* 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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* (re)noting the hidden things via shin kyeong-nim

Not that anybody needs another reminder of what snow looks like, but here:

* cincisnowti *
* Cincisnowti *

There’s been plenty of the cold stuff these past few months.

Heading into March, I’m waiting for spring to arrive – yet I can’t help but type that and immediately note that I can’t exactly remember what it was like without snow. Not that “Oh, it’s been snowing so long, I can’t remember what it was like without it — ” but rather, there’s a rather elegiac habit of mind I encounter that has me always looking at the world with an emphasis on what isn’t there versus what is.

At times, this habit is powerful – in envisioning a way out of a problem, for example. But there are times that require a bit of restraint from thinking away from them.

This week’s poem by Korean poet Shin Kyeong-nim evokes a feeling  of what is missed in the turning/thinking away I experience. With each reading, the poem makes me see that life, as it gathers in the years behind us, becomes a series of turns, and that, while much is irretrievable, the experience is constant: what we will miss is in front of us long before we begin to be able to miss it.

The Baby – Shin Kyeong-nim


Baby looks at the snow piling up outside the window;
signs it’s all lovely, all strange; waves a hand.
Like baby trees shaking baby leaves.
Baby knows all the hidden things:
why snow falls, and the lovely things the snowflakes whisper;
knows all – a perfectly contented still life.


After a while, baby learns the word “Mum.”
This means he is forgetting the hidden things of the word “Mum.”
But he doesn’t realize.
Flowers, trees, stars.
With elation baby learns the words,
forgetting the hidden things in each.
And when he has forgotten all the hidden things,
baby is a full-fledged person.


Thus when snow piles up like today,
he’ll fret from thoughts of a girl.
Walking the bank of the stream,
he will cry from nostalgia self-directed.

Happy self-directing!


p.s. Thank you to Daniel Paul Marshall for introducing me to this poem and poet.

* poem found in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry.