|PHOTOGRAPHED BY SEO JI-HYE
“I ENVY you that you are good at studying!” Poet Ha Sang-wook’s answer to the question, “Is there anything you want to say to Yonsei students?” was both concise and mischievous. Every word that came from his mouth was witty but never cheap. During the interview, I saw that he had a very clear view on things and his answers to questions were often highly unpredictable. Nor can it be denied that he is trying make this world a better place by conveying empathy and consolation to readers, as expressed in his remark, “Empathy is the beginning of change.” Known for his short yet impressive poems, his work has been gaining more and more popularity. Let us find out why he and his poems are loved by so many.
The Yonsei Annals: What inspired you to become a poet?
Ha: Every time I receive this question, my answer to it is, “Nothing.” My first writing was about pretentiousness, which went, “People do not change. That’s why love changes.” It was written without any specific purpose or reason – I just wrote it because I wanted to. At that time, those who could see my writings were limited to my Facebook friends, who were not that large in number. This hobby of mine developed into thinking that writing about people’s lives would be quite fun. Since then, my style of writing gradually began to change into the form you see now. To be specific, my writings were first published in e-books, which allowed people to easily download and share them through their SNS. As more and more people began to pay attention to my writing, they could also be published in paper books and I was being called a poet before I knew it.
Annals: Why do you think many people love your writings?
Ha: If I could choose one word that best represents my writing, it would be “empathy”. I write hoping that readers would think, “It’s the same with me,” rather than, “Some might think this way, but not me.” I sometimes receive questions about how they could win empathy with their “own” stories. This question is wrong from the premise; by telling your own story, you might be able to impress people but not rob them of their empathy. In addition, I strongly believe that empathy is something we should find, not create. I guess my writing is loved because I discover points that many people can relate to in everyday life and convert them into short pieces. I don’t think that there’s a clear distinction between pop culture and art, but I would say that my writings are closer to pop culture. Because of this aspect, people find my writings easier to read than other texts. I suppose that is another answer to your question. Lastly, I take extra care not to turn “empathy” into “offense” when writing.
Annals: Did you enjoy writing when you were a student?
Ha: I was just an ordinary kid who liked to read comics and play games. I didn’t have any interest in writing when I was young, and this might sound a little strange, but I still don’t. Expecting that someone would like writing just because he or she is an author is a prejudice. I do not think that experts are the only ones who can achieve a great feat in that field. I have been working as a designer for a very long time, and one episode that gave me a refreshing jolt was when someone totally unrelated to this field presented a brilliant idea that had never occurred to me before. Being an expert in a field is great, but it is not necessarily proportional to one’s ability to create, which includes composing poems.
Annals: Having worked as a designer, web planner and a poet, you are recently expanding your career to music and broadcasting. Is there any other field you want to try?
Ha: Whenever I feel something is a “challenge”, I never try it. I do things because I think they are within my capacity. As I began to concentrate on writing, I resigned from the company that I’ve worked at for many years. Some people might regard my choice as a challenge, but I disagree. I quit my job because I was already making enough money through writing. I am the kind of person who is reluctant to make risky decisions, so I tend to poke around things before I start my career in earnest. I continue the work if the result is good, but if it’s not, I stop without regret. If the outcomes of such challenges are a failure, it would be difficult to avoid seeing yourself as an incompetent person. I can’t stand this feeling, which is why I give up tasks that are beyond my limit without hesitation.
Annals: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ha: To be honest, I have no idea. No one knows how things will turn out in the future. When we can’t even carry out a plan like “I’m going to sleep early tonight when I go home,” what is the point of making a 10-year plan? Furthermore, the world we live in is not a place where we can actually put our plan into action, since it changes so fast. That’s why I believe that we should concentrate on ourselves and the world every single minute. This does not mean that we should do our best, but rather follow our best judgements every moment. If we do our best or, in other words, if we immerse ourselves in the effort to achieve our goals, it is likely that we will miss the best option we could choose at that time. In my case, good results were produced in the process of adjusting to my surroundings.
Annals: Nowadays, people in their twenties, including students of Yonsei University, are going through a difficult period because of unemployment and endless competition. Is there any message you want to convey to them?
Ha: What I want to say is, “No wonder you are so exhausted.” The society we are living in is not hospitable for those in their twenties. We should remember that we are not the ones who made this situation, so it’s not our fault even if we fail. One of the expressions that I hate the most is “the power of positivity”. The hidden meaning of this phrase is that regardless of how difficult the situation is, we should always think positively. In other words, it implies that any will to improve the situation is not needed. That’s why we should acknowledge, rather than deny, that we are living in a harsh world. Although the process might be slow, the moment we accept the bitter reality, we can finally take the first step to create a better world.