‘I Just Want to Scream’ – Reading at PEN Korea Poetry Concert


This picture was shared with me by Alexandra Jade Rodrigues on the ould Facebook. It’s a really touching addition to the poem I kind of haphazardly shared here some weeks back. I say haphazardly as it was a knee-jerk emotional reaction to the tragedy, and it seems to have been a reaction which many empathised with. I’m grateful to Alexandra for sharing this with me, as it is a poigniant image which reflects the continued wait for answers, even when the news of the disaster appears to have left the newsreels of the international media.

As you may be aware, some weeks back I was very fortunate to be invited as a reader at an international poetry concert organised by PEN Korea. The concert took place about a week or so after the tragedy. Initially I was asked to read only one poem, but following the tragedy of the Sewol sinking off the south coast, I contacted the organiser and asked if it was possible that I read my poem which attracted so much attention here, ‘I Just Want to Scream’. I was very fortunate that they ascented, and in the end I read my two poems. The first is a older poem Driving Close to the DMZ which was originally printed in Burning Bush II a couple of years back. This poem was followed by I Just Want to Scream.

In these videos shared with me by the concert organisers you can here me deliver both my poems.

Driving Close to the DMZ

I Just Want to Scream

This particular video includes a shortened and edited version of all the readers at the concert and is also worth your time and consideration.

Thank you again to Alexandra for the image, and to Sun A at PEN Korea for giving me the opportunity to read.

For more on PEN Korea please visit their website: http://www.penkorea.or.kr

Letter from Korea, April 2014


Suwon, South Korea
28/4/2014

Dear Ireland

I haven’t written in several months, I know. Perhaps Thailand got in the way of my regular correspondence, although there was little to stop me from writing a Letter from Thailand, other than the sunshine and other things I was writing. So here is my first letter of 2014, and it is of a sombre note.

Today’s letter takes an obvious theme, and one which is flooding both the Korean television and media outlets, as well as many of the English blogs, websites, and twitter and facebook posts and profiles. It is the sinking of the Sewol ferry off the south-west coast last week.

I’m still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy. I still struggle to read anything beyond the headline of an article, let alone watch longer than a few moments of the news. There is no hope of any good news any longer, I can only report, with every story coming out with more talk of bodies found, often clutching together in a final communion of hope for survival together.

What gets to me every time is the victims. Like everywhere, but I think in Korea the bond is reinforced and probably well documented, when we go through a tough time together we become closer to those who share the experience with us. High school students in Korea of course suffer through the insane hours of study before the 수능, an experience which leaves so many shocked and both over and underwhelmed. But when we grow, and feel ourselves changing and growing, we know how important is to us in later life, and we recollect fondly on these times regardless of how frustrating or challenging or hated they were, at least to a certain point. It is this loss here, that so many will never be able to recollect, and those who are lucky enough to be able to will struggle to emerge from this nightmare, this is where our hearts are bleeding for most.

I wrote a poem about this sinking. It took a mere twenty minutes, and even though it was an accidental poem it was the right way to write about the tragedy because any other way would have resulted in a rant, and right now what we don’t need is more rants. We need to sit and we need to wait and let the people bring about the nearest thing to the end of the misery the families and friends of the deceased are suffering.

A lot of writing that is coming out on the internet seems intent to point the finger and blame, be it Korean culture, Confucianism, laziness, the weather, the laissez faire attitude to safety, the captain. I can’t do this. Not because I don’t want to, because I’m so pent up with frustration now it seems like the only thing to do, but because it’s not place to do so. I wish I knew if there was a place to do this, and I wish I knew that there was someone who would listen to me.

This is not something that my pontificating will fix. I might explain something or offer some insight which will allow for someone’s clearer perspective, but it would be an absolute lie because I have rarely seen less clearly on any aspect of Korea before.

There is hope in me that this tragedy will force us all, both foreigners in Korea and Koreans themselves, to learn and not repeat the mistakes that have been made. These mistakes lie in our assertions, our actions, and our words directed in hatred or in casual passing.

Never have I witnessed Korea so tied together in its famed brotherhood before, despite reading of it, I imagined it, but now I am witnessing it, and I hope that I am a part of it. There is a call to pray for South Korea on the internet, and I hope that these prayers are for not only the recovery but also the rectification of all that was done wrong, so that something like this never happens again. We pray, even those of us who are of no religion. Amen.

Image courtesy of wsj.com

20 Positive Vibes


It’s not a time to be taking things for granted.

My youngest brother of four is in town for two weeks and antics are at large. Plenty of trips to traditional Korean spots such as E Mart and Starbucks have so far resulted.

+1 grows from strength to strength. She’s climbing, jumping, running, spinning, and aside from the constant exhaustion, she is nothing but a joy to watch and serioiusly addictive happy drug.

A number of life things have finally sorted , or are in the advanced stages of sorting themselves out. I have a bit more direction and confidence thanks to this.

It’s spring in Suwon and Yeongtong, and once we get those eternalz tourists out of the way (also known as cherry blossoms) the city is riot of green and all sorts of other colours as flowers are sprouting everywhere. It’s truly gorgeous and my favourite time of year.

I lost some weight in Thailand and have managed to keep it off, to a certain extent.

I’ll be reading a poem at a PEN Korea event in Jukjeon, which is just down the road from us. This is happening on the 26th, and I’ll pop a notice up here so if you’re in the area you can drop by.

