Someday I’ll Be Sitting in a Dingy Bar

Hwang Jiwoo was born in 1952 in Haenam, South Korea. As a student, he studied aesthetics at Seoul National University and philosophy at Sogang University. After beginning his poetic career in 1980, he immediately became a leading poet in an “age of poetry” that spanned the 1970s and 80s in Korea. Despite being arrested several times by the military government for dissident activities, Hwang published several collections of poetry, including Even Birds Leave the World and The Lotus Blossom in the Crab's Eye. More recent books of Hwang’s poetry include Sea Gleaming As Night Falls and Someday I’ll Be Sitting in a Dingy Bar. He has also published a drama, May Bride, describing the 1980 Kwangju massacre. His many literary awards include the Kim Suyong Literary Award, the Hyundae Literary Award, the Sowol Poetry Award, and the Daesan Literary Award. After South Korea was democratized, he began teaching at a number of universities, as well as exhibiting his work as a sculptor. He is currently president of Korea’s National University for the Arts.


Someday I’ll Be Sitting in a Dingy Bar
by Hwang Jiwoo • 2007 • $10
Translated by Scott Swaner & Young-Jun Lee
Designed by Gaye Chan


Hwang Jiwoo’s poems are built of odd juxtapositions and comparisons, like a mother’s hospital crisis and “the Verona World Cup,” its happily hopping soccer ball; “the waning day, the black cow moaning inside the gate”; “Mormon missionaries [who] enter the subway like penguins”; acacias waving “their white handkerchiefs.” Whatever is metaphysical in Hwang’s poems is also intensely physical, like the dingy bar alluded to in the title. Young-Jun Lee and the late Scott Swaner have performed deft and conversational translations of this provocative work.

from “Please Take Off Your Shoes Before You Enter”:

A spinster jumped from her 15th floor apartment;
if you go take a look on the balcony, sure enough,
her shoes will be neatly placed there.
I hear people who jump into the Han River do the same thing.
Why would a person first neatly arrange the shoes
they’ve been wearing before they jump,
whether it’s onto the pavement or into pitch-dark waters?


This book has been published with the generous assistance of the Sunshik Min Endowment for the Advancement of Korean Literature, Korea Institute, and Harvard University.