Ha Sang Wook, who calls himself a Shipalee—poem seller—, is now a viral sensation on Facebook and Twitter with his poem posts. With more than fifty thousand people following his page, he is now a well-acknowledged poet who touches the minds of thousands of young people.
▲ Ha is telling his life story at a cafe he usually goes for writing, Masim. Photographed by Yoo Seung Joo.
His witty poems have quickly become best-seller poems, and it was only a matter of time before Ha Sang Wook became the first professional Social Network Service (SNS) poet. However, Ha humbly says his poems can only be “meaningful because of the same experiences readers share.”He is a poet who truly sympathizes with readers just by using a few words and unique titles.
Interestingly, Ha did not start off as a poet nor did he intend to become a poet. He was a normal student who attended College of Art and Design at Konkuk University (KU). In fact, he wanted to become a cartoonist. Though what he studied in college might have no relation to what he is doing now, Ha says that design studies have had much influence on his writings. “The idea of having rhythmical rhymes, adequate length of each verse, and even spacing, came from the typography class I took in college. From the class, I realized that writing is not only read through the mind but much through the visual images we take in with our eyes,” said Ha.
As a SNS poet, Ha’s primary job is to upload posts on SNS. His typical day starts off with checking his SNS. The routine includes checking people’s comments on his writings, playing some games, and then writing again. However, before the book Seoul Poem was published, he confesses that none of his success on SNS was intended.
“It was a hobby for me to write on SNS. Since when there was ‘Cyworld,’ I enjoyed writing my thoughts on its diary and sharing it with people. Even now, I don’t feel like I am doing a job nor do I feel pressure trying to come up with better writings that could impress readers. I just enjoy my life as I normally did before,” said Ha.
Once Ha uploads his poems, they are re-tweeted by a countless number of people in a matter of seconds. Ha says, SNS has helped much in making him successful in many ways. “I have always been aware of the power of SNS, but never thought I would be the one to benefit from it,” said Ha, answering that he never thought that his writings would get this much attention. He added that SNS allowed people to share their personal feelings. Thus, people who read his poems started to leave comments, “Tag” friends, “Share” the poems on their personal page, enabling Ha’s poems to be famous.
Ha’s writings are short and simple, but they are not written in a minute. He replied that his work requires “the agony of creation.” Since he writes something that everyone can relate to, he has to go back and forth to come up with phrases that people can best empathize with and that could last long. Also considering the fast flow of information on SNS, he tries to keep his writings “brief and concise” as much as possible. “Time” is another factor he always considers when uploading his writings. He thinks that during the night time, more sentimental contents will draw more sympathy.
One thing that Ha thinks makes his poems different from the others is that he tries to minimize his thoughts in his writings. “A lot of famous poets try to show all their good ideas in their poems, hoping that the readers would notice. But people nowadays are living in a ‘fast’ culture. I do also have tons of things to say, but I put myself in the shoes of the readers before I actually start to write. And I try to leave it up to the readers to interpret my writings,” said Ha. He believes that the poem should give the readers enough time to take in and have enough room for the thoughts of the readers.
However his fame did not happen in a day. He had times that he wanted to be a cartoonist, and also a time that he published his writings serially on Naver. Though he tried different kinds of work, they were not something that Ha wanted to do. He recalled that he started to write poems “just because he wanted to.” So he kept on uploading and naturally got attention from the people.
He said, “The most foolish thing in the world is to have dreams.” Recently, Ha started to go around festivals for young people giving lectures. He explains young people are always very confident about their dreams. So, they give in their whole passion for their dreams. “This is when they miss out on true values that lie in their lives.” He added, “Having set a dream goal can rather block a person from having the great, once in a lifetime opportunity.” When he was working for a company, he never planned on being who he is now. But now, he is truly enjoying what he is doing.
When asked about his favorite poem out of his works, Ha picked “Cellular Phone Vibration Ring” without any hesitation. He said that this poem has the story that he wants young people to realize. Ha did not just want to describe the feelings that young people have whenever they hear the phone ring. Rather, he wanted to use the metaphor to refer to how people face their dreams. The more people are preoccupied with their dreams, the easier it is for them to fall down when they do not get the expected results. As a life senior, Ha wanted to give young people a simple message: “Follow your heart.”