Nadia Park on translating Kim Soon Mi

Nadia Park


on translating Kim Soon Mi


Kim Soon Mi chooses words that often seem to float on their own, carrying a great deal of movement and feeling in each word that makes her poetry difficult to translate. This first poem I translated carries a sense of depression and desperation starting from the very first word, 과오로. Is it a mistake? An error? A problem? A fault? A regret? I choose the word “mistake” because there can be a certain amount of sadness in this word, but there is nothing that can be done with what has happened in the past. There is only the option of moving forward with whatever is to come. Thus, when describing the actions of the shorebirds, there needed to be a desperation in the simple actions they were performing. As Kim states, her images of shorebirds are those of constant movement and a need to get from one point to the next, and felt this reflected her own life, especially when she most recently had depression. Furthermore, I took liberties in translation by adding more lines than the original, as I wanted to emphasize the desperation the narrator emits throughout the poem.

“Like an illusion, poetry” was written as a moment in the year 2000 when Kim decided to become a poet. But the word, “illusion” was the most difficult word to translate. The word in English, coincidentally means “welcome” as well as “phantasm/illusion/fantasy.” Kim states that she did not intentionally choose this word, but it ultimately seemed to give readers that potential connection. Yet, when translating the poem, since we do not have a homophone word that holds both definitions, I wanted to focus on making sure the narrator was in a fantasy world, displaced from whatever current location they are in, and instead in a sort of mystical environment, where the moon would glow in vibrant color in an unbelievable size, and poetry would seem to be both present and somehow unattainable at the same time.

about the author

Kim Soon Mi (1959–present) is a South Korean poet born in Uiseong in the Gyeongbuk region of South Korea. Kim’s way to becoming a poet was not always at the forefront of her professional aspirations. In elementary school, she wrote a poem that was ultimately framed in the hall of her school after she graduated. That moment gave her a sense of pride and expanded her love for poetry. While she attended university to become a kindergarten teacher, she always maintained her love for the arts, not just poetry. Obtaining inspiration to pursue poetry upon reading Joongang Daily’s “The Morning in Which There is Poetry” and having studied creative writing in a poetry class outside of standardized education along with a cultural class called “Scent of English Poetry,” she developed and continued to polish her art. She debuted in 2006 with the recommendation of poet Jung Il-geun and published her first poetry book, The Woman of Chagall in 2015, and will be publishing her second poetry book, The Woman of Terrace, in 2021.

about the translator

Nadia Park graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2019 as a communications major and French and consumer psychology minor. She is currently living in South Korea for the first time and has been balancing life working between global marketing in an IT company and being a barista. As a former member of DoubleSpeak, she continues to fall back into the world of poetry and translation both consciously and unconsciously, discovering and encountering non-English poems and this year — a poet.