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The Editors Have Their Say
The editors of SIJO WEST discuss aspects of this favorite Korean lyric. Do not be surprised if they sometimes disagree. If two people always agree, at least one of them is superfluous. Believe it or not, most editors are people, and we fight hard against being superfluous.
If you would like your verse to appear here, send it to us for consideration either for this space or elsewhere in our sijo pages. We do not belong to the cut & slash school of criticism, so we will not ridicule your work. We try to be friendly, helpful, light and even occasionally interesting.
If you have comments about our comments, please join in. We view Dueling Sijo as a continuing conversation with our readers, and conversations are not just one-way streets.
Perhaps recall spinning thread, a caterpillar's ungainly crawl?
If we can jog your memory, maybe there's hope for me.
***Larry Gross, SIJO WEST #1, 1996
Elizabeth St Jacques: Immediately, I smile because of the pleasing rhythm. I particularly appreciate the rise and fall in lines 1 and 3 that trace a butterfly in flight. I also like the way this sijo opens with a question, an interest-gathering device that is further developed in line two. Lots of leeway for development in that technique.
Larry Gross: Thank you kindly.
esj: Line 2 is truly impressive: Rather than remaining in the present or moving into the future as expected, we are taken further back in time. A pleasing turn, Larry.
lcg: I am twice blessed. Now I'm ready for the counterpunch!
esj: No, you're safe for awhile. I like that the first word in the last line suggests a possibility of change; that's the twist we expect at that point in a sijo. It surprises us with an echo from line 1 (remember/memory). The final punch comes when we are pulled back into the present and end on a note of hope.
lcg: You've hit on a device I seem to use often in my sijo: the question and response pattern which links the first and last portions of a verse. I probably over-use that technique, but I find it an effective way to strengthen structure and provide a feeling of completeness.
The Q-R approach is really a variation of If-Then logic: If this is so and this is so, then it follows that.... Laura Kim once pointed out to me that I seem to favor that logical arrangement and wondered if it were suitable in a genre that stresses feelings. I had seen it used in translations from the original Korean, but still she made me doubt myself until I read (in Richard Rutt's BAMBOO GROVE, I think) that the Masters used it frequently.
esj: I think the 3-fold pattern fits this particular genre well.
lcg: It seems to me that classical sijo, with its turn in line 2 and twist in line 3, echoes Hegel's dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis), and you can't get much more logical than that.
esj: Oh whee, he's getting scholarly on us! Seriously, I find the question-response method ideal for sijo. Richard Rutt is certainly one of the present-day experts in the translation of sijo into English, and he says that in sijo "a dialogue between the poet and the listener is usually presupposed."
lcg: I'm glad that's settled.
esj: So let's move along. Your sijo is particularly interesting because you address the butterfly as if it were human, an equal, a friend; so there is a Zen quality to it. You are troubled by forgetfulness, but wonder, doesn't my little friend "remember" where to go in his life cycle? Of course. Ahhhh, then there IS hope for your memory after all. Besides the light humor here, I find the symbolic formula comforting: butterfly = Spring = renewal = hope.
lcg: I ran the risk of the romantics there: a mixture of apostrophe and personification, both of which can raise eyebrows in certain poetic circles, but I couldn't get the personal at-oneness I wanted any other way. The cyclic symbolism can be awfully cliche-ish, too, so I'm glad to get your favorable response. The humor softens it, I hope, suggesting that the speaker is having a gentle chuckle at his own earnestness. That self-depricating attitude is very common in Korean sijo.
lcg: I can't stand all this kindness!
esj: Another interesting point is your choice of 15/16/14 syllables. The long second line illustrates the thread, the caterpillar and its act of crawling. On the other hand, the shorter lines on either side seem to emphasize memory loss. Too often we overlook the visual aspect that can give a poem extra whoomp. Doesn't work for every poem, but we should be on the lookout for the possibility. Thanks for the pleasure, Larry. A pleasing, well thought out sijo.
lcg: A-Hoo-Ah, as Garrison Keillor says when something leaves an impression. It's great when a technique evokes a desired reaction. Sometimes we overlook the effect that interplay of sounds and length of syllables can have on a reader. Since line length in sijo is so consistent, I was afraid the slight variation might go unnoticed. In fact, to make the caterpillar's crawl last longer, I filled line 2 with larger syllables than the vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant procession that dominates lines 1 and 3. I was interested not only in making the caterpillar's journey look longer, but also in making it feel longer on the tongue. In contrast, the shorter, brisker syllables in the other two lines were meant to make the speaker less sure, more tentative. The relation between memory and line length that you picked up on hadn't occurred to me, but I'll happily take credit for it.
esj: We need always to remember the interplay of meaning, sound and structure. Their combined effect should be greater than the sum of their parts. Well, that's it for this time. Eventually we'll treat readers to another duel, maybe more bloody than this one turned out to be! We aren't always this agreeable.
lcg: But we're lovable!