The night Yangon slammed

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - BY NICK BAKER n.baker@mm­times.com

RACE. Sex­u­al­ity. Noo­dle cups.

No topic was off lim­its at the inau­gu­ral Slam Express event held in Pansuriya on Au­gust 6.

A stand­ing-room-only crowd watched what was billed as one of Myan­mar’s first po­etry slams (an event where po­ets per­form orig­i­nal, of­ten in­tensely per­sonal, works).

“This is the start of some­thing new in Yangon,” said or­gan­iser Than Toe Aung at the be­gin­ning of pro­ceed­ings.

And he was right. A mix of po­ets – both emerg­ing and es­tab­lished – spent the even­ing rail­ing, beg­ging and ques­tion­ing about what­ever mat­tered to them.

“I am im­pris­oned in the world of norms. [This] world where women and ho­mo­sex­u­als are fee­ble and weak. Strong men mock at the se­cond and third sex,” one performer said.

An­other de­scribed a love in­ter­est with the words “when she says ‘democ­racy’ her L’Oreal lip­stick smells sweet”.

Maung Saung Kha, the “pe­nis poet” who was re­cently re­leased af­ter spend­ing six months in jail for de­fam­ing for­mer pres­i­dent U Thein Sein, re­turned to the stage with ease.

He read a piece writ­ten in first-per­son about the “tor­ture” and “pain” that may be ex­pe­ri­enced by sex slaves.

Lines that de­tailed a litany of vis­i­ta­tions – bus con­duc­tors, wait­ers, gam­blers – had au­di­ence mem­bers on the verge of tears. It ended on the poignant note of “I want to go home”.

In an­other es­pe­cially mov­ing per­for­mance, Than Toe Aung and co-or­gan­iser Aung Kaung Myat slammed in uni­son about anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment, draw­ing di­rectly from their own ex­pe­ri­ences.

“They are sub­ject to all the mis­treat­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion. Is it right for us to live like noth­ing is wrong in this so­ci­ety?” the duo said.

It ended on part cry-out, part call-to-arms: “Let us tell them there is no place for racism in our civilised so­ci­ety. It must start now and it starts with you.” The au­di­ence erupted with cheers. In an in­ter­view with The Myan­mar Times af­ter per­form­ing, Than Toe Aung said he was “very ner­vous” in the lead-up as he was wor­ried of be­ing “tar­geted by racist or­gan­i­sa­tions” for his words. “But I need to speak out,” he said. An event like this would have been dif­fi­cult if not im­pos­si­ble to hold in Yangon not all that long ago.

Dur­ing the mil­i­tary era, lo­cal po­ets suf­fered from the threat of of­fi­cial cen­sor­ship and cer­tain leg­is­la­tion that could be used to sti­fle their work.

Fa­mously, poet Saw Wai was ar­rested in 2008 for hid­ing the phrase “Power Crazy Se­nior Gen­eral Than Shwe” in a Valen­tine’s Day poem.

While some of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­pa­ra­tus is still in place, hopes are high for the new par­lia­ment, which re­port­edly has 11 po­ets in it.

And as Slam Express showed, po­ets are al­ready be­gin­ning to revel in their new­found free­doms.

“We want this to be the start of a move­ment … Where peo­ple can freely express their val­ues,” Aung Kaung Myat said.

It cer­tainly ap­peared that way. From per­form­ers and au­di­ence mem­bers alike, the mes­sage was loud and clear: Slam po­etry has ar­rived in Myan­mar.

It cer­tainly ap­peared that way. From per­form­ers and au­di­ence mem­bers alike, the mes­sage was loud and clear: Slam po­etry has ar­rived in Myan­mar.

Photos: Nick Baker.

English trans­la­tions of po­ems were passed around be­fore the show.

“I am im­pris­oned in the world of norms,” one poet said.

Both es­tab­lished and emerg­ing po­ets per­formed. Pansuriya was filled to the brim, with mostly young peo­ple in at­ten­dance.

“I am im­pris­oned in the world of norms,” one poet said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.