Can poetry truly exist in a totalitarian state? Structo (issue 15) unearths some painful answers in its interview with Jang Jin-sung, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s ex poet laureate.
Jang was once employed by Section 5 (Literature), Division 19 (Poetry) of Office 101 of the United Front Department (jeepers – room 101!) where, as a privleged member of the elite, he was allowed access to Byron’s poetry. It had a profound effect on him.
Now living in South Korea, Jang explains how culture in the DPRK was (and still is) a matter of state politics. “Even on gravestones you cannot write what you want, because when over three people are able to read it, it is considered propaganda and is therefore subject to censorship. No private or individual literature can be written. No artists are free to be creative.”
More fortunate poets making a mark in Structo’s 15th issue include Daniel Bennett, Claire Booker, Marianne Daniels, Claire Dyer, Siobhan Harvey, Michael Metivier, Timothy Otte, Maria Ferencuhova (translated from Slovak by Juana Adcock) and the eternal Sapho (translated by Kate Wise).
The launch drew contributors from all corners of the UK and was a convivial affair in Oxford’s Albion Beatnik Books, with chat, tea and fabulous chocolate cake. Holding up the side for poetry were Claire Dyer and myself, both reading some of our work published in this issue. I was particularly moved by Picture This – Claire’s paean to maternal love (and loss).
Structo without short fiction would be – well, something else altogether. We were treated to some eye-watering originality from Jude Cook, Stephen Hargadon, Paula Hunter, Dan Micklethwaite and Barbara Rennel who performed their short stories with gusto.
A highlight for me was Stephen Durkan’s one-man blitz of a story ‘A Day in the Life of a Modern Man’. His first published piece, apparently. Bravo Structo for spotting a winning new talent!
Never judge a book by its cover, so the saying goes. But it turns out a good cover is: “a distillation, a haiku, if you will, of the story.” Structo’s interview with leading book cover designers Jennifer Carrow, Daniel Benneworth-Gray and Oliver Munday left me with a much clearer idea of what makes me stop, browse and buy. Think about it next time you make a purchase.
Talking of which, to buy a hard copy of Structo (issue 15) or to submit your work to the magazine, please visit: www.structomagazine.co.uk Twitter or Facebook To download a free copy of Structo (issue 15) click on: https://issuu.com/structo/docs/structo15