Letter from Korea, October 2010

Yongin, Korea


Dear Ireland


It’s kind of been a weird phase for me writing lately, because for a while there was nothing else I could do or focus on. Specifically, I’ve been trying to contribute to a lot of magazines and newspapers here with quite a bit of success, but I still am not sure how to measure that success, or how relevant it really is at all.

When I first arrived in Korea I have seen plenty of English language magazines that openly welcome contributions from the community. I can just about remember K-Scene, which was relatively famous for its classifieds section. Before that it was apparently just called Seoul Classifieds, but that was before my time. After that magazine collapsed or closed or whatever, I remember hearing a few rumours but I’ll save you the iniquity, there was a gap and then along came Groove magazine, which has been gracing us with its presence for almost four years now I’d wager.

Since Groove was published there has been a wealth of publications released. Not long after this a few people I know managed to come together and put a magazine together called ROKON, and then there was Eloquence.

I still feel sorry for ROKON as it was a genuine independent move to create something the foreign English teaching community could call their own. The focus of this magazine was definitely on the Itaewon and Haebangchon neighbourhoods, and it had a noticable artsy/music focus, which was definitely unique. It was independently published but it quickly began to suffer from a lack of funding and soon creative differences started to shake it around a bit too much. In the end it disappeared out of sight, only to reappear with a considerable commercial influence, specifically major advertisers, a new logo, better layout and also a new publisher, Julian Kong. The magazine flirted with greatness, but I honestly can’t say why it drifted away from relevance. I suppose it just wasn’t released regularly enough and it took its focus away from the majority of the arts to primarily concentrate on music.

But I also remember thinking that maybe there just wasn’t enough people who cared about the music scene in Seoul to care about ROKON. For the people I knew who were involved, I remember talking to them as the magazine was going through major changes and get a feeling that it was all beyond their control and their dream of producing a magazine to reach for because of its alternative  creative content would have to wait, and we are still waiting.

There was also Eloquence magazine which was recently bought by Julian Kong, and as far as I know he has a similar plan for this magazine as he had for ROKON, although no sign of a re-released and upgraded publication has been sighted by yours truly. The website still claims it is ‘coming soon’… Of other magazines there is now 10 Magazine where I’ve released a few things and has the noteriety of being a nationally published magazine that you actually have to pay for, so it doesn’t rely purely on advertisement revenue. It also has a good reputation for its events section. 10 Magazine is possibly the strongest competition out there for Groove in Seoul, which because of its established place, is by far the biggest and most popular of the publications.

I noticed another one the shelf of a restaurant in Noksapyeong near Itaewon, but I can’t remember the name of it. It didn’t look particularly good. I also got an email from worknplay.co.kr who are planning to release their own magazine probably with content similar to the others previously mentioned. The website’s reputation may do it some favours in gaining acceptance by the community,  but I don’t see what they are going to do different in an already overcrowded market.

Outside Seoul there are a few other magazines, notably Daegu Pockets and Busan Haps. But, seeing as I don’t live in either city and have no particular need of finding out what is going on down there, I’ve never bothered to investigate them. Daegu Pockets has been around for a few years, while Busan Haps has recieved positive reviews from Groove of all places, but this isn’t an issue as they aren’t really competition seeing that they both deal with two different cities.

However, there is still a significant lack of ways to publish any creative work on a regular basis in Korea. As a poet before anything else, I’m always on the look out for places where I can be read. When I first came to Korea, there was DDD, which is now the Three Wise Monkeys, which had a poetry page, and then as I mentioned earlier, there was ROKON where I had a few poems printed back in the day (but I stopped submitting when some of my poems were copied and pasted off my myspace page). These days there is of course The Seoul Writers Workshop’s annual Every Second Sunday, which has notable quality and plenty of contributors.  Yet, the key issue is that it is an annual publication, which for me is hardly enough time for me to wait to getting something in print (although if I were to print in a journal or poetry magazine I could be waiting longer for my poem to be read, let alone printed). Finally, there is Speakeasy, which is a kind of bimonthly creative and artistic publication that unfortunately is suffering from a lack of support in the publishing area, as opposed to the amount of submitters. I submitted two pieces back in July but there has been no releases since June. All in all, a disappointing situation.

Back in the day, or should I say around two years ago, The Drunken Writers Guild self published and marketed rather poorly the first poetry only publication that I’ve ever seen in the city, Soju Tense. In terms of a publication it was a disaster. God knows where the money made on it went, if there ever was money made on it at all. Although the least that can be said is that lessons were learned.


Soju Tense - Still available for 5,000 won!


Now, even with all the writing I do, I seemed to have dried up. I haven’t a clue where to go or what to do as all I can see is totally going against my greatest instincts. I honestly can’t pull my head in the right direction. I suppose I could blame Ireland.

For all this writing that I do, and others do, I kind of struggle to wonder why bother doing it unless it takes me somewhere. I was talking to a former work colleague about an hour or so ago on the phone; he has started getting reports of events in clubs in Korea published on some websites, and as he told me, he does it purely to get into the clubs for nothing. Which is great. But for me, maybe I’m looking at this a little bit more high-brow than necessary, or maybe it’s just my usual impatience with the way the ball moves for me. The writing itself is a lot of fun and the audience is easy to find, but where is it taking me? Again, Ireland is the answer.

I said it to herself a while ago that I’m doing this to build up some form of a portfolio to profile a collection of my printed and published writing work. We started keeping a scrapbook and so far the content looks respectable considering the limits imposed, and the fact that the only things printed have been in English language magazines here in Korea. I suppose, if and when we go back to Ireland, I’d love to be able to show this to a magazine and they would possibly offer me some work while I try to work on my Phd. But, and this is the big question, is the material I report on anyway relevant to anything that happens in Ireland? Does anyone care about what happens in Korea in Ireland? Sure, maybe I can write, but can I move to another country with no contacts and expect to be able to walk into a publishing company and ask for a job in one of their magazines, or whatever way I’m expecting it to work?

The same can be said for any of the poetry I write. This I consider to be more serious. As I said eariler there is no longer any serious and regular publication to contribute to here in Korea. Even if there was, there is a certain lack of confidence in it’s official character and its potential reach across the water to the people that matter, and for me in this case these people are the people in Ireland. I want to be able to contribute to a regular audience, not one that changes every twelve months, and I want to be able to establish myself beyond this blog as someone who has a voice worth listening to. I don’t feel confident enough about that, despite any popularity which my articles may have gained, and so I sit around waiting for this confidence to come from somewhere. The worst thing about it is that I haven’t written any real poems for months. I’ve a notebook full of poetry but the poems and words I’ve put down there are far from complete, and all I do all days is expect me to find the motivation to be received well while not even giving anything in the first place.

As an Irish writer writing in a country where English is not the first language and the English language is mostly seen as a means of bettering your financial situation, arts like poetry go unrecognised and unsupported. I think it’s time that I found the fire in my belly to go out and find someone in Ireland who wants to read what I have to say as the audience is there. It’s an audience I didn’t know about for so long but I know its there and waiting for someone like me. I hope. This letter will do anything but offer any closure on my predicament. I wonder does anyone else have the same useless attitude as I do?

P.S. Autumn is quite a fine season in Korea. We haven’t had rain for months and the days are bright enough and sunny enough to give a kick to my step.



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