nanny’. I have liked children very much since I was little. But I first met kids with social interest by creating a university club called Edusofia. I am the first graduate of philosophy at Jeju National University. This means I am the most senior of the JNU philosophy graduates. In my undergraduate years, professors of my department helped us passionately, encouraging us to have various experiences. I am grateful that I could teach at elementary and middle schools as volunteer teachers for philosophy education. At that time, my friends and I just gathered to discuss how we could have fun while studying and playing with them. I think that the experience had an impact on my other activities, including writing with children. If an adult aged over 30 only blames the wrong society, it means he has a problem himself. Turning 30, I had my own determination to make changes in the wrong society. To live up to it, I have worked as a volunteer teacher. If you do not practice writing a lot, you get to find it hard to write even one sentence, nor express yourself. It is like becoming “self-illiterate” in just the same way that you become “computer illiterate”. “Self-illiteracy” means you are completely incapable of reading your own thoughts. Does the word sound strange?

Why do you teach poetry?
I realized that children can have fun and get excited when writing about what they have experienced, not what they know. This way, they can write with vibrant ideas. However, it is difficult for me to enjoy outdoor classes or share any other long-term experiences with the children I meet at the local children’s center. As the lesson should often be given in short time, I try to read them as many emotional books and do as many activities as possible. Of the various activities, writing poems is the best. Children can have fun making sentences while combining their thoughts in different ways. As a poem is a work of art, students feel proud and rewarded when they read the works of each other and make comments on them. It is difficult to recite long texts given the short time for the class. But a poem is written in a short format, a very good format which children can take for a writing practice. Children can also recite their own works and give their respective presentations during class. I admit that I prefer to write poems because I am a poet. But I think that poetry is a form that turns man’s sense organ into a work of art. For example, when you see a very beautiful sunset, even if it is a simple musical instrument, you can not play it if you don’t have it with you. The same applies to paintings. But poetry is different. I look at the scenery, think about the shortest description, and then keep it in my mind. I think that having a lot of poetic thoughts means that you actively respond to your life and reflect on your life actively.

For instance, sentences like “The seeds of an apple rained.” or “The whale fires welcoming water rockets.” are excellent because children react instantly to the nature and animals. If a child can make such an observation, he or she may become an adult who takes every bite of an apple with earnest and reads the whale’s welcome.

Writing a poem with children is the same as opening the door that leads your life to an aesthetic world even if you cannot play any instrument, read the notes, or have no money to buy a piece of drawing paper. Poetry means, a poetical life means a task to sense your life actively. It is your life not of others. I wish to help children write poems in that fashion and have a better sense of their life, and eventually become the center of their own life, not ‘self-illiterate’.

Please introduce yourself.
When I was in the fifth year of elementary school, I accidentally read a book of Han Ha-un’s poems, and I cried a lot. In earlier years, I really loved Yun Dong-ju ‘s poem ‘Self-Portrait,’ which I saw in a secondhand bookstore. I even copied a line for my summer vacation assignment. Not knowing that adults are familiar with the poem, I jotted down, saying “Inside a well is a girl.” I joined literature clubs in my middle school and high school years. I even continued writing literary works in the university club. Come to think of it, I used to be a literary youth with nearly ten years of experience. I was even asked what kind of books I had been reading by a teacher I encountered on the hallway.

Majoring in philosophy at university, I read a lot of humanities books. However, when I came down with a flu, I read poems as if they were a cure. I also read poems when I was broken-hearted. I used to write a letter with good poems to someone I dated. As I discussed earlier, a poem turns me into a musical instrument.

But my father passed away early so I had to earn a living at young age. I spent ten years working without writing any poem. In the meantime, my business flourished, but I was getting sick. But fortunately, I met a man who really loves poetry, probably because I was serious about my love for poetry, and I started writing poetry again. Aged 34, I could take a closer look at the heartbreaking experiences I had in those 10 years I stopped writing poems, a friend’s death I experienced, the stories of those sick or dead, and the moments when I hurt others, whether I knew them or not.

As a poet, I walk on the road. Today, I walk down the path where an elderly woman picks up waste paper. The moon that looks like a sickle on my chest rises in the sky. Mother aged over 70 is asleep at this early hour, stooping herself on the bed. She is a haenyeo (woman diver) who has done muljil (diving) for more than 50 years. She is now just an old woman called ttonggun, a haenyeo who cannot dive. Mother looks like an eardrum. In fact, I have not seen an eardrum. Still, mother looks like the eardrum. Watching my eardrum-like mother, I think about what kind of worlds the eardrum borders. I sometimes lie down next to my mom and picture the image of her womb and mine, trying to find sentences that can describe such things. And I write. A poem.