visiting Jeju w/ daniel paul marshall

photo by Joey Rositano

This week’s post features a poem by Daniel Paul Marshall. Marshall writes about the Haenyeo, female divers from the Korean province of Jeju. The Hangul for the word, (해녀)roughly translates to sea women, and serves as the title for this poem.

When I informed Marshall I planned on featuring this particular poem, he was kind enough to share the following:

The tradition of the Haenyo, the lady divers of Jeju, sometimes mythologized as the mermaids of Jeju, dates back some 1500 years.Their tools, other than their updated wet suits, have not changed. They dive as a group, for safety & socializing. They dive in all weather, all seasons. Their strength & endurance to the elements is astonishing.Their shamanic traditions are dwindling from what i gather, their mean ages is 70 odd & the younger generation is not being trained in this ancient custom. 

This poem finds them after a dive. They were changing in a public toilet near Sanbangsan & my wife & her friend were waiting for them to finish to see if they could purchase some of their catch. Eating sashimi this fresh, straight from the Haenyo is the best & rarest means of eating it. The divers make a lot of money selling this way, they charge $40 for a belly full.

Along with this insight into the culture and poem, Marshall connected me with the work of Joey Rositano whose book Spirits: The Story of Jeju Island’s Shamanistic Shrines helps “recover the tradition of Jeju shamanism, which he believes stands at the center of Jeju identity itself.” The two photographs in this post are from Rositano’s project. His work raises awareness about their dwindling culture due to over development.

Reading the poem below, I am stunned by the freshness of the language. A line such as chattering like clam maracas, arms brachiate blustered replies is vivid both in terms of sounds but also in its tone. Respect and awe are evoked here indirectly. Through moves of lyrical richness, Marshall’s poem takes us down into the details of this world.

photo by Joey Rositano

해녀 – Daniel Paul Marshall

you can see them in shoals by drainage puddles after a hunt,
de-snorkeled & out their trademark wetsuits & flippers
they no longer resemble baby seals.
in their mammalian clobber : nylon padded paisley coats & neckerchief.
the tourists’ timidity quashed, they peddle more raw creatures of the sea.

any place with an outdoor water source they squat,
peeling onions & garlic, slicing the ends off & scrubbing them clean.
all they hunted in red or blue plastic buckets
: abalone, sea snail, mussels & clams;
their rudimentary cells throbbing in the cold salt water.

chattering like clam maracas, arms brachiate blustered replies.
i see tourists with questions halted at the portico of their mouths;
eager to know how mermaids feel whilst rummaging coral nooks
– i know how they’d reply
: why talk romance without even a pocket of oxygen.


Happy diving!



To find out more about Daniel Paul Marshall’s work check out his site.

To find out more about Joey Rositano’s photography & documentorial work on behalf of the history, language, and identity of the people of Jeju, check out his site as well.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Everything We Think We Hear by Jose Angel Araguz

Everything We Think We Hear

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends December 04, 2016.

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14 responses to “visiting Jeju w/ daniel paul marshall”

  1. Reblogged this on O at the Edges and commented:
    I love it when one of my favorite poets writes about another favorite!

    1. Thank you for sharing, my friend!

      1. It was my pleasure, Jose..

  2. Amazing story and a outstanding poem. Mind boggling. :o)

  3. Fascinating post. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. I always go where Robert O ponts me because I wind up in places like this. I lived in Korea from 1975 to 1976 but never got to Jeju. Even then I saw traditions slipping away. Thank for this great post and the links, I can’t wait to explore further.

  5. *i see tourists with questions halted at the porticos of their mouths*

    This is exhilarating — the language equivalent of how I imagine sashimi (I might actually try it straight out of the hands of mermaids!): bold, raw, bursting with (unsaid) possibility!

    1. Lovely! Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Nicee post thanks for sharing

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