Sparrow dabang (참새 다방)

Yi Sang (1910–37) was an avant-garde Korean poet. I wrote this poem after visiting Yi Sang House in Seoul as part of the Cordite poets' tour in 2011. Read the Hangul version, '참새 다방'.
last night i saw yi sang singing in a noraebang
     sounding just like a little sparrow does going
tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang it was
     such a sad little song that the sparrow sang
the kind that nobody else knew the words to
     but don't think that stopped him - no way!
i can hear yi sang  still, on the hanok roof
     going tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang

     all day long, in dead silence, like a sparrow. 

then i saw yi sang playing starcraft in a pc bang
     losing badly, screaming at the screen, the air
heavy with teenage smoke and his keyboard
     sticky with grape soda (do you think that stopped
yi sang? never! losing men and energy way too
     fast to ever keep up with his competitors going
tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang on
     their worn-out keyboards all night long,

     in networked silence, like a flock of sparrows. 

then (if you can believe this) i saw yi sang
     soaking himself in a jjimjilbang, his hair like
feathers on the head of a sparrow, spiky and
     wet, like a sparrow drinking from the smallest
puddle you can imagine. as if wet feathers could
     ever hold him back! don't believe it! yi sang, wet,
sitting in a pool in the jjimjilbang for hours on end,
     his little heart racing as if he was flying through

     air going tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang. 

tonight i'm sitting quietly in a corner of a dabang
     thinking of yi sang and what he would have made
of the new multibang craze. maybe he would have
     liked it, maybe there's a place for a little sparrow
inside a pay-as-you-go multitang, a little space
     that goes tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang
all day long if you want, if that's what you want,
     if that's what makes you happy. don't you think

     it's a nice idea? a nice way to re-imagine yi sang? 

& tomorrow i'll be sitting in a dvd bang, watching
     a movie based on the life of yi sang. i won't see
a single sparrow, i won't even hear the sound
     a sparrow makes in a tree in the dark. don't you
know? don't you believe in the sound a sparrow
     makes in the dark? never mind, i can remind you,
it sounds like tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang,
     all night long, in a corner of the sparrow dabang,

     and it's the most beautiful, lonely sound in the world.


  1. wow. this is powerful. motile stuff. great structure – what are the rules of this piece?

    also – who’s yi sang? and what’s multibang?

    I’m pretty sure I know, but wouldn’t mind nailing the concepts down a little.

  2. Hey Adam!

    Wow, you’re getting around today, I can hardly keep up with all yr comments! I’m glad you like this poem – Yi Sang was a Korean poet, a very famous one. We visited his old house in Seoul (you can read a little bit about him on the Cordite site here).

    A multibang is a relatively new Korean concept – it’s like a PC Bang (an Internet gaming room) but more private, with all sorts of gizmos in it (eg Playstation, I think but a bunch of other things – including a bed …). I recently came up with a concept of Tang Tang Multibang (read about it here), which I would love to make real some day.

    In terms of structure, the poem is a reference to Yi Sang’s ‘swallow dabang’ in Seoul. A ‘dabang’ is a kind of salon or speakeasy (a recreation of which is alluded to in the Cordite piece). In Korean, the word ‘swallow’ is also slang for a guy who chases after rich women, a kind of playboy.

    But of course, my poem is about a sparrow, not a swallow/playboy :-))

    All the other ‘bang’ in the poem are real – noraebang (karaoke room), jjimjilbang (sauna), DVD bang (self explanatory), etc.

    Anyway, that’s the gist.

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