This article follows the poetry translation workshop on ‘SPACE BOY WEARING SKIRT’ by Korean poet Lee Jenny.
The workshop was set by 2020 Writer in Residence Soje (FKA So J. Lee), and supported by LTI Korea. Read on to find out what Soje thought of the different versions submitted – and which pieces were their favourite…
Pictured: the original Korean text of ‘SPACE BOY WEARING SKIRT’ by Lee Jenny
I want to extend my gratitude to all twenty-seven contributors to the Korean workshop for Lee Jenny’s poem ‘SPACE BOY WEARING SKIRT.’ Shout out to those who uploaded earlier in the month – we can see at which point someone’s poetic choices started affecting others’ and undoubtedly encouraged more translators to join in!
It was really fun to notice who let the source shape guide the line breaks (Jennifer Gayoung Lee, Alison Flett to a certain extent), who reshaped the Space Boy to preserve the source breaks (Ainee Jeong, Elizabeth De Zoysa, and more), who gave the Space Boy a complete makeover (Anton Hur, Beatrix Livesey-Stephens, Maia Brown), and who did some other uncategorizably marvelous thing.
Some things I appreciated: Vivian O’Shaughnessy’s ‘SPACE CADET’ as well as the newly asymmetrical antennae and legs, Si Yon Kim’s use of an ampersand, an em dash, and underscores to modulate line length, Ainee Jeong’s excellent ‘clouds bounce badum badum a distant drum’ for DOONGDOONG, Dyza Vanska’s use of extra spaces as caesura-like breaks and rhythmic ‘kupukupuputihbelanghitam bubukputih berlalu,’ Dahyun Kim’s cute hat for the space boy and ‘that which cannot stay remembered’ as an alternative translation of the Korean, Lydia Mekonnen’s poetic interpretations such as ‘a butterfly snows… white dust to coat’ and ‘boy-who-is-now-nebula,’ Abhilipsa Sahoo’s ‘COSMIC LAD’ and later ‘SPACE CADET’ à la Vivian O’Shaughnessy, as well as the remarkable ‘words circumgyrating along the sun’s endless edge,’ Jennifer Gayoung Lee’s fun substitutions such as ‘bling | bling’ and ‘PlipPlop’ as well as equal signs, Nurazliana Ab Aziz’s slender boy whose skirt appears to be fluttering a bit, also with asymmetrical legs, Lorna Amor’s alliterative ‘distant doongdoong of drums’ and clever decision to shape the legs differently, Anton Hur’s beautifully redesigned silhouette in memoriam of drag queen Chi Chi DeVayne, L.S. Reyna’s ‘Cosmic Boy’ and vertical ‘S | T | A | R’s, as well as ‘snowflakes from snowbutterflies,’ Duncan Chambers’ ‘crown of stars’ that looks like a crown and convincing ‘thunderclouds rumble drum,’ Lydia Allison’s curious use of parentheses and rerendering of the legs into a list of ‘EVERYTHING SWEET,’ Archana Madhavan’s stellar use of the star emoticon and transference of shape, Soo Choi’s ‘clouds floating in the sky | booming like distant drums’ and generous spaces between the future and the past, Brigida Ferreira’s ‘port-ray of space boy’ and unexpected departure into ‘the suncircle: an endless mise en abyme of labyrinths,’ Victoria Punch’s bold statement that ‘F U T U R E = P A S T’ including the use of an equal sign à la Jennifer Gayoung Lee, Alison Flett’s reshaping of the antennae into a cute circular one and use of periods, Yaşar Oğuz Ergun’s use of spaces most reminiscent of Dyza Vanska’s and ‘hey, word is hurtling down to circle the sun,’ Tamsin Blaxter’s lively multilingual version including the line ‘2 lines bcom 1’ as a definition of VANISHINGPOINT, Elizabeth De Zoysa’s ‘Iggy stardust lands’ as an effervescent celebrity tribute (If this were chogwa, I’d place Elizabeth’s version next to Anton’s) and legs made of questions including punctuation marks à la Alison Flett, Beatrix Livesey-Stephens’ really fun shape and new interpretations such as ‘the thread of the past becomes the thread of the future’ and ‘space boy, don’t make your memories grasp at me,’ Mattho Mandersloot’s notably neat shape and ‘so be on your way oh space boy memories,’ Maia Brown’s inventive use of DOONGDOONG with upper and lowercase letters, italics, and extra limbs, Lydia Harris’ after poem, specifically ‘your song from your tongue, flights | of feathered words sealed,’ Jaewon Che’s vertical ‘S | T | A | R’s à la L.S. Reyna (but double!) and split syllables in ‘RO | SY | PO | DO | SA | TURN’!
