Expatriates in Korea sometimes joke about an occasional Korean tendency to claim the origination of everything great took place in Korea (Christmas Trees and Jesus, for example), but over at the Huffington Post John R. Eperjesi, an Assistant professor of English, Kyung Hee University in Seoul, makes the quite sensible argument that Korea was home to one of the first beat poets, Kim Sakkat.
the title of first rapper should probably go to Kim Byeong-yeon aka Kim Sat-gat aka Kim Lip aka Rainhat Poet, who was spitting rhymes and battling poets all over the peninsula way back in the day — the mid-1800s. The life of Rainhat was given respect in the first rap song in Korea, Hong Seo-bum’s “Kim Sat-gat” from 1989.
And it seems just about right, because, as we discussed here at KTLIT, Sakkat (I’m using a pronunciation-based Romanization here that I think I picked up from Yi Munyol’s book The Poet) was a skilled extemporaneous rhymer, and one who often was forced to do so in semi-antagonistic situations.
The beat claim (which I suppose might also support the battle-rapper claim) is that Sakkat:
spent his days and nights improvising songs, drinking rice wine, partying with other poets, flirting with young farm girls, satirizing the wealthy, mentoring other poets and praising the mountain spirits.
Which sounds like a good weekend in San Francisco or Berkeley in the 1950s.^^
Eperjesi notes the publication of The Life of a Rainhat Poet by Tae Hung Ha (Yonsei University Press, 1988), from which he excerpts in the following passage:
In Tae Hung Ha’s dramatic biography, the Narrator reveals that Rainhat was “more mad about poetry and less about women, whom he desired for a moment’s ornament of lightning joy and thundering farewell without feeling any interest in long married love.” This sounds like a pretty good description of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.
The whole article is great and I’m just angry that I didn’t think of this first. The article also discusses the Korean poet Ko Un, but since he was contemporaneous with the Beat generation, his relationship to it seems less remarkable to me.