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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

The Three Way Tavern

Ko Un

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To purchase The Three Way Tavern

Title: The Three Way Tavern
Author: Ko Un
Genre: Poetry
Written: (Eng. 2006)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: The Three Way Tavern - US
The Three Way Tavern - UK
The Three Way Tavern - Canada
  • Selected Poems
  • Foreword by Gary Snyder
  • Introduction by Clare You
  • Translated by Clare You and Richard Silberg

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting variety

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 9/4/2006 Susan Salter Reynolds

  From the Reviews:
  • "Snyder praises Ko Un's "purity," his "nervy clarity," his "heart of compassion" and his "deep dharma wit," all qualities that grow sharper and more in evidence in the later poems" - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Three Way Tavern presents poems from six different collections by the prolific Ko Un, most relatively recent (from the 1990s). In her useful summary-introduction Clare You notes:

     Ko Un's works are generally divided into three stages: the first period, of "nihilistic wantonness"; the second period, of "resistance activism" or "social responsibility"; and the third period, the poetic culmination of his artistry, "of the language of ordinary people."
       The poems in this volume belong in the third period, but even here there is considerable variety, and if not a career-spanning collection, The Three Way Tavern still manages to give a good impression of Ko Un's poetry.
       Quite a few of the poems are philosophically speculative, reductionist in suggesting a simpler world is a better world: "Ah, how much grander not knowing is / than knowing", he claims, or insists: "Asking can be foolish." Grandfather's Advice is yet another variation on a common theme:
Study the mountains,
learn the rivers,
not books on a desk.
Tssk tssk.
       (The use of doubled words (or, in this case, sounds) is a technique repeated perhaps a few times too often, too often .....)
       The simplicity is often striking and appealing, though it tends to work better in the slightly more ambitious poems. A Cenotaph, for example, begins beautifully: "Immortality is so sad." In its further exploration -- not satisfied with simple repetition of the idea, but rather structuring it -- it impresses more than the smaller (if neater) zen-like thought-poems.
       Translation -- especially of the sparest poems -- presumably also is an issue. How does Sadness, for example, feel in the original -- reading in its entirety in English:
A thinker who's not sad anymore.
No more sadness ?
No more sadness ?
Who would've thought I'd end up a pauper.
       One senses more behind it -- as if a tweaking of the words might get it right -- but it just doesn't fully convince in English.
       There are also some autobiographical bits scattered through the poems, notably in Letters, where the young Ko Un is asked at school what he wants to be when he grows up -- and gets himself suspended for three months for saying he wants to be Emperor. From the humiliation of getting chased out of a department store with his father by the saleslady ("She said there was nothing for us to buy there") to the nicely done look back at My Poems, there are some intriguing bits of autobiography -- though the introductions suggest Ko Un's life offers considerably more rich material.
       It feels somewhat like a smattering collection, but there's obvious talent here, and quite a variety of appealing (and fairly approachable) stuff. Certainly an author (and a collection) worth reading.

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The Three Way Tavern: Ko Un: Other books by Ko Un under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Korean author Ko Un was born in 1933. He has won many literary prizes.

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© 2006-2009 the complete review

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