Special thanks to Dyza Vanska and Nurazliana Ab Aziz for translating into Indonesian and Malay, respectively. I wish my comments could’ve been more substantial than what I could notice visually.
I was supposed to pick one, but hear me out: I have three.
Trimmest: Archana Madhavan
I promised myself that I’d celebrate Space Boy in all shapes and sizes in my evaluations, as it’s clear even from my ‘literal’ translation that the English version would get wider in frame. Nonetheless, I have to give credit to Archana for her visual precision without losing poetic sense or even straying all that far from the source text. I also considered emojis for the antennae and legs, but I really like Archana’s solution. Impeccable!
Funkiest: Maia Brown
Need I say more? I spent a couple days weighing my decision and kept thinking back to Maia’s version: its unique shape, its fun combination of lowercase and ALL CAPS, italics and punctuation marks! Clever all around.
Reverbiest: Jennifer Gayoung Lee
Jennifer was the first to use equal signs in the line ‘future’s distance == past’s distance,’ and I’m convinced that’s what influenced not only Victoria Punch’s ‘F U T U R E = P A S T’ but also Mattho Mandersloot’s ‘past and future are equal in length’ and Jaewon Che’s ‘THE FUTURE’S LENGTH IS EQUAL TO THE PAST’S LENGTH.’ Jennifer’s ‘PlipPlop’ also likely inspired Maia Brown’s ‘plip-plop plip-plop’! For that I pronounce her version ‘reverbiest,’ as in ‘produces most reverb.’
Please note: you may need to open the beneath poems full size on a computer screen to see correct formatting.
spaceboy wearing skirt
pine forest sun
sweet acacias of may
a strange & sad horizon
this spaceboy in a skirt
flying high like rockets
not so far from us
eyes closed soft, ears listening
the night we danced with forest trees
clouds afloat drum booming
shade-like shadows falling
butterfly trailing fairydust
the trace fragrance of trees
how I yearn to remember, but can’t
bright outside of the dark cave
aurora aurora noises in the air
the future is just as long as the past
so don’t wait for me, memory of spaceboy
spiral wind turning a corner, jingling sounds in the cellar
words ever-hovering at the sun’s edge, a book full of questions
space boy wearing skirt
pine forest’s sun
may’s mild acacia
like a rocket, flies high
SPACE BOY wearing
SKIRT from MIDHEAVEN
(not so far)
eyes silently closing, ears opening
in the forest, a night dancing with trees
in the sky, clouds drumming a distant song,
O shade, like shadows cast O
O newspaper butterfly brushes past O
N white powder wings N
G tree scent vanishing G
! as soon as it is felt !
! wants to remember but can’t !
OUTSIDE is bright inside is DARK CAVE
AURORA noise inside the atmosphere AURORA
“FUTURE” is the same length as “PAST”
so don’t wait for me, MEMORY of space boy.
wind helix turns a corner into a basement
where tambourine sounds can be heard-
words circling endlessly along the sun’s edge,
a book full of questions
Jennifer Gayoung Lee
Spaceboy in a skirt
pine forest sun
may’s gentle acacia
strange& lonely horizons
flaring up like a rocket, or
Spaceboy in a skirt.
It’s not far from
eyes shutting softly and ears yawning
dancing nights through the forested trees
clouds bobbing in the sky, faraway drum
sounds& shade cascading into shadow, black
-veined white butterfly brushing white powder
tree-scent vanishing the moment you sense it
wanting desperately but unable to remember
blindingly bright outside the cave dark inside
Aurora, Aurora! Noise from the atmosphere,
future’s distance == past’s distance
so don’t wait for me, memories of Spaceboy
wind spinning round helix corners, basement where we hear the tambourine,
words aimlessly circling the edge of the sun, overflowing with questions: this book.