Review: The Life of a Rainhat Poet, by Tae Hung Ha

Tae Hung Ha’s Life of a Rainhat Poet is a “drama,” or what we would more normally call a play. And I should say from the outset that it is primarily of interest to those who are already interested in Kim Sakkat (or Kim Satgat as local Romanization has it). It is volume “IX” of the Korean Cultural Series, although I must admit to having seen no previous eight volumes.

This site has talked about Kim Sakkat previously, particularly his witty extemporaneous poetry, so take a look here if you require any background on him.

The book is formally a play, including stage directions that really don’t make sense in the novel form, including bizarre musical instructions such as, “Flurried theme, full up and under,” and a collection of offstage noises. These are best ignored.

Unfortunately Sakkat’s poetry, as rendered here, is no great shakes:

Snowy days are many, fair days are few,
The front-hill is white, the back-hill is white too;
I open the window, and my eyes greet shining silver-walls,
My lad, do not sweep the snowflowers fallen—
For this is a scene I love to see

Except for some parts of the fourth line, this is poetry from the level of earnest high-school freshmen, and I have to admit that by the end of the book I was forcing myself to read it.

However, the honesty with which Ha addresses what might be called Sakkat’s character flaws is utterly charming. Sakkat is a feckless womanizer and accomplished drunk, whose sense of responsibility fades in and out depending on how personally inconvenient being responsible would be for him.

These sections were utterly amusing and did an excellent job of explaining the kind of personality who would turn into a traveling poet as well as why their personality might force them to turn into a traveler of some kind, particularly within the Confucian (at least on the surface) strictures of the day.

If you’re interested in Sakkat this makes an excellent paired purchase with Yi Mun-yol’s The Poet. Between the two of them you can get an excellent understanding of this quite unique Korean historical poet, and character.

It’s available, used, inexpensively on Amazon, though there are few copies available.