Remembering J.P. Chae-Pyong Song (1960-2013)

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Although I only interacted online with Dr. Song (who insisted that I call him 'JP') a few times, I was delighted to republish his poetry translations on Koreabridge for the last few months. His work added a unique literary voice to our site and his translation of Snow by Kim Soo-Young was a timely feature during our recent snowy winter on the peninsula.  I found out this week that JP had been seriously ill for quite a while and died earlier this month.  To honor his life and work, I have posted several links below along with tributes from his memorial service.

-Jeff Lebow (manager@)

Dr. Chae-Pyong (“J.P.”) Song received his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Texas A&M University. He received his B.A. in English Language and Literature at Chonnam National University in Korea. Since he came to Marygrove College in 2001, he has taught a variety of courses such as Literary Theory, World Literature, Contemporary Literature of Africa, Post-colonial Re-imaginations: Empire Writes Back, Human Rights and Literature, Globalization in Context, The Novel, Introduction to Literature, Travel Seminar, and Academic Writing. In addition to publications on postcolonial literature and theory, his recent translations of Korean literature have appeared on The Korea TimesNew Writing from KoreaMetamorphoses: Journal of Literary TranslationWSQ: Women’s Studies QuarterlyIlluminations, and Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature and Culture. Recently, along with Anne Rashid, he won the 40th Korean Literature Translation Awards for translating Kim Hye-soon’s poems.

JP's Blog: Korean Poetry in Translation
A collection of contemporary Korean poetry in translation
Republished posts on Koreabridge

Marygrove University Bio  & Memorial Page

Facebook Page
From The Legacy he  bequeathed to us (그가 우리에게 남긴 유산)

"저의 한국시 번역은 우리 문화와 문학을 국제사회에 알리고 싶은 마음도 있지만, 

 우리 한국문학의 평화와 정의에 대한 갈망을 ...알리고 싶었습니다.

 1980년 초 대학을 다니던 저에게 가장 자연스럽게 다가온 것들은

 광주항쟁 문학으로 승화한 작품들 이었습니다.

 그래서, 광주 오월시들을 번역한 것이 많이 있습니다. 

 또한, 지역의 평화 그리고 정의의 실현을 넘어, 하나님의 평화와 정의가

 세계에 퍼지길 기도하고 염원하는 시들을 번역하였습니다.

 시련을 맞으며 더 선혈처럼 붉게 피어나는 여수 오동도의 동백과 같은

 작으나마 저에겐 고귀한 작업이었습니다.

 동영상으로 들어있는 고은 시인의 “오월이 가면”을 함께 나누시면서

 하나님의 평화와 정의가 이 땅위에 쉬이 임하길 함께 기도하고 싶습니다.

감사합니다, 여러분 사랑합니다

송재평 드림.


*번역일을 같이 한 Anne Rashid와 Darcy Brandel에게 감사의 마음을 보냅니다


Through translation of Korean poetry, I wanted to share our Korean culture and literature with the rest of the world. More importantly, I wanted to let the world know that the canon of Korean literature reflects our deep desire for peace and justice. Because of my college experience in Gwangju in 1980, I found the literary work on the Gwangju Uprising to be a source of inspiration. I translated many poems about what transpired on May 18, 1980 in Gwangju. I also translated many Korean poems that invoke God’s peace and justice all over the world, beyond our region.


This has been a small, but very endearing project to me, just like Oh Dong Island’s camellias that blossom after a long winter. I would like to share a video clip of “If May Passes By Forgotten” by Ko Un and pray with you for God’s peace and justice on earth

 Thank you and I love you.

