Publisher suspends supplying books by disgraced poet amid criticism

SEOUL — A publisher on Friday apologized for releasing new books of poems by disgraced poet Ko Un and said it will suspend supplying the books to bookstores in consideration of public opinion against his return without any apology for his alleged past sexual misconduct.

Silcheon Munhak has come under strong public criticism for opening the way for the disgraced poet to return to the literary scene by publishing the books without any explanation on or apology for the allegations of sexual misconduct.

The books published last month were a collection of 129 poems by the renowned writer under a Korean title roughly translated as “Song of Nothingness” and “Conversations with Ko Un,” a compilation of conversations between him and Iranian-Canadian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo, to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the poet’s debut in 1958.

Ko, who had long been listed as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, suspended his writing career in 2018, having been accused of habitually sexually harassing female poets.

“I deeply apologize to those who are troubled by this incident,” Yoon Han-ryong, CEO of the publisher, said in a statement sent to Yonhap News Agency.

He said the company has been suspending supplying the books since Tuesday in consideration of public opinion against the release.

He said he chose to publish them to respect Ko’s basic rights of freedom of press and considering the poet’s long ties with the company, but the mounting criticism for the release was not what he had expected.

Yoon, however, left room for resuming the supply by adding the suspension will be continued until the company determines whether it is right to abandon one’s freedom of press due to public opinion.

Allegations of the poet’s sexual misconduct arose after female poet Choi Young-mi revealed her experience of being groped by an unnamed senior poet in a poem titled “Monster” in 2017.

She did not disclose the name of the perpetrator, but news media have pointed to Ko Un based on the details described in the poem.

After more women raised similar sexual assault allegations, his poems were removed from school textbooks.

He later filed a compensation suit against Choi and some others for “wrongfully” accusing him of sexual misconduct in 2018. After losing the suit in a local court and an appeals court the following year, he did not file an appeal to the top court.

After the release of his new books, Choi wrote on Facebook she felt dispirited upon hearing the news of the disgraced poet’s return. She later uploaded a short phrase, “literature that puts hypocrisy into practice,” in an apparent criticism of the publisher.

On Thursday, Lee Seung-ha, a poet who is an advisory editor of the publisher, urged both the poet and the publisher to make a sincere apology.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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