HFH Korea Organizes First-Ever Poets Build

Thirty Volunteer Poets End A Build With A Poetry Recital

YANGPYEONG, 7th September 2010: About 30 Korean poets took up hammers instead of pens recently at a Habitat for Humanity site in Yangpyeong, about 100km north of the Korean capital Seoul.

The volunteers are members of the Korean Poets Association. All photos by Shin Lee.

Hyang-Rim Noh (left) with Geon-Cheong Lee (right). The build was poignant for her because her family was homeless at one point.

The volunteers ended the day’s build with a poetry recital at a riverside park.

The Poets Build – thought to be the first in Habitat’s history – was a special build organized by HFH Korea.

Amid sweltering heat, the poet volunteers worked mainly on the interiors of eight units of a two-storey residential building project. The volunteers were led by Geon-Cheong Lee, president of the 1,300-strong Korean Poets’ Association.

A well-known poet, Lee said he realized that building homes was not simply labor but a work of the spirit. Through their participation, he hoped that the poet volunteers would bring a fresh and powerful spirit to Habitat’s mission of eliminating poverty housing.

Lee expected to see many poems written by the volunteers, reflecting on their experiences. He wished Habitat home partner families a bright and hopeful future.

Fellow volunteer Hyang-Rim Noh, one of the celebrated poetesses in Korea, recalled German existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger’s quote about a poem being an architectural structure which demanded both delicacy and accuracy.

While building with Habitat, she said she was reminded of the hard times when her own family was homeless. Inspired by her first volunteer experience with Habitat, she said she would write poems after she returned home to Seoul.

After completing the build in the afternoon, the poet volunteers took part in the Festival of Hope in Yangpyeong. They gathered at a local riverside park to meet the people and recite poetry focusing on home and family.

HFH Korea staff were also on hand to invite the public to donate resources or time and labor.

I-Yong Kwon, the advisor to HFH Korea’s national office in Seoul and a poet himself, was motivated to organize the Poets Build after reading former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s collection of poems entitled “Always a Reckoning”.

President Carter was in South Korea in 2001 to work alongside international and local volunteers during that year’s Carter Work Project week-long blitz build.

“The Korean verb jitda (‘construct’ or ‘make’) applies to both writing a poem and building a home as well as cooking a meal or sewing a dress. Hence, one can jitda a poem or jitda a house or jitda a meal. They are all essential to human life,” said Kwon.

“The Poets Build was a very significant opportunity for Habitat to be a powerful symbol of safe and affordable housing with far-reaching effects. The poets, in turn, were able to widen their literary horizons.” Kwon hoped to see the Poets Build become a regular program, attracting not only Korean poets but also those from other parts of the world.