J.P. Song 

**Sincere appreciation to Anne Rashid and Darcy Brandel, who collaborated on the translation of these Korean poems


Frank Rashid's tribute to JP at the memorial service:

For JP: 15 February 2013 

Good evening. My name is Frank Rashid. I teach English at Marygrove College. Chae-Pyong Song was my colleague and my dear friend, and for the past thirteen years, he has been a major intellectual force on our campus. Marygrove’s President, David J. Fike is here, along with Vice Presidents Jane Hammang-Buhl, and Dean Rose DeSloover. A number of students, alumni, faculty, and staff are here as well to honor our deeply loved and respected professor and colleague. I ask them all to stand. 
It is an honor for me to stand in this church and with this church community. I know how important you were to JP, Jina, and Iris. JP spoke often of his pleasure in belonging to this congregation and of his affection for its members. 

In the fall of 2000, I was the chair of the Marygrove English and Modern Languages Department, and we were searching for an a new assistant professor of English with expertise in world literatures and postcolonial literary theory. But Marygrove is a small place, and the new faculty member would also have to teach writing and general literature courses. When we received an application from someone named Chae-Pyong Song. I was prepared to dismiss it. He clearly would not be right for us: He was already a brilliant scholar who belonged at a large research university, not a small college like Marygrove. Moreover, English was his second language, and, I thought, he would probably have difficulty dealing with the challenges native speakers faced as writers. But his application letter interested my colleagues and me. It was full of intense enthusiasm for teaching and learning, writing and scholarship, Then there were the letters of recommendation from his professors: One described him as “the best student I have ever taught.” Another described him as “the most accomplished student” in this professor’s years at the institution. 

Whether or not we hired him, we wanted to meet the person who inspired these superlatives. When I called him to set up the campus visit and interview, I was even more anxious to meet him. He struck me as a kind man with a sense of humor, who wanted us to call him JP because he knew that Americans had trouble pronouncing his name. Then he came to the campus, and he simply persuaded us, although for different reasons. For one of my colleagues, dress was important. She would not allow us to hire any man who did not know how to pick a good tie. And JP specialized, among many other things, in ties. As my colleague Don Levin recalls, JP told us we should hire him because our students needed him, someone who represented a different culture, someone who could open up the world for students who knew little beyond Detroit. After his interview, as he and I toured the campus, I asked him straight out: Could he handle the teaching load at Marygrove? Could he help American students who faced challenges as writers? He told me that as one who had struggled to learn English, whose personal background was modest, he had special empathy for students who lack the privileges many Americans take for granted. I still wasn’t sure. We had other wonderful candidates for this position, but as we continued to consider them, we kept coming back to JP Song.

Hiring him was one of the best decisions we ever made and one of the best decisions in Marygrove’s recent history. JP threw himself into the life of the college, forming strong and lasting friendships with our department’s faculty and students, but also with colleagues in academic and administrative departments across the campus. He taught at every level: first year writers, graduate students, and senior colleagues like me. All regarded JP as a superb teacher, an enthusiastic classroom performer who reveled in the depth and breadth of each subject and infused his teaching with a daunting amount of scholarship and theory. He challenged students to think deeply and critically, but when things got too serious, he lightened the atmosphere with stories about his childhood on a farm in Korea, and somehow the stories fit whatever idea he was trying to get across. One day as he and I walked into the cafeteria, one of his students slapped his hand and called out: “Soul Brother!” I knew that JP had found a home at Marygrove. He did everything with enthusiasm, intensity, and seemingly limitless joy in the academic processes of reflection, discovery, discussion, communication, and, of course, translation. He loved his students, and they loved him back. He started long conversations about their individual talents as writers, thinkers, and critics. How could they not want to learn from this man? 

