March 5, 2018 / 7:27 AM / 18 days ago

South Korea closes 84-year-old poet's exhibition amid sexual harassment claims

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s capital has closed an exhibition by poet Ko Un, long the country’s hope for a Nobel Prize in literature, amid allegations of sexual misconduct and the government is considering removing his work from textbooks.

Ko Un, 84, who denied any “habitual misconduct” in a statement made through his British publisher, first faced allegations when fellow South Korean poet Choi Young-mi released a poem in December titled “Monster”, which describes harassment by an older male poet named “En”.

South Koreans have widely interpreted it to refer to Ko, seizing on passages that match his biography, including references to the buzz surrounding the unnamed poet’s Nobel Prize chances.

While not confirming the identity, Choi has not denied the public identification of Ko and last month she told a TV interviewer that she had been harassed by a famous poet who “repeatedly harassed female writers”.

Neither Choi nor Ko’s publisher, Bloodaxe Books, responded to requests for comment.

After Ko’s denial was reported in The Guardian on Sunday, Choi took to Facebook to post simply: “What I wrote in my poem ‘Monster’ is true.”

FILE PHOTO: Renown South Korean Ko Un attends a news conference on his new collection of poems in Seoul July 6, 2011. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/File Photo

The anti-sexual harassment #MeToo movement has taken off belatedly in male-dominated South Korea where discussion of sexual misconduct has long been taboo, but it has ensnared a growing number of leading entertainment figures in recent months.

The growing number of high-profile accusations has led President Moon Jae-in to urge law enforcement authorities to investigate reports of sexual abuse.

Choi’s oblique allegations have been corroborated by other writers, including poet Lee Hye-mi, who said on Facebook that she witnessed “ridiculous behaviour” while co-hosting a TV show with Ko.

The controversy has led the Seoul city government to permanently shut an exhibition devoted to Ko’s work.

Ko’s poems cover a range of subjects, from love and politics to daily life. Ko, a former Buddhist monk, visited North Korea in 2000 as a special delegate for a South-North summit.

An official at the textbook division of South Korea’s Education Ministry told Reuters it was discussing plans to remove Ko’s poems from school books.

“We are taking the issue very seriously and issued a statement shortly after poet Choi’s claim became public, asking publishers how they would like to proceed with the issue and edit their textbooks with Ko’s works,” the official said.

Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie

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