Sijo: Korea's Answer to Haiku?

Professor David McCann wants an ancient form of Korean poetry to catch on the way haiku has.

Haiku is downright famous in the United States; American schoolchildren commonly learn its 5-7-5 syllable pattern. But for some reason, sijo, an ancient Korean poetry form with three lines of 14 or 15 syllables each, hasn't caught on the same way.

David McCann, Korea Foundation professor of Korean literature and director of Harvard's Korea Institute, wants to change that. As described in the June 30 Boston Globe, McCann is mounting a campaign to popularize sijo (pronounced shee-jo) that includes a nationwide contest for schoolchildren and creation of an online sijo journal in English. (The article page also features a lively audio interview with McCann, in which he explains sijo and then demonstrates how it was traditionally sung.)

The campaign also includes a sijo contest; enter through Friday (July 3) at http://www.boston.com/living.

The Globe article includes two samples, including this one that McCann, who first encountered sijo as a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea in the late 1960s, wrote in English at Charlie's Kitchen in Harvard Square two years ago:

All through lunch, from my table, I keep an eye on your disputes,

Green lobsters in the bubbling tank by the restaurant door.

Slights, fights, bites—whatever the cause, make peace and flee, escape with me!

and this one from the fourteenth century:

The spring breeze melted snow on the hills then quickly disappeared.

I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair

And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.

See McCann's faculty webpage for more information about him, including the courses he teaches.

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