I IMAGINE THAT dealing with an introduction to a body of literary work is a bit like asking for directions while traveling in a foreign country. Perhaps it is raining and you, the reader, are lost. Maybe you are carrying your suitcase in one hand and watching your only map dissolve in the other. Of course you speak a bit of the country’s language, but you don’t know the word for where you’re going. So you approach a stranger and ask for help.
Indeed, yesterday as I was reading Don Mee Choi’s introduction to Yi Yon-ju’s poems in Artful Dodge 44/45, I felt precisely like a traveler having to ask for directions. While I had already been impressed with the poems—with the crisp images in “Festival of Waste” and the sense of quiet disillusionment in “A Crossroad”—I must admit that the poems left me feeling as though I’d missed something. Indeed I had, though by no fault of the poet or translator. Rather, the element that I lacked was context. Once I reread the introduction, the poems were immediately more meaningful to me. For example, the knowledge that Yi Yon-ju was a leading voice against Korean patriarchy transformed the images in “Festival of Waste” into an indictment of the domestic culture which subjugates women. Likewise, the political language of “A Crossroad” and “A Report on the Unconsciousness of the Masses” seemed all the more daring for its blatant rejection of yoryu (“female”) poetry expected within Korean literary culture. Thus, the difference between a limited and larger understanding appeared to be one of commitment. The poems had already traveled halfway around the world and into a different language to reach me, and it was only fitting that I should return the favor by being open to understanding the context. But good intentions are not enough, and that is why I owe so much not just to the translator’s travail in conveying the poem into English, but for his or her introductory remarks.
It seems no coincidence that such remarks precede most of my favorite poetry and prose in Artful Dodge, which is why I proposed creating this new section. I hope you will enjoy these pieces as much as I have. In this spirit, I hereby present these selections of poetry and prose with their accompanying introductions, extending from Artful Dodge 18/19 back in 1990 to the present.
—Joshua Tong, Editorial Assistant