JP was committed to Marygrove’s emphasis on social justice and critical thinking and intrigued with the possibilities of its focus on urban leadership. He felt that education was central to human rights and human dignity in our city and world. In writing courses, he used essays and films to engage in a pointed critique of American television, movies, music, and advertising. Impatient with narrowness, provincialism, and the status quo, he encouraged students to grow, to critique their own buying habits, definitions of success, and addiction to materialism as the source of happiness. In literature courses, he challenged students to question superficial, moralistic interpretations and drew out insights that often surprised them with their depth and profundity. Students in his upper-level undergraduate and graduate literature, theory, and social justice courses say that JP’s belief in theory and in its application to both literature and life became life-altering. 
JP not only continually refined and revised his courses; he was extremely active in developing new ones. In his first few years, he developed and taught these new courses: 
• Contemporary Literature of Africa
• a new senior seminar on the works of J.M. Coetzee, 
• “Human Rights and Literature" for our Master of Social Justice Program (team-taught) 
• “Post-colonial Re-Imaginations: The Empire Writes Back”
• “Globalization in Context” (team-taught)
• Travel seminars to China and to England and Ireland. 

Despite his formidable health challenges, JP remained very active on campus. He was often the first person in his office in the morning and one of the last—often the very last— to leave in the evening. He could also be found in his office on Saturdays and Sundays. He never understood why Americans like to take weekends off. He became our department attendance officer and hallway monitor, our upholder of standards in teaching, scholarship, and clothing, and he often went on patrol, as he called it, beyond our borders, building strong relationships with students, staff, and faculty around the campus. 

JP had ravenous interest in a wide range of academic issues, and he was always reading and writing. He was a book-addict, who had to reconfigure his office in order to squeeze in yet one more bookcase, only to discover, after filling it with books, that he’d blocked the doorway and couldn’t get out. He hated to waste time. He was the only person I’ve ever known who kept a book on literary theory next to the driver’s seat in his car so that he could read at red lights. If you went for a long drive with him, you listened to taped lectures on Marx, Freud, and Derrida. JP was always at work on a conference paper or proposal, an article, or a literary translation, and he kept himself informed on a variety of literary and philosophical topics. In addition to literature and literary theory, he loved to discuss politics, philosophy, history, art, music, psychology, popular culture, and food. Those of us brave enough to have lunch with him had to be prepared to analyze the meaning of each meal and the way it was prepared and to engage in interpretation of the labels on our beverage containers. Along with salt and pepper, he sprinkled our meals with terms like hybridity and McDonaldization. 

His hunger for ideas and in-depth conversation exceeded even his love of food. His wide-ranging scholarly interests—in translation; post-colonialism; human rights; and African, Asian, and British literatures—reflected his own involvement in academic and cultural border-crossing. His papers and published essays (in both English and Korean) reflect his interests in modern and contemporary world fiction by major writers: James Joyce, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, J.M. Coetzee, and Edwidge Danticat. His early translations focused on issues of trauma and justice, especially on that central event in modern Korean history, the May 1980 Gwangju Uprising. He then graduated to translating Korean poetry into English, enlisting the aid of two younger poets, Marygrove’s Darcy Brandel and Carlow University’s Anne Rashid. 

His many seemingly divergent interests were part of a single self- development project involving enlightenment of himself and others about the important issues facing those who live on this earth. With his infectious enthusiasm for ideas, he inspired his colleagues and students to move beyond their narrow scholarly confines, to follow him across borders, to engage in serious scholarly exploration of the conditions that affect us all as citizens of today’s world. In addition, he developed and retained many other interests and adopted those of his friends. That’s how he fell in love with northern Michigan and that’s how he developed his love of birds and flowers and then of photography so that he could share the birds and flowers he saw. He would often be seen on campus accompanying our friend and colleague Laurie Kopack, both with their cameras, kneeling to get a close-up of a spring flower or standing before a blazing maple in the fall. He shared my love of the blossoming redbud trees that glorify Marygrove’s beautiful campus in the spring. Together, we fought to protect one ancient redbud in the center of the campus so top-heavy that its trunk leaned and leaned until it now rests nearly horizontal on the ground. It looks a little strange, and the campus landscapers wanted to remove it, but we petitioned to protect it, and every April it justifies our efforts with a gorgeous plume of bright purple blossoms. JP identified with that tree and took several photos of it. It gave him hope.

