About the Collection
Lee Soho’s debut collection begins with the preface: “Surely he’ll go to hell. / Because he made us sad.” Divided into five sections named after its speaker-protagonist Kyungjin, Catcalling exposes and ridicules the quotidian violences that surround Kyungjin as she grows up under patriarchy. The poet liked that Kyungjin is a name that is both androgynous and has been popular for generations (much like Sam in English); it also happened to be Lee’s given name before she legally changed it in early 2014. It is reported in a footnote that Kyungjin shared her first name with her first boyfriend, whose verbal abuse is recounted in multiple poems, and consequently “suffered from ego fragmentation, separation anxiety, depression, and other mental anguish” (“Reclining Kyungjin”). And with such vivid dialogue, Lee certainly performs a persona of her past in her recreated scenes of violence.
Kyungjin’s younger sister, Sijin, is a prominent character in this bildungsroman. The two grow up a year apart, fighting so fiercely that they send each other to the hospital many times, and eventually move out of their parents’ house together. Theirs is not the easy-breezy-beautiful sisterhood idealized by a pair of traveling pants or a facile understanding of feminism. Lee asks the thorny question: What if the victim is also a bystander or even becomes an abuser herself? Catcalling and its critical acclaim mark a shift in the culture after #문단_내_성폭력 (the hashtag movement that began calling out sexual violence within South Korean literary circles in October 2016) and the global Me Too movement.
Direct yet baffling, Lee channels the scathing confessionalism of Choi Seung-ja, her poetic hero (as recounted in “End-of-Year Party”), as well as the concrete poetry of Yi Sang, Korea’s most famous avant-gardist. In the fourth section titled “Kyungjin Contemporary Art Museum,” poems inspired by contemporary female artists such as Marina Abramovich, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Sylvia Sleigh are arranged like artworks; when Lee lived in New York for a year, she frequented galleries as the only place where she could be with herself and art without a language barrier. She blurs text to recreate the aftereffects of physical abuse (“Fearing the Gaze of Strangers We … Each Other”), scatters conjugations of to touch into a collage (“Variation for Fighting Spirit”), spells out the honorific yes with that very word repeated 400-some times (“Song of Utmost Filial Piety”), recounts verbal abuse without spaces so that it takes up as little space as possible (“Oppa Likes That Kind of Girl” and “The Birth of the Most Personal and Universal Kyungjin”), to name a few. The emotions feel raw but Lee’s execution is unmistakably precise. Even when not visually startling, she subverts expectations, for example, by placing a formal letter to the reader (“Apology Letter”) in the middle of the collection, then writing another 70 pages as brazenly as she did for the past 50.
About the Poet
Lee Soho (b. 1988) studied creative writing at the Seoul Arts University and earned an MA in Korean literature from Dongguk University. She made her debut winning the Newcomer Award in Modern Poetry in 2014. She won the Kim Su-young Literary Award, the highest poetry honor in Korea, with her first collection Catcalling in 2018. The judges deemed it, out of 237, “the only entry that demonstrates the intense energy of why the poem had to be written.”
“Kyungjin wails as if to detonate the roof of patriarchy. The destructive power of her cackling is likewise formidable… Fiercely mocking herself, she tears off the clothes of falsehood and throws herself onto the sharp sword of irony.” – Kim Haengsook, poet
“I congratulate the poet—who tore herself apart, painfully displayed this scene of mutilation, and felt the ecstasy of exhibition—for receiving the prize that best suits her.” – Jung Han-ah, poet
“By penning testimonies and confessions from various speakers/victims/artists, Lee relentlessly strikes the nexus of violence, exposes its true nature, and criticizes its roots.” – Cho Jae-ryong, literary critic
Table of Contents
Part 1: Kyungjin’s Home
Part 2: The Birth of the Most Personal and Universal Kyungjin
Part 3: The Island at a Certain Time
Part 4: Kyungjin Contemporary Art Museum
Part 5: Archive for 31 Versions of Lee Kyungjin