On the tails of a successful grant program that helps Wisconsin libraries augment their offerings with East Asian materials and programming, the Center for East Asian Studies announces a new outlet to express creativity with Korean flair. On Nov. 17, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) launched Wisconsin’s first-ever sijo poem writing competition.
Sijo is a traditional Korean three-line poetic form consisting of a theme (1st line), elaboration (2nd line), and a counter-theme and conclusion (3rd line). Sijo traditionally explores cosmological, metaphysical, or pastoral themes and consists of 14-16 syllables per line:
Song of My Five Friends by Yun Seondo (1587-1671)
You ask how many friends I have? Water and stone, bamboo and pine
The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade.
Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask?
“Sijo is a great entry point for exploring traditional Korean culture. It is also an interesting lens through which to view your own culture,” said CEAS associate director David Fields. Fields has committed to writing a new Wisconsin-themed sijo every week from now until the close of the competition:
The Two Masters by David Fields
Brett Favre, the gun slinger, restored Title Town to past glory.
Raw emotion, force, and instinct bringing victories and defeats.
His record who can equal? Aaron Rodgers, the cerebral.
The Wisconsin Sijo Competition is open to Wisconsinites of all ages, offers monetary prizes of up to $400 to winning entries, and includes inducements for schools and libraries to promote participation in the competition. For details on how to enter as well as on how to write sijo, please visit the Wisconsin Sijo Competition page. The deadline for entry is 18 January 2021.
The Wisconsin Sijo Competition is a collaboration between CEAS and the Sejong Cultural Society of Chicago, Illinois—two organizations that were brought together by Wisconsin high school teacher and sijo enthusiast, Elizabeth Jorgensen of Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland. Jorgensen was a participant this past summer in a virtual conference for Wisconsin teachers on the Korean War organized by CEAS to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Jorgensen shared her enthusiasm for sijo with Fields and suggested CEAS collaborate with the Sejong Cultural Society to hold a Wisconsin sijo writing competition. Sejong has been holding a national sijo writing competition for several years.
“I knew immediately this was something we wanted to do,” said Fields, who is also a scholar of Korea and has spent several years living in South Korea. With the cancellation of its in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CEAS has been looking for other ways to fulfill its mission of promoting the study of and understanding of East Asia in Wisconsin. “Virtual events are a great tool, but we also want to offer more active programming” said Fields. “Writing a sijo poem requires concentration and reflection. It is very stimulating. We hope Wisconsinites from Beloit to Bayfield and everywhere in between will give it a try!”
“I teach my students sijo because it allows them to explore their voices and to write about what is important to them,” said Jorgensen. “The sijo form is beautiful and lyrical and encourages students to play with language. Entering their work into competitions helps each student realize his or her voice is worthy of celebration and publication. The authentic purpose helps them identify as writers and poets and ultimately this leads to enjoyment.”
If you are an educator of library worker interested in learning how to teach sijo, the Sejong Cultural Society offers online sijo classes and other resources. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.