Top South Korean poet accused of sexual abuse – in a poem
A top South Korean poet regularly tipped for the Nobel Prize for literature has been accused of sexual abuse by another famed writer in the form of a poem.
Choi Young-mi, in her recent composition Monster, described sexual harassment she suffered at the hands of a poet named “En”.
She did not explicitly identify “En”. But the character’s biographical details match those of Ko Un, an 84-year-old former Buddhist monk, who is one of the South’s most respected contemporary poets.
South Korean media and commentators have concluded the two are identical.
“Choi Young-mi exposed Ko Un,” said one newspaper headline.
Such accusations are rare in the South, where patriarchal values remain deeply ingrained and women are still expected to be chaste and obedient.
“Don’t sit next to En/the poet ‘K’ advised me, a literary novice/He touches young women whenever he sees one,” Choi’s poem begins.
“Forgot ‘K’’s advice and sat next to En/Me too/the silk blouse borrowed from my sister got rumpled ... Years later/At a publisher’s year-end party/I saw En groping a married female editor sitting next to him/I screamed/‘You sneaky old man!’”
‘En’ has published more than 100 books, the poem says – so has Ko – and it goes on: “Whenever En’s name is publicly mentioned as a candidate for Noteol (sic) prize/If he really wins the Noteol prize/I will leave this country/I don’t want to live in such a dirty world.”
In an interview Choi, 56, described her subject as “a repeat offender”.
“It was not just once or twice. I’ve witnessed so many, countless sexual harassments and abuse since I made my literary debut,” Choi told JTBC News on Tuesday. “I myself was also a victim.”
It was common for “literary elders” to target “young, single female writers” in the 1990s, she said, with victims facing professional and critical revenge if they refused such advances. Most literary editors were male, she said.
“They just keep saying that ‘we rejected your piece because it was not good enough,’ and that continues for 10 years, 20 years. Then your career is over,” said Choi, an award-winning poet who has published several books.
Without naming Ko in print, Seoul’s Hankyoreh newspaper said it interviewed “the elder poet identified as En”.
“If my behaviour is seen as harassment under today’s standards, I believe what I did was wrong and I regret it,” he was quoted as saying.
Ko has been a leading figure in his country’s literature since the 1980s, with a series of works depicting the lives of ordinary people.
Many of his works have been translated into several languages and featured in the South’s school textbooks.