Myan­mar poet speaks out at fes­ti­val

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - LIL­LIAN KALISH l.kalish@mm­times.com

HE read along­side Sin­ga­porean poets Anne Lee Tzu Pheng and Al­fian Sa’at, Ja­panese poet Ry­oichi Wago, Ice­landic poet Gerður Kristný, Tai­wanese poet Wu Huai-Chen, Ger­man Ghana­ian poet Mamle Kabu and Tamil Sri Lankan poet and nov­el­ist Shobasak­thi – who spoke on be­half of Tamil Sri Lankan refugees ahead of his read­ing.

But only Maung Day could re­count the true story of two lovers who found and de­fi­antly loved each other in spite of a mil­i­tary crack­down on dis­si­dents in a not-too-dis­tant Myan­mar dur­ing the Epic In­ter­na­tional Read­ing Night on Love at the 2016 Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val.

The Myan­mar-born and Thai­land­e­d­u­cated poet read po­ems and spoke on three pan­els dur­ing the SWF open­ing week­end in­clud­ing the Epic In­ter­na­tional Read­ing Night on Love, Po­etry as a Force for Change and Cre­at­ing Art in Dif­fer­ent Medi­ums.

After the suc­cess of the 2015 Epic In­ter­na­tional Po­etry Night, the fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers de­cided to have not one but two Epic In­ter­na­tional read­ings to fit into the fes­ti­val’s theme of sayang – a Malay term of en­dear­ment mean­ing both love and loss. The sec­ond week of the fes­ti­val will fea­ture the sec­ond read­ing, the Epic In­ter­na­tional Read­ing Night on Loss on Novem­ber 12.

Dur­ing the Po­etry as a Force for Change panel, Maung Day sat along­side Sin­ga­porean spo­ken word poet Jen­nifer Anne Cham­pion and South African poet and pro­fes­sor, Sa­bata-mpho Mokae, speak­ing about the dan­ger po­etry poses to au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes in times of po­lit­i­cal and artis­tic sup­pres­sion.

An un­der­ly­ing ques­tion through­out the panel was on the role of the poet, es­pe­cially in coun­tries like Myan­mar where free­dom of ex­pres­sion, while not as po­liced and crim­i­nalised as it was un­der the mil­i­tary junta, re­mains an im­por­tant is­sue for all writ­ers through­out the coun­try.

The mod­er­a­tor asked if the poets wrote with change in mind, to which Maung Day re­sponded, “When I sit down and think about it – I am also read­ing news­pa­pers and might have some feel­ings that make it into the poem – it is not the back­bone of the poem. I try to make space for deeper mean­ing, to go against pre­vi­ously fixed no­tions.”

The theme of grat­ing against the main­stream po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tives seemed to be a salient one for the three pan­elists, all of whom, whether in­ten­tion­ally or not, work to shift the com­mon per­spec­tive in their po­etry.

“I try to be a his­to­rian of feel­ings. In South Africa, the per­sonal pain has be­come every­one’s pain,” said Sa­bata-mpho Mokae. “I am hop­ing for an Africa that tells a dif­fer­ent story, that is not a vic­tim but peace­ful. I would like to see the end of racism and I am lend­ing a hand through po­etry.”

It is not just through words, how­ever, that the fes­ti­val’s mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary writ­ers, artists and mu­si­cians en­gage with sayang. The last of the Maung Day’s pan­els, Cre­at­ing Art in Dif­fer­ent Medi­ums on Novem­ber 6, spoke ex­actly to what the ti­tle sug­gests.

To­gether Sin­ga­porean text and vis­ual artists Ta­nia de Rozaria and Shu­bigi Rao joined Maung Day to ex­plore both the chal­lenges and cre­ative free­doms that come with work­ing with and be­tween a va­ri­ety of medi­ums.

Though known pri­mar­ily in Myan­mar for his po­etry, Maung Day is also a vis­ual artist as well as an oc­ca­sional per­for­mance artist, help­ing to co­found Myan­mar’s only in­ter­na­tional per­for­mance art fes­ti­val, Be­yond Pres­sure in 2008, with per­for­mance artist vet­eran Moe Satt.

The third Myan­mar poet to be fea­tured at the Sin­ga­pore Writ­ers Fes­ti­val, Maung Day is help­ing to bring some of the nu­anced, in­ven­tive, and com­pelling po­etry out of a coun­try that has pre­vi­ously been closed off to the world.

“Ac­tu­ally I think that even choos­ing to write ex­per­i­men­tal po­etry is po­lit­i­cal,” he com­mented in an in­ter­view with The Myan­mar Times a few weeks prior the fes­ti­val. “It is re­sis­tance against the es­tab­lish­ment … be­cause there is al­ways power when poets are es­tab­lished … There is al­ways an in­vis­i­ble wall they have to go up against.”

Maung Day is just one in what will be­come a healthy stream of Myan­mar writ­ers and poets, be­com­ing recog­nised in­ter­na­tion­ally and as an in­te­gral part of the South­east Asian lit­er­ary canon.

Photo: Lil­lian Kalish

Maung De rep­re­sents Myan­mar at the 2016 Sin­ga­pore Writer’s Fes­ti­val.

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