Don Mee Choi

Autobiography of Death, by Don Mee Choi translated from the Korean by Kim Hyesoon

Griffin Poetry Prize 2019
International Winner

Book: Autobiography of Death

Translator: Don Mee Choi

Poet: Kim Hyesoon

Publisher: New Directions

Click here to read an excerpt.


Don Mee Choi

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Don Mee Choi is the author of The Morning News Is Exciting (2010) and Hardly War (Wave Books). She has received a Whiting Award, Lannan Literary Fellowship, Lucien Stryk Translation Prize, and the 2019 DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Fellowship.

Kim Hyesoon

Kim Hyesoon, born in 1955, is one of the most prominent and influential contemporary poets of South Korea. She was the first female poet to receive the prestigious Kim Su-yong and Midang awards, and has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish. Her most recent books include I’m OK, I’m Pig! (2014), and Poor Love Machine (2016).

Judges’ Citation

“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 Kim’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.’”


The dead without faces

run out like patients

when the door of the intensive care unit opens

carrying pouches of heart, pouches of urine

The dead running toward the path to the underworld

turn into stone pillars when they look back and their eyes meet their past

The dead in their sacks look out with eyes brimming with salt water

The dead become pillars of water as their tears melt their bones
The dead, gone forever, departed before you,
pull amniotic sacs over their heads and get in line to be born again
and say that they need to learn their mother tongue all over again
You’re not there when they awake or even when they eat breakfast
When the dead swarm down the mountain
like children who pour out of the door of the first-grade room
carrying their notebooks and shoe bags

a four-ton bronze bell with a thousand names of the dead engraved on it
          dangles from the helicopter
The helicopter flies over a tall mountain to hang the bell at a temple hidden
          deep in the mountains

From Autobiography of Death by Don Mee Choi, translated from the Korean by Kim Hyesoon
Copyright © 2016 by Kim Hyesoon
Copyright © 2018 by Don Mee Choi

More about Don Mee Choi and Kim Hyesoon

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