All My Stories Become Poems
All My Stories Become Poems
  • Lee Myoung Ae
  • 승인 2022.11.01 07:38
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She was born in Pyeongan Province, North Korea, in 1965. She defected from North Korea in August 2005 and entered South Korea in August 2006. She graduated from Soongsil Cyber University in February 2016. In December 2017, she debuted and began her literary work, receiving the ‘K-story’ Rookie of the Year Award. She published a collection of poems “Extension(2020)”, and “When the cold wind from valley chilled me to the bone(2022)”..


I came to South Korea from Pyeongan province in North Korea. After more than 15 years since leaving, I had almost forgotten the Pyeongan dialect, yet southerners immediately recognized that I am from the north. As I became assimilated into the Seoul dialect, when I heard the Pyeongan dialect again, I felt moved—but also somehow embarrassed and awkward. I have been trying to lose my accent, thinking that I need to do that in order not to seem like a North Korean defector. Occasionally people ask me where I am from, though, and I answer proudly: from Pyeongan province in North Korea. Still, I have focused on the Seoul dialect, and I have not thought regional dialects were a precious linguistic legacy for our people.

Writing Literature in the Pyeongan Dialect

It has not been easy to write literature in the Pyeongan dialect. Although I speak it unawares in daily life, I have written literature in the standard Seoul dialect, and found it awkward to write poems in the Pyeongan dialect. As I have lived more than a decade without speaking or listening to that dialect, I have forgotten many words in it. This is true of many defectors from Pyeongan province, when I ask them

As I am representing poets from Pyeongan province in this international forum on “Writing Literature in Indigenous Languages,” I did some research into my native dialect. Although I did not major in linguistics, I’ll try to briefly explain this dialect’s simple and general characteristics. Its most noticeable ones are the “d” pronunciation for other dialects’ “j” sound and the “-sio” suffix replacing other dialects’ “-eoyo” suffix. For example, in Pyeongan dialect, jeogi is pronounced as deogi, jeonggeojang as deonggeojang, jangmadang as dangmadang, while gatseoyo is said as gasio, and osyeotseoyo as watsio. In addition, some words in Pyeongan dialect need translations, like “churi,” meaning, “jadu (plum),” “gapsakhada” meaning, “gabyeopda (to be light),” “hemeopda” meaning, “chereopda (immature),” “tekdo eopda,” meaning, “eorimdo eopda (Not a chance!), and “mesahada,” meaning “muanhada (embarrassing).”

For me to become a poet who publishes books of poems and attends an international academic forum, where I explain Pyeongan dialect and publish poems in it, is not something I would have dreamed of doing while in North Korea. After graduating from middle and high schools, I applied for entrance to a regional teacher’s college, but failed the entrance exam, and could not get a university education at all. Because of this unfulfilled wish, I wanted to study when I came to South Korea. As I had two children to raise, though, I had to make money to survive. I registered at the Korean National All My Stories Become Poems 이명애 Lee Myoung Ae Essay 152 153 Open University, but had to drop out because I could not take the online courses properly due to a lack of adequate computer skills. Later, I entered Soongsil Cyber University and began taking courses through the help of remote TAs. Why I Write Poems In fact, I wanted to learn not for learning’s sake alone. I wanted to study creative writing, by majoring in Korean literature. However, as there was no Korean literature department at the university, after some thought, I chose the Department of Childhood Education. About two years into my studies, I found courses that were interesting to me in the Broadcasting and Creative Writing department. While taking various courses on fiction writing, poetry writing, and understanding modern literature, I ended up taking all the courses necessary for a minor in broadcasting and creative writing. When I began my studies at the cyber university, I had wondered if I could really learn anything substantial, but I learned a lot. In the North, they did not teach us anything about pre-modern historical figures, for example. You wouldn’t need any more explanation to understand this, but that I did not know about King Sejong the Great, who invented the Hangeul script. In the South, even elementary-school children know about him! I decided to take Korean history courses, and found them interesting. Although it was not easy to work at my day job, take care of my children, and study, I finished my studies without dropping out because of a desire for learning and a resolution to let people know about North Korea. The reason I chose poetry among literary genres was because I felt that I could not tell all the stories that I wanted to—those that I could not express in all the details of short stories and novels. The suggestiveness and evocativeness of poetry appealed to me. During the days when I was settling in the South, as a defector, South Koreans often asked me about North Korea. No matter how detailed I explained, though, they could not understand life in the North and, moreover, did not believe me. In the end, I decided to write about it and publish a book, and this became a sort of mission. That was how I ended up learning literature at a cyber university and looking for a Korean literature department. Writing Fiction in the Pyeongan Dialect Even while living in North Korea, I thought that the Pyeongan dialect was rough and impolite. In contrast, the Pyongyang dialect, the literary language of North Korea, which I heard from movies and theaters, was much nicer. As Pyeongan province and Pyongyang both belong to North Korea, one might assume their dialects are similar, but the Pyongyang accent felt gentler, straighter, and more polite. In retrospect, I now find that the Pyeongan dialect that I always thought rough and embarrassing is a precious linguistic cultural legacy. Poets are people who honor their mother tongues. I want to honor my Pyeongan province dialect while writing poems. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Gyeoremal Keunsajeon Committee hosting the “Writing Literature in Indigenous Languages” project in order to preserve indigenous languages.

Participating in this year’s forum, I was able to have another mission: writing short stories in the Pyeongan dialect. By using the dialect of my hometown rather than forgetting it, I’d like to help to preserve and develop it



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