I’ve been reading (and finishing) a lot more books lately. It has been quite rewarding as I was frustrated by this. Most recently I read The Great Gatsby again, as I last read it in secondary school as part of our first or second year course reading. If you had to do this, I’d suggest rereading it now as you will discover a real gem of a book that was, in this man’s case, wasted on the energies of a fourteen year old.

Since Thailand I’ve been developing my understanding of my camera and its functions, and while I’d say I’m no expert and far from it, I am enjoying the learning curve and its fruits. If you’re keen to learn about how to use your camera I’ve a friend who is staring some photography workshops in Seoul if you want to look him up.

I think that, the more and more I look back, our two months in Thailand was such a good decision, not only because of the weather but also, and more importantly, we got to spend so much time together as a family and learned so much about each other.

I’ve been having some luck submitting some stories and poems to magazines of late, and it’s a gentle reminder that I should keep working away. I’m considering putting a chap book together of Korea related poems, but I consider a lot, so maybe I should say nothing until it actually happens.

I got my writing class to write some poems for me, as part of a lesson on working on narrative, descriptive language, and dramatic effect, and they were all really good.

I walk to work every day.

The amount of good quality imported beer going at decent prices in the bigger supermarkets is increasing steadily. And, the local Lotte had a wine sale of late.

Today the sky is clear and blue and I can see right across Suwon from my twentieth floor perch here.

Last week I met up with three really good old friends from when I first arrived in Korea. I hadn’t seen them for a variety of reasons, namely me being useless, but since seeing them I’ve been reminded of the importance of people close to me staying constant in my life.

I know that some will think I’m a bit of a no-mates internet addict, and I kinda am, but I’ve been getting a lot of benefit from the groups area of Facebook of late. Not only in the Korean Bloggers one, but in a number of photography groups also where I’ve been picking up tips, getting exposure to things I usually wouldn’t seek out, and also networking with others of a similar ilk. It seems a little more of a mature way of utilising the website, rather than just as a promotional tool

A second thing about Facebook, when I initially cancelled my account a few years back I did so in half a fit of nerves and rage, but since I’ve returned I’ve approached it with a different attitude. I see it as a way to actually keep in touch people I know from throughout my life who are from over 30 different countries, and who are also living in 30 different countries. Yes Facebook will lead to the decline of civilisation but at least we’ll know how others are getting along while it’s happening.

I like having hobbies.

Something really amazing is going to happen in July, but it’s a secret.

I have an amazing wife who loves and supports me in everything I do, and we are completely committed to each other, our eternal present, and our futures. And for this I more grateful than anything.

I say all this in light of the tragedy of the Sewol ferry sinking just off the south coast of Korea. I can’t even bare to look at the news because of it. These twenty postive waves are an attempt shine a light on the importance of everything in life, regardless of how trivial it may seem. Be grateful for yourself as we never know how or when it may be taken away from us.

I Just Want to Scream


I just want to scream, but I know it won’t do any good.

I heard that a ferry to Jeju that was sinking. News implied all would get out alive. I thought it was Costa Concordia like, if only it was comparable now.

We watched the television late into last night, and all of this morning the volume was up high. We heard talking heads of doctors and divers explain what is wrong and what is right. At one stage I almost cried. I felt that here was the greatest loss of life. And all the time the television showed that hull, the end where those rotors spun south, poking and bobbing like a message in a bottle, an arrow directing all souls to heaven’s heights.

I just want to scream, but I know it won’t do any good.

There are others more suited to anger. There are others more suited to decry. What matters now is to get those kids out alive. Kakao Talk told us some have survived. In a bubble somewhere with all kinds of refuse and the water as cold as those who died. We wait, and we wait, and we watch another news broadcast. And again a talking head tells us we cannot hold out hope for how many might be inside.

I just want to scream, but I know it won’t do any good.

A crane, they said, is floating to the site. A day it will take. I wish I could go and help push. Heave it with everyone else watching, in tears for these boys and girls in their formative years. The years when our lives are determined and we certainly never forget. Our friends who last with us until there’s none of us left. We go through it, our highest triviality til then,and we think it’s the end but come out together.

I just want to scream, but I know it won’t do any good.

The lies. The ineptitude. The waste. The love lost. The flowers laid. The broken days. The way so many lives were left to be taken so carelessly away.

I just want to scream, but I know it won’t be loud enough.

Trying to look back at the War in Bosnia-Herzegovina


Twenty years ago this week the war in Yugoslavia began its most horrific stage, the destruction, slaughter, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia Herzegovina. Can you remember where you were at this time in 1992? I was still in primary school. Many of the students I teach now in the university where I work were no more than a year or two old. Irish people were more concerned that they wouldn’t be getting Yugoslavia’s berth in the European Championships, than the fact that the country they would hopefully replace was about to experience the worst atrocities in Europe since the Nazis.

Wars seem to define decades more than anything. Sure a politician may have a lot to do with particular wars, such as George Bush in Iraq, but wars often do not stop with the transition of power. If you look down through the twentieth century, we see war after war, conflict after conflict, and if there’s very little conflict then there’s probably outright conquest. Stretching through the decades, wars and conflict have featured throughout and they define our decades with chapters in history books, each one an individual mark on our conscience for every time we forget and fail to learn from the mistakes society has made over and over again.

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