Yi Won confronts a wired, technological world, often in the mirror, in these inventive, daring and subversive poems. A successor to Korean feminist poets like Kim Hyesoon, Yi Won frequently writes about the perilousness of maintaining one’s human identity in a high-tech, digital environment. In this debut book in English, her poems range from avant-garde prose poems to more lyrical (if dark) free verse, as she examines isolation, loneliness, death, and the passage of time — and in the process, upends polite society and Korean literary culture.
Yi Won is a South Korean avant-garde poet and essayist, born in 1968 in Gyeonggi-do. She studied Creative Writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts and earned her master’s degree at the Graduate School of Culture and Arts at Dongguk University. Her poetry debuted in 1992, and she received the Contemporary Poetics Award (2002), Contemporary Poetry Award (2005), Opening the World with Poetry Award (2014), The Beginning Award (2014), The Equity Literature Award (2018), and the Poet Town Literary Award (2018). Her books include When They Ruled the Earth (1996), A Thousand Moons Rising Over the River of Yahoo! (2001), The World’s Lightest Motorcycle (2007), The History of an Impossible Page (2012), Let Love be Born (2017), and I Am My Affectionate Zebra (2018). She lives in Seoul, South Korea, and works at the Seoul Institute of the Arts as a professor of Creative Writing, School of Creative Writing.
E. J. Koh is the author of the memoir The Magical Language of Others (Tin House Books, 2020), winner of the Pacific Northwest Book Award, and the poetry collection A Lesser Love (Louisiana State University Press, 2017), winner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry. Her poems, translations, and stories have appeared in Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, and World Literature Today. Koh is the recipient of fellowships from the American Literary Translators Association, Kundiman, and MacDowell, and she was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award. She earned her MFA at Columbia University for Creative Writing and Literary Translation. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington in Seattle for English Language and Literature on Korean and Korean American literature, history, and film.
Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello is the author of Hour of the Ox (University of Pittsburgh, 2016), which won the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in Best Small Fictions, Kenyon Review Online, Orion, The New York Times, and been anthologized in You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves (Workman Publishing, 2021), Grabbed: Poets & Writers on Sexual Assault, Empowerment & Healing (Beacon, 2020), and Ink Knows No Borders: Poems on the Immigrant and Refugee Experience (Seven Stories Press, 2019). The recipient of fellowships from the American Literary Translators Association and Kundiman, Cancio-Bello earned an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, where she was a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fellow. She is the poetry coordinator for Miami Book Fair.
The publication of The World's Lightest Motorcycle was made possible with support from the Academy of American Poets with funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership Poetry Fund; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Literary Translation Institute of Korea (LTI-Korea); and the Min Endowment at the Korea Institute of Harvard University.
The World's Lightest Motorcycle
The World's Lightest Motorcycle
Translated from Korean by E. J. Koh and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello
128 pages | Bilingual (Korean & English)
• Click here to watch poet Yi Won and translators E. J. Koh and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello read from and discuss The World's Lightest Motorcycle in a joint reading with Korean poet Kim Ki-taek, sponsored by Rain Taxi Review of Books on January 27, 2022.
“Yi Won and her translators show that a poem can be a space where readers might imagine that another world is possible; where correspondence and contradiction easily coexist, and no one insists otherwise; where one can play out dreams without turning them into dogma.”— Mia You, Poetry Foundation
Yi Won is one of the most fascinating and exciting poets to emerge after the oppressive decades of South Korea’s military dictatorship. Her renowned and influential predecessor, Kim Hyesoon, notes that “young Korean women poets are developing a terrain of poetry that is combative, visceral, subversive, inventive, and ontologically feminine.” Yi Won’s highly inventive poetry creates a new surreal terrain in which bodies and everyday objects, capitalist commodities, exist side by side and interact, often violently. E. J. Koh and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, two brilliant Korean American poets, have invented astonishing language for Yi Won’s subversive poetry. —Don Mee Choi
Yi Won’s The World’s Lightest Motorcycle arrives like a photon in E.J. Koh and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello’s agile, radiant translation. With consummate lightness, Yi Won’s poetry reveals the double potential in everything—the radical intimacy of the seemingly distant, the radical newness of the close-to-hand. In Yi Won’s line of sight, the universe is truly expanding; not just the elevator, but the floor itself is rising, heaven and earth change places, the inkdrop gleams like a cat’s eye. Jump up, jump on, jump in!
—Joyelle McSweeney, author of Toxicon and Arachne