Kim Sakkat; Korea’s original Beat Poet / Battle-Rapper

KTLIT LogoUPDATE: Any fans of Kim can feel free to chime in in the comments section ;-).

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.

Eperjesi claims:

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.

The whole article is here..




9 thoughts on “Kim Sakkat; Korea’s original Beat Poet / Battle-Rapper

  1. Hey Charles, glad you liked it….I’m kind of surprised that nobody wrote about this before.

    But I just skimmed the surface, so lots more to explore,,,

  2. Yeah… I emailed you about that.. the minute I saw your article things started cascading in my head.^^

  3. Thanks for the link. Pretty interesting… His style reminds me of Gary Snyder, who I see is mentioned in the article. Snyder of course visited Korea and still has friends there.

    Then again, it could be said that Rainhat echoes previous generations of poets as much as he does the Beats. Poets has been fucking, drinking, and wandering since god knows when.

  4. David,

    Actually, I have a bit more on Sakkat and the connection Eperjesi found than I posted here, and it would amplify Eperjesi’s point that Sakkat was a beat and a rapper (I mean, you have to love that Eperjesi saw both of those comparisons). I immediately wanted to write more about it, but I also wanted to check to make sure that John wouldn’t consider such writing a poaching of his brilliant comparison. With his permission to proceed, I’m going to work on this a bit more.

    Snyder and Ko Un are linked by publication ( and by (and I warn you I’m working on memory here) Ko Un’s rather (to me, TO ME) careerist approach to the the west. As I read Ko Un’s history, he figured out where his market was in the west and exploited it with a certain care and alacrity. As I recall he spent some time in Berkeley (California baby!) hanging out with zen and beat writers there – I guess I should think of it as affinity, not cupidity.

    LOL.. I have the skill catching poisoned fish in even the clearest streams.^^

    Anyway…. it’s something I might submit over your way, unless a more, ahem, careerist (see, I use that term as approbation) vehicle presents itself.

  5. I’d definitely be interested in learning more about these guys and their connection to Beat or any Western poetic movement.

    Poach away!

  6. Pingback: 2015 Travel Diary day 2: The Drawing hand | Seooreung | Tea Museum | Makgeolli at Kim Sakkat | London Korean Links

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