Burma, America, The World, Art, Literature, Political Economy through the eyes of a Permanent Exile.
"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed. Sometimes we must interfere. . . There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention . . . writers and poets, prisoners in so many lands governed by the left and by the right." Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Speech, 1986, Oslo.
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Sunday, August 21, 2016
Two poems by Kyi May Kaung, one original, one a translation by me from Tin Moe--
The latest part of a Southeast Asia Globe series that shines a light on the region’s finest poetry – this month verse from Myanmar
Compiled by Nathan A. ThompsonIllustration by Oliver Raw
Poets from Myanmar are usually
outlaws by default and they often end up in jail, which is why so many
live in exile. It’s either that or prison.
Illustration by Oliver Raw
Take the late Tin Moe. By the time he
joined Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy he was already a
respected poet and intellectual. His politics earned him four years in
the infamous Insein prison where, as an extra cruelty, he was denied
reading or writing materials. After his release he fled the country and
died in 2007 while exiled in Los Angeles.
In this extract from his poem “Awake from
a Homesick Dream” there is a strong sense of disorientation in lines
such as “the fluctuating graph of my dream / deformed”. Then the poet is
“wandering in Germany, England, Belgium and Holland” as if unsure if he
is still dreaming or awake. This sets the tone for the rest of the
poem, one of woozy unreality where the poet struggles to find a sense of
terra firma, “that path I believe / still vague”. The only safe,
sequential descriptions occur when the poet describes his home life,
where he would “spread a mat / compose poems and read / hum songs / sip
tea”. In these brief lines the poem loses its shaky, bewildered tone and
finds stability in memories of home.
Many of Tin Moe’s poems were translated
into English by fellow Myanmar poet Kyi May Kaung. Kaung received
political asylum in the US in 1989 after the failure of the
pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar, and she has been railing
against the prevailing military junta with paintbrush and pen ever
since. Her poem “Geese” opens with a question: “Are those clouds or are
those mountains[?]” By not providing an answer the poet shuns exactitude
and opens the door to possibility. The setting is dawn – a time of new
beginnings, uncertainty and possibility. Only the geese seem sure of
themselves, “flying in one straight / line”. The poet muses: “I must ask
the geese”, but this intention is not enacted, so it remains a
possibility, a dream.
A committed activist and campaigner for a
free and democratic Myanmar, Kaung’s idealism is writ large in this
poem. For her, the way forward is clear and hopeful even if the details
are “with the mist”.
by Kyi May Kaung
Are those clouds
or are those mountains
rising – from the
horizon – with the mist.
I must ask the geese
honking at dawn
flying in one straight
line – across the
lake – their shadows below
“Awake from a homesick dream” (extract)
By Tin Moe
The fluctuating graph
of my dream
deformed and curved
Wandering in Germany, England,
Belgium and Holland,
Have I become stateless?
I miss this, I miss that,
at each of life’s junctures
one thing today, one thing tomorrow
my mind dyed
a dull colour,
forests on fire,
my winter dreams
My own country without peace
I take refuge in other nations
How can I feel secure?
The path I believe
the door not yet ajar.
In my village, country
I would spread a mat
compose poems and read,
pick at tea leaf salad,
a life where I can do as I want.
When will my wish be fulfilled?
I search but I cannot see.
– From its people to its palaces, its rituals to its stunning natural
beauty, Myanmar is a land of mystery and intrigue. Photographer Nathan
Horton offers budding shutterbugs some insider tips for documenting
their travels using a selection of his favourite frames from the Land of