Sijo

It’s about sijo. Sijo? Everybody knows haiku, hardly anybody knows Sijo (sadly, not even in nowadays Korea, to my amazement).

This traditional form of poetry I personally discovered when my son became a Buddhist monk and settled in Musangsa Temple in South Korea, so I – naturally- got interested in that part of world culture.

Sijo was the answer to my question whether there was a traditional poetic form compared to Japanese haiku.  And what an answer it was! I have fallen in love with it forever. It became one of the biggest sources of inspiration for my photography.

What gets my creative wheels turning is that unlike straightforward, illustration-like haiku, sijo is a lot more abstract. I would go as far as to mention philosophical symbolism: sijo doesn’t stop after outlining a scene, it suggests a musing, a very personal opinion about it. Sijo are closely related – in my mind, and I am not an expert, just hanging around – to concepts like zen, meditation, koan, fable. When you read a few examples, you might understand better what I mean.

I have attempted to shoot for Sijo project twice. First time – very minimalist still life, naive and amateurist, but I gave it my sincere all, what I had at that moment, inspired by Seven Sijo by Master Cho.

My Lifelines 

what I’ve been seeking all my life
are the mainlines, the veins
of Zen
& poetry
the conclusion I reached today—
poetry is woodgrain, knotted,
& Zen is wood’s grain, straight

– Cho Oh-hyun, transl. Heinz Insu Fenkl

Second time I shot on location, at a legendary Buseoksa Temple, with a lot more awareness of what I wanted and why.  I photographed the wood-grain of temple’s pillars. When back home, I made a series of images with the idea to print them on small wooden boards, double-sided: my image on one side, and the actual poetic line or even a complete sijo on the other. It never came to realisation simply because I couldn’t find a printing company for my task. Meanwhile I printed my wood-grain images on fabric (as in the image here), plastic (transparent) and variety of washi.

Unlike with so many other projects, I am still holding onto the subject of sijo poetry, even when my project is complete. Every time I go back to reading Master Cho’s poems, ideas and visions is my head start being formed, as if I open some magic box with beautiful, familiar and strange objects.

Pretty much like a shelf with souvenirs I bring home from South Korea, along with memories of places I’ve seen, people I met, and poetry I read. I wish I met Master Cho, to tell him in person how grateful I am, but on the other hand I already feel he shared enough of his world with me, and gave me much through his poems. Telling you about him is my way to say thank you, Master.

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