But these intense interests, his love of people, his humor, and the deep pleasures he took in his church and school, his family and friends, flowers and photographs, could not completely disguise a fundamental sadness that came, not only from his concerns about his health, but from a sense of rootlessness, of existing in what he called a “space of incongruence, a space of might-have-beens.” What might have happened, he asked, if he had stayed at home in Korea or returned after graduate school? He occupied, as he said in a recent paper, “a space of longing for your native language, longing for your mother, longing for your motherland, longing for your home, longing for your homeland. . . ..” This longing, he noted, is reflected in the orientation of this very church building, which faces westward toward Korea. 

He did not dwell on this sadness for long. Although “the space of might-have-beens,”of dislocation and “incongruence” is real, he also found thrilling the opportunity to cross borders, to move across cultures and between languages. He felt that people who migrate across oceans and continents have a crucial role in bringing awareness back and forth between peoples, in negotiating difference, and identifying common beliefs and values. With Salman Rushdie, he asserted. that much is “gained” rather than “lost” in translation. JP believed this. He dedicated his life to it.

At the center of this life were his amazing wife Jina and their wonderful, gifted daughter Iris. He proudly and frequently reported on their activities: Jina’s impressive career as a professor, scholar, writer, and therapist, her invitations to speak in distant places. Jina kept him grounded and centered and strong. And Iris: Until two or three years ago, his sentences often began with the words “my Iris” when he launched into a story about a paper she had written, a recital she had given, or an award she’d received. JP was a proudly possessive father--amazed, enamored, and mystified by the miracle that a daughter is to a father, especially a daughter as talented as Iris. But then he dropped the “my”; she was simply “Iris,” and we knew that he had given up sole possession of this strong and independent young woman. She will always be Jina and JP’s daughter, but he saw that she can stand on her own, and, as his disease worsened, her strength and her resilience were to him a source of great comfort, satisfaction, and pride. 

Three weeks ago, on JP’s first night in Angela Hospice, our colleague Pao-Yu Chou and I tiptoed to his room, expecting to find him lying exhausted in his bed. But when we opened the door, he was sitting at a desk, busily typing into his laptop while his I-pad sat open next to it. 
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Come! Sit!” he commanded. As always, we did as we were told. 
“Go ahead. Talk!” he directed, still typing. So we started to ask him the usual questions. 
“Shh! Stop!” he said, annoyed that we were distracting him from his work: “No questions! Only declarative sentences.” So we made up some declarative sentences while he continued to type for several minutes before emailing the newly translated poem to Anne in Pittsburgh. Only then could we visit. 

A few days later, I stopped by with our history department colleague Tom Klug, who told JP about a problem he was having with this year’s academic symposium which he, JP, and a team of colleagues had coordinated for several years. JP was having difficulty speaking, but he grabbed his notepad and wrote intensely for several minutes. It was a detailed list of instructions for the team members, a way to address a problem with a symposium he would not live to see. 

A week later on a snowy day, I came alone to visit JP while Jina went home for a couple of hours. JP could barely speak, but he wrote notes, whispered, and gave directions with his hands: He saw that sunlight was approaching the beautiful orchid next to his bed and he gestured for me to move it to the shade. He wanted me to rinse out his cold compress. He tired and started to doze, and so I read for my American literature course. He woke up and pointed at the book to ask what I was reading, then nodded in approval. Then we both dozed like a couple of friendly old dogs. At one point he wrote me a note, thanking me for coming, assigning me to speak at this memorial service, and apologizing for not talking by alluding to two of his final translated poems: “I will the snow and silence to talk to you for me. . . .” 

JP knew that his colleagues would miss him terribly, so he left us plenty of work to keep us busy and distracted. Some of us are translating; some are teaching and advising his students; others are directing his programs, and still others are organizing a symposium. As for me, I’ve been writing this talk, and there’s a paper I know he wants me to compose. I think I’ll be all right—at least until the redbuds blossom on our campus in the spring. 

Frank D. Rashid 
Professor of English 
Marygrove College


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