A Cup of Fine Tea: Ricky Garni’s “Literal Translation of Korean Ideograms”

Ricky Garni’s “Literal Translation of Korean Ideograms” [Read the poem here] (First published in Issue #16 of Cha)

Note: Also read a discussion of Ricky’s “The Tarsier” here.

-This post is co-written by Tammy Ho and Matt Shoard.

Sufficient time has now past, and the matter no longer so culturally sensitive, for the circumstances surrounding the providences of author Ricky Garni (whose poem “Literal Translation of Korean Ideograms” appeared at Asian Cha this March) to be made public.

Cha’s dissemination of Mr Garni’s poem online coincided with a visit to London by the Korean Ambassador Choo Kyu Ho. While tending to consular services for Korean citizens at the Korean Embassy in Westminster, Mr. Choo had occasion to read Mr. Garni’s poem on a vacant computer screen at the offices in Buckingham Gate.

According to the testimony of co-workers at the Embassy, Mr. Choo acted with “disbelief” and “barely contained rage” at Mr. Garni’s interpretation of certain Korean words. In his poem, Mr. Garni had interpreted ideograms for the word “No-Ryok” (hardworking) as a man folding chair, for “Ae-Jong” (sincere love) as a man dancing with a television set, and for “Yook-Goon” (military) as a religious frown protected by municipal lighting.

Mr. Choo’s distaste was allegedly such that he was unable to complete his visit with the consulate in London and returned to Heathrow to take an immediate flight home, without notifying his hosts.

Panic-stricken British diplomats, unable to reach the offices of Asian Cha sufficiently quickly, instead traced Mr. Garni to his North Carolina address, which is easily found online. They appeared to be intent on a programme of “character conflagration” against Mr. Garni, both online and in correspondence with the British Embassy in Korea, to which Cha was by now a correspondent witness.

E-mails from the British diplomats suggested that Mr. Garni’s poem was not the work of an ordinary Westerner, but of one with an abnormally enlarged corpus callosum (the region of the brain responsible for creative thinking). The poem, they claimed, was the result of an elaborate test – similar to the Rorschach “inkblot” test – staged by members of the Korean Embassy in London in allegiance with Cha and the Institute for Neurological Integrity (INI), in order to secretly assess the size of Mr. Garni’s corpus callosum and then remove him from the creative industries.

As an act of assuagement, Mr. Garni was transported by the CIA – apparently following encouragement by British foreign affairs officials – to a correctional facility within London’s INI.

But reaction from Korea suggested that Mr. Choo was entirely ignorant of Mr Garni’s poem, and very probably hadn’t seen it. The truth of his withdrawal from the Embassy, supplied by his administrative assistant in the following days, was that Mr. Choo had received bad news from home on his mobile phone, which drew him instantly to the nearest vacant computer, and to his email account for corroboration.

Mr Choo’s hasty departure and, in all probability, his appearance of “disbelief” and “barely contained rage”, were testament, said the Koreans, to the seriousness of the news he had received. He had closed his email account and repaired to Heathrow, leaving “Literal Translation of Korean Ideograms” blinking on the vacant computer.

In order not to compound their embarrassment, both the Embassy, the Foreign Office and the INI, have since maintained the story of Mr. Garni’s enlarged corpus collosum and his necessary removal to palliative psychological care for several weeks. Today (13 July), they released the following statement:

“Mr. Garni’s psychological coordinates, broken thinking, buried preoccupations and unhealthy motivations have not, until now, been subject to study. Ostensibly to generate a work of poetry, but actually to form conclusive evidence for the Institute of Neurological Integrity, Garni was presented with Korean hieroglyphics for what is known as a “creative writing prompt”. The INI believed Garni not only to be exceptional in the size of his corpus collosum but also, and as a consequence, to be a uniquely-placed danger to contemporary poetics, and to international literary interventions more generally. Indeed, the earliest reports of the INI have concluded that

Garni is ‘dangerously poetic’.

Some sceptics consider our tests pseudoscience, even suggesting they breach patient ethics, but we maintain they produce results with a validity greater than chance, and that areas of dispute (inter-rater reliability, the verifiability and general validity of the test, bias of the test’s pathology scales towards corpus callosum) are negligible. In this instance, we believe Garni’s responses provide direct insight into illogical, incongruous or incoherent aspects of his creative life.

Invariably with subjects whose cultural preponderance precludes the recognition of Korean Ideograms, the suggestion of enlargement in this area of the brain is erroneous. There may be a broader cluster of variables used to interpret Garni’s case, and tests are ongoing.

Previous reports have indicated that undesirable responses to ideograms were observed at higher frequency in the normal artistic population than in the non-artistic normal population, and this positive correlation in Garni suggests that corpus collosum enlargement in the normal population might be related to other poetic anomalies and offensive creativities.

Treatment here is as nascent as the diagnostics, but we are advised they include: re-creative programming, long walks, short bicycle rides, and intensive primetime televisual stimulus.”

The fact that much of the phrasing of the statement is identical to Wikipedia entries on the Rorschach Test is further proof, at least to editors of Cha, that much of the case has been inflated. Everyone at Cha and the wider creative community in London remain hopeful of Mr. Garni’s imminent release and return to creative life in North Carolina, of an apology from the Embassies and the INI, and a de facto pardon to Asian Cha. Mr. Choo’s next visit to the UK is scheduled for mid-November – an opportunity, we hope, for final explanation and for the situation to normalise.

Meanwhile, you can read Mr Garni’s now-infamous “Literal Translation of Korean Ideograms” here.

Ricky Garni  [website] lives and works in Carrboro, NC (USA). He is particularly fond of manhood for amateurs. Some of his poems appeared in Sixth Finch, Red Lightbulbs and Reprint Poetry

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3 Responses to “A Cup of Fine Tea: Ricky Garni’s “Literal Translation of Korean Ideograms””

  1. Asian Cha Says:

    Casey says: “Fun. Fun poem. Bad handwriting on the hanja.”

  2. Asian Cha Says:

    Berit says: “Very nice and wry! 🙂 I liked it best when the fictional Ambassador got furious. Or allegedly got furious. :]”

  3. Vinita Agrawal Says:

    Delightfully insane! I loved the fictional surgery you guys have performed on Ricky Garni’s take on Korean alphabets!

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