Autobiography of Death
Author: Kim Hyesoon
Translator: Don Mee Choi
Publisher: New Directions (2018)
The title section of Kim Hyesoon’s powerful new book, Autobiography of Death, consists of forty-nine poems, each poem representing a single day during which the spirit roams after death before it enters the cycle of reincarnation. The poems not only give voice to those who met unjust deaths during Korea’s violent contemporary history, but also unveil what Kim calls “the structure of death, that we remain living in.” Autobiography of Death, Kim’s most compelling work to date, at once reenacts trauma and narrates death—how we die and how we survive within this cyclical structure. In this sea of mirrors, the plural “you” speaks as a body of multitudes that has been beaten, bombed, and buried many times over by history. The volume concludes on the other side of the mirror with “Face of Rhythm,” a poem about individual pain, illness, and meditation.
"The limits of creativity here are so wide that very quickly we find we’ve fallen through the holes old wars blew open, into something like the endless dreams of millions dead."
"In the grievous wake of the Sewol Ferry incident of 2014, the Korean poet Kim Hyesoon composed a cycle of forty-nine poems—one for each day the dead must await reincarnation—to produce a harrowing work of shock, outrage, and veneration for the children lost to this disaster. Through Don Mee Choi’s extraordinary translations, we hear the clamorous registers of Hyesoon’s art—a transnational collision of shamanism, Modernism, and feminism—yield ‘a low note no one has ever sung before.’ That otherworldly tone may sound like life itself, the poet sings, ‘for even death can’t enter this deep inside me.’"
—Griffin Prize Judges Citation
Winner of the International Griffin Poetry Prize
Winner of the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize