February 4, 2014
“Illustrious commander is on the road of advance” and other romantic wintry poems from the DPRK
by Dustin Kurtz
Get a fire started. Let that bottle of wine breathe a bit. Roll out your favorite bearskin rug. Get good and oiled up. That’s right, it’s time for some winter poetry
I know, I know. Maybe you, like me, are sick of the same old Frost and Hall and Basho and Celan and Olsen and Dickinson and Broadstreet in your winter poetry reading. Maybe you’re missing some of that spark you once knew. Well now, don’t pack away your “special lectern” just yet. You’ll be heartened by the news this past week out of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
As the Korea News Service announced last Thursday, “poets across the country have created more than 100 poems and words of songs in January reflecting the spiritual world of the army and people all out in the heroic advance in the new year.” That’s right my friend, over a hundred new poems to keep you plenty hot on these cold winter nights from the Juche hitmakers up North.
Tired of “If on a winter’s night a traveler”? The DPRK has you covered, friend. Why not try the new “Song ringing out on the road of New Year advance”!
Bored with “Winter rain on a cow shed?” The DPRK can scratch that itch. Sounds like you need a helping of the equally mournful, but slightly more strident “Toward the eminence of victory in 2014.”
The standout poem of the week is reported to be a longer work, about which the KNS writes:
“Dream of year 2014” greatly moved the people as it reflects their beautiful ideal and dream of greeting the year 2014 with the confidence and optimism that they can enjoy prosperity in a highly civilized socialist country if they trust and follow Marshal Kim Jong Un only.
Mmmm, sultry. But for sheer snuggle-up-with-a-loved-one-or-maybe-just-with-that-weird-bearskin-rug-why-do-you-have-so-many-of-those-gross-things-anyhow comfort you can’t beat these:
Short poems “Bigger delight to Marshal”, poem “Illustrious commander is on the road of advance”, “Great patriot” and “Our Ship ‘Tanphung’ has a full load” represent the firm belief that only victory and glory are in store for Songun Korea stepping up the advance for a final victory under the leadership of Kim Jong Un.
You can almost taste the hot chocolate! The actual text of these poems has not, so far as I can tell, been released, but these titles are so evocative you barely need the rest, am I right?
In all seriousness, conditions for poets in the DPRK are as harrowing as for any other citizen there. I’m making light of such poetry in this post, but I have nothing but the gravest respect for these authors, and for their work, whether their fervor for the state is real or not. There is an exacting—not to mention fraught—craft in writing and rewriting such paeans, no matter how jingoistic they may sound to our ears. Compare it to, for instance, the rigid structure and restrictive topics of the classical Arabic qasida. For a fantastic discussion of poetry in the DPRK and the story of one of its most famous poets, see this excellent piece by Gwak Moon-an on Words Without Borders. I really would love to read this poetry.
Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.