from Bones will Crow

Various Burmese Poets

2010 the curvaceousness of burmese poetry, poetics and an unknown

the slice of bread buttered by moonlight on one side and pineapple jam on the other   yes! the dermatological problem   the shadows of the original stars   banking must be this efficient and that easy   as my urge to speak out spills over the petals are falling off in slow motion   (read it) window/ table/ tools   the hour hand travelling counterclockwise the umbrellas   the peasant bamboo hats   wheat as a replacement crop for poppy   'wow, cowrie shells!'   the limelight stalking him claims 'this is commissioner zhou enlai!' in one song   used papers carried off by a breeze into the streets   smiles at me and says 'i am still galloping'   in practice one has to be practical (even if one cannot be practically practical one must be practical)   meanwhile he crashes into the scene   the main actor has been wounded   this part is not in the script   he collapses   framed in gold   the golden picture of a golden beauty   i have been nagging away   i have been threatening   as i am saying 'don't you see?'   the phone card   the talisman hanging on my neck   the sword swiftly impales me from chest to back   nibbling on a potato chip i say 'yes, sir'   am i not subdued by the blade   am i not good for the blade   goose bumps all over   i kowtow just look after your goatee   mindfulness   just mindfulness will be useful for you all through the samsara   engraved on the spectacles case is Inmind   the filigreed teak partition   masking a pair of my ears with my palms   i am all ears   Facebook   appears on an elegantly straight bunch of hair drop by drop   the way the newborn greets the world at the top of his lungs   'U NGEE!'   how has he come up with   how tediously tolerant they are he only he was capable of penning such lines but ''Limits/ are what any of us/ are inside of ''

                                         24 September, 2010 Bangkok 19:57

Khin Aung Aye

Mr. Charley, I Have Picked You

Mr. Charley,
I have picked you.

Let me say it again!
Mr. Charley,
I have picked you.

Hey, you!
Mr. Charley, my picked one,
Most of this depends on you.
It was an opportune moment to pick,
Now I realise
Have picked too much too.

Many of us anticipated your pick,
Now I know better.

Mr. Charley,
You learnt to be a wheeler-dealer,
Before you knew how to pick.
Are not a trained witch,
You were a witch in the womb,
My knowledge of you
Has become metal chunks.

Mr. Charley,
Metal chunks are beyond flesh and blood.
I have picked
What you have picked
And what you have perfumed.
Let me make myself clear,
Mr. Charley,
I have picked you.

Maung Chaw Nwe

Lullaby for a Night

His smile flashes like a pocketknife.

In the very first nook of my extending right hand
Cultures are forged...

You have pretended not
To notice my pretensions.

How revolting it is
To be sexy and brassy...

My cracked canticles shiver.

Here you go...
The generosity of my dead sobs
Until the shoulders of the night give in

I will pretend not to notice
Your pretensions.


An Evening With a City Girl

Evening still swelters
In the strides inside
The miniskirt of the city girl.

We have just gazed leisurely at
The statue of the street-smart lion
Who has gobbled up a jouncing
fish and stepped on the fishtail.
What a phiz!

She is concerned
With not having a seat
With not getting discounts
With being stepped on
With not having concerns
With the insecurity of a snake
Who has just shed her skin.

As for me
A starving tiger
A jilted tiger
A lonely tiger
I want to bite off and
Devour my own stripes
I have to conceal the sound of
My waggling tail.

She is
Tempted by
The vertical lines.
She couldn't fan her senses out
Towards the endless fields.

I am
Sighing heavy-heartedly
At the stretch of the horizontal lines.
I couldn't look up.

The bootlegged breeze in the pirated river
Brushed past our authentic imaginations.
A queue over there arouses her curiousness.
I, for one, fancy catching the waves
Reflected upon the leftover sunlight.

She is educated.
She small-talks about
The prospects of natural resources,
The mutually-beneficial aspects of
Human resources in migration.

I am civilized.
I discuss by-the-way
The fluid localism of languages
The potential advantages of centralization.

The evening is at peace with herself
She has had a gulp of her beer
I have had a bite of my pizza>
We never happened to include in our conversation
Those gangsters in Southeast Asia.


translated from the Burmese by ko ko thett and James Byrne

'2010 the curvaceousness of burmese poetry, poetics and an unknown' and 'Mr. Charley, I Have Picked You!' were co-translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne; 'Lullaby for a Night' and 'An Evening With a City Girl' were translated by ko ko thett.

The recording of '2010 the curvaceousness of burmese poetry, poetics and an unknown' (Monday, June 27, 2011, 'Anti-Austerity Poetry' event, The Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, London) is used with the kind permission of Htein Lin.

Bones will Crow: An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets
is due out in UK in 2012.

Read the original in Burmese

Read translator’s note

Various Burmese Poets in this issue include Khin Aung Aye, Maung Chaw Nwe, Eaindra and Pandora.

Khin Aung Aye was born in 1956 in Rangoon where he was raised and attended the university. He  has published 11 collections of poetry, which include collaborations with leading poets and translators from Burma, like Zeyar Lynn and his own cousin and early teacher Maw Rousseau. He is regarded as one of the great modern poets of Burmese poetry yet his style emerged from close readings of the old masters in Burma, like Dagon Taya and—in the 1980s—the workshops of Maung Tha Noe. In his early formation as a poet, Khin Aung Aye stuck to four-syllable verse, before becoming influenced by modernism (publishing significantly with leading modernist publisher Moe Way). He lives in Bangkok and has recently read his work in England, Finland and at literary festivals in South Korea.

Maung Chaw Nwe was born in Rangoon in 1949. From an early age, he lived in Pyay, formerly known as Prome, a port town on the Irrawaddy bank, 160 miles northwest of the capital