Hanji poem by Suji Kwock Kim .....

I was doing some  research recently at the Adelaide State library and I was surprised to come  across a poem about Hanji

It was written by Suji Kwock Kim, and published in her collection of poems, "Notes from the Divided country'. She's a Korean American poet and playwright and has won numerous awards for her amazing work.

This particular poem talks about the hardships of the papermaker and she dedicates it to Liu Yoon- Young.

I found it fascinating and I'd like to share it with you along with some photos I took during my visit to Korea earlier this year.

Hanji: Notes for a Papermaker

          Shaped like a slab of granite
          marking a grave, but light,
          airy as "spirit-sheaves" lashed
          from bloodroot or star thistle,

         this sheet is not for burial
         but making and making of:
         a broth of splinters boiled to pith,
         cast then clotted to blank.

         I touch it, feeling grit and slub
         silk, rough as braille. Is it
         enough, is this how you hoped
         to earn a living, making absence

        palpable as pulp, though you laugh,
        seeing I'm shocked at how much work
        it took. Sow and mulch mulberry.
        Slash the trunks down a year later -

        chopping slant to sun so stumps
        regrow-when their wood's still
        tender but strong enough to keep,
        no worms gnawing fleam or burl.

        Soak, hack the black bark off,
        tilt the knife at a sharp angle
        to shave the green underskin
        without cutting away grain.

        Scald the peeled rods with cotton-ash
        so acid softens gnurl and knot.
        Pound for hours until they're ground
        to shreds, skeins of unlikely thread.

        You show me your blistered hands.
        Poor hands. When you strike a match
        to fire, I almost feel the skin sting,
        Kerosene flaming yontan - coal.

         I don't know what it costs you to love
         this work. More than sulfur fumes
         tasting of slag, flintsparks cracking,
         engine-shunt as your cauldron simmers

         hollyhock root to solder all
         the elements in a strange solution,
         an ecstacy, flecks shapeshifting,
         hissing milk, spit, quicksilver.
         While it smolders you drag
         slung mold and bamboo grille,
         sieving with steady arms, long strokes
         so fiber won't snarl at the heart.

         You wring water, strip your grid,
          letting grume clot to the hue
          of skull-rot. It'll bleach in sun
          to snow, tusk-tallow, peroxide-

         depending how long it's left out,
         on weather-or you'll dye it
          with beets, indigo, sweet potato,
         all the colours you have in mind.

          In my mind you've become stern.
         "For what you want to be, nothing
          is something from another slant,
          a slate, a plot to engrave spirit

          in flesh, mirror or window or O,
          Now you know how hard the labor is.
          If your words aren't worth
          my work, keep your mouth shut."

Suji Kwock Kim


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