Interview with Hyo In Park about his “Portrait of Ian”

Portrait of Ian

Gym shorts and tennis shoes.

Crew socks with long necks.

Neon shirt.

Ramen noodles.

Describing a real person is hard. Personalities and characteristics are so complex and intangible that many people don’t even try. Hyo In Park, a senior of the class of 2019 at Indian Springs School, succeeded in his first attempt to create a poem that is short, straightforward and on point. He gave a brief description of another peer in his class that makes everyone nod their heads in agreement— made them say: “That’s Ian.” In this interview we will learn about his process of creating this poem and about his beliefs of literature and his life philosophies.

Tim Windbrake: Hyo In, I would like to ask you some questions about your poem “Portrait of Ian.” What was the reason you wrote this poem?

Hyo In Park: (Laughs) I hope my response doesn’t surprise you–– I didn’t write this poem for any particular reason. In my poetry class, I was looking for things to write about, and my good friend Ian was the first thing I saw because he was sitting in front of me. So, I decided to write a poem about him. Simple as that. Not everything has to have a reason. I believe you can write poetry about anything.

Tim: When people who know Ian read your poem, they always smile and agree that “that is Ian.” How do you feel about the fact that you put the complex nature of a human being into four lines? Do you think differently about the complexity of humans?

Hyo In: Very good question, very good question. But did I put the complex nature of Ian into four lines? (Hmm) That was not what I tried to do with this poem. And if I did try subconsciously, the four lines are certainly not enough to contain Ian’s complexity. What I did try, though, was to just describe Ian’s external projection. It’s interesting how the readers can feel the deeper layer of Ian’s humanity in these four simple lines.

Tim: This poem is very neutral, it does not describe Ian positively or negatively. Was it your intention to depict him objectively and why did you pick these aspects of him?

Hyo In: I wanted to paint a picture with this poem. Present Ian as his iconic self. So it was important to pick out defining features of Ian without imposing my opinion on them. For me, those defining features were his gym shorts, tennis shoes, long crew socks, neon shirt, and a bowl of ramen. I’m sure many people can agree with this.

Tim: This poem is very short and actually does not mention many aspects of Ian. Do you think you missed an essential part of his character? Why did you decide to not include it?

Hyo In: I wanted to keep it simplistic. When we talk about Korean traditional paintings back home, we often comment on this concept which can be translated as “the beauty of the margin.” Unlike the paintings we are most familiar with, Korean traditional paintings often have considerable amount of space left blank around the subject of focus. I think we can apply this concept to this poem as well. Because there’s so much blank space, anybody can fill this space with their own view of Ian. So for each reader, the poem might convey different meanings. Whether I missed an essential part of his character or not, it’s up to you to decide.

Tim: If you were about to write another portrait of Ian, would it be different this time?

Hyo In: No.

Tim: Any other thoughts regarding your poem or literature in general?

Hyo In: In my opinion, “Crew socks with long necks” is the line that makes the poem. It really is the defining line. But it didn’t come naturally. Originally, this line was much wordier–– it was like, “Socks that come up to the calves” or something. I had to sit down and think how I could write this line better, and it was painful. But then it all came at once. And let me tell you, when you make a creative breakthrough, it is sweeter than milk from the heavens. I immediately knew that that was the line I was looking for. So yeah. Creative writing is hard, but the fruit is sweet.

Questions for Ian:

Tim Windbrake: Hello Ian, I would like to ask you some questions about Hyo In’s poem “Portrait of Ian”. What did you think when you first read this poem? How did it make you feel?

Ian Huh: I thought it was really accurate of who I was. It made me feel honored that someone wrote a poem about me and that it got a lot of attention.

Tim: Do you think this portrait of you is representing? Why or why not?

Ian: Yes it is representing because it accurately describes me.

Tim: What do you think is essential to include if this poem is supposed to adequately represent your personality?

Ian: I think it is essential to include how I’m always tired no matter what the time is.

Tim: If you were about to write a similar poem about Hyo In, what would it be like?

Ian: It would be about his personality and physical appearance. It’ll be entertaining, I think.