A SIJO CONTROVERY
by Elizabeth St Jacques ©
(revised, Apr. 2001)
|An essay by Robert William Watkins & Rynn Jacobs
that criticizes sijo in SIJO WEST and LYNX and the editors of these journals
caused quite a stir. "Amidst Confusion & Contempt" appeared in the
January 1999 issue of LYNX.
Rather than repeat their lengthy, ostentatious essay here, my response that was published with the authors' essay may enlighten you. Because some readers may not have read the authors' essay, my response has been expanded to help fill in the gaps.
"Amidst Confusion & Contempt" by Robert William Watkins & Rynn Jacobs leads off by quoting from SIJO WEST's introduction that states its editors are "not experts, but seekers." (This quote, in its proper context, is intended to set Western poets at ease, however, Robert Watkins and Rynn Jacobs use the quote with disdain.)
In their quest to "confront 'deviations' or mutations' of modern Korean sijo…" their criticism focuses on three areas: "The Issue of Punctuation"; "Six Lines: A Potential for Deceit?"; and "The Eastern Sijo: Who Can Cast the First Stone?"
The authors question the use of "dashes, colons, semi-colons,
question marks and full-fledged stops" within individual lines, claiming
that "one rarely
The authors are obviously unfamiliar with Richard Rutt's
famous collection, "The Bamboo Grove: An Introduction To Sijo" that showcases
White gull skimming
Growls & groans fill the air: "the deficit
- Elizabeth St Jacques, from "The Other Side" sequence, SIJO WEST #2, 1996
and wonder if "the Old Masters (would) have approved of such poems being published as sijo…" Probably not. A run-on (the authors refer to it as a "spill over") is now considered undesirable in Western sijo, therefore, I admit that I did indeed err. This sijo, including the entire sequence, are presently undergoing revision.
However, for the authors to imply that run-ons and/or
other innovations were devised by Westerners is incorrect. "Modern Korean
Verse: In Sijo Form" by Professor Jaihiun Kim, the leading translator of
approximately 2300 Korean poems into English and author of a dozen collections
of his own poems, provides ample illustrations of run-ons (and other
changes) in the modern sijo form. For example:
The authors question the sijo's six-line format, which they claim is the "new Western appearance."
Here again, Robert Watkins and Rynn Jacobs are incorrect. For Eastern sijo translated into English, translators to date have preferred the six-line format. (As seen in the above 6-line sijo)
Robert Watkins and Rynn Jacobs also state that "Six lines is no longer a convenient alternative in the face of printing limitations, but rather a potential threat to the sijo's identity." Are we to believe the authors are more in-the-know than Bishop Rutt and Professor Kim whose anthologies are completely comprised of the 6-line style?
The authors further claim that the format "invites
further deviation from the tenets of the traditional Korean form." To illustrate
how they envision the
The Eastern Sijo: Who Can Cast the First Stone?
The authors ask "…is one not being hypocritical when
s/he renounces the omnifariously deviant, modern sijo of the East, while
After chastising Western editors and poets for not
living up to traditional sijo, the authors suddenly switch gears, defending
modified Korean sijo! Talk about confusion? Which leads me to wonder the
exact purpose of their paper. Was it written in an honest attempt to honor
traditional sijo? Judging
Can we seriously consider criticisms when Robert Watkins
and Rynn Jacobs fail to state their qualifications to write about sijo?
Where have their sijo been published? I have not seen any of their sijo
in the various publications
Robert Watkins and Rynn Jacobs seem to ignore obvious
realities. Western poets are in a different time and place, hail from a
variety of cultures and
"The Bamboo Grove: An Introduction To Sijo"by Richard
Rutt, University of California Press,
"Modern Korean Verse: In Sijo Form" by Professor Jaihiun Kim, Ronsdale Press, 1997
SIJO WEST: For information on how to obtain back issues, contact the Editor: Larry Gross
LYNX : For information on how to obtain issue Vol.
XIV:1, January 1999 in which
the essay in dispute appears, contact the Editor: Jane Reichhold
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