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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 7, 2018.
About this Poem 

“‘Jeong Seon’s Album of Mount Geumgang’ is the third section of my experimental ekphrastic sequence ‘Transmitting the Vertical Immensity of Coniferous Light.’ This sequence was commissioned for a reading at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in response to the exhibition Diamond Mountains: Travel and Nostalgia in Korean Art, which featured ‘artwork from the eighteenth century to the present inspired by what may be the most famous and emotionally resonant site on the Korean peninsula.’ The Diamond Mountains, also known as Mount Geumgang, are located in present-day North Korea and are largely inaccessible to contemporary visitors. These poems only draw on words found in the exhibition monograph Soyoung Lee’s Diamond Mountains and mimic the book's structure from Daniel H. Weiss’ ‘Foreword’ to the four art history essays by Lee, Lee Soomi, Chin-Sung Chang, and Ahn Daehoe that follow it. In remixing Lee Soomi's essay, which details how Jeong revolutionized Korean landscape painting in the late Joseon period, this poem pays tribute to the practices of both the artist and the art historian.”
—Michael Leong

from Transmitting the Vertical Immensity of Coniferous Light


       3. (Jeong Seon’s Album of Mount Geumgang)

Jeong Seon began his career
        in the low-ranking position
                of adjunct professor
                                            of administrative      iconography.
                              Breaking with convention,
        he diligently studied the birth of a brushstroke
                                                                                  by gazing at
               the surviving itinerary      of an unrealistic river, at the
     rippling rapport of vegetation and rain.
He preferred to observe and preserve
                   the essential concerns of a superfluous calligraphy
and thus did not succeed
in his civil exams.
                                     When he was thirty-six years old,
       at the
                   northern border of poetry and astronomy,
    Jeong Seon
              repeatedly painted         a series of eccentric circles
                        and so gained access
to the crystal bridge
                                between ink and atmosphere.
His artist name became
                   Magistrate of Waterfalls, and
Jeong was said to have annotated
                                the nine-bend stream of time.


Analysis of Jeong’s preeminent painting,
   The Four Horsemen at Big Dipper Pavilion
reveals
                wished for figures    in revolutionary mansions—
a remembrance external to its style.
       Particularly noteworthy
                              is a spiked      and turquoise perspective
                  and a diagonal
dismemberment of silk.
                The painting was able to route
Jeong’s identity around
              a dominant focal point,     along wavy and uncertain patterns,
                               and finally
              through environmental conditions of blue.
                                              One can grasp
his aesthetics of juxtaposition
                        as long as one is covered in mist, or enriched
by hemp-fiber clouds, but
      not lost
         horizontally       in the heart of the sea.


In Transmitting the Vertical Immensity of Coniferous Light, characteristic
       of his more mature style,
Jeong’s command of     a
                   rhythmically surging semicircle
evokes the overwhelming
                                    articulation of
          how a higher philosophical plane could be
so astounded    by the mundane.


            Here, the twelve thousand pillars of basalt
do not overwhelm the composition;
      rather, they commemorate
              that sunrise is a landscape’s subsidiary entryway    into the     
           verdant flow of the visible.


           A yangban painter once
    wrote:
               “According to where he sits, Jeong Seon
           resembles a rugged jar-shaped diamond,
an arrangement    of Mi dots,
                           or a panoramic dichotomy in detail.
        Now at age seventy-two he is
         much more than an amplification         of the massiveness   of soil.”

  
    One especially
beautiful example of Jeong’s expansive style
            is today known as
                   A Documentary Record of Aristocratic Time Travel,
which illustrates
                                        the reinterpreted bodies
of     a great-great-grandfather
                  and his great-great-grandchild
         listening to the collision        of dark energy.
Jeong’s strong lines here
           impart a wide-angle awe
       that connects the flow of        inner color
                    to outer air,    a sense that even hawks could survive
in our world
                         of dissimilar forms.
Literati writing under a predated    nom de plume
       compiled ninety-six poems about the painting
             and published them in the Album of
Liquid Astonishment.

                   By the time the colophon was    written,
the appended poems
          had been vicariously     exaggerating
      their own images
                                 —as if they were looking
             through the zoom lens of a camera
                                at a human eye.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael Leong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Michael Leong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Michael Leong

Michael Leong

Michael Leong's most recent books include Who Unfolded My Origami Brain? (Fence Digital, 2017) and Words on Edge (Black Square Editions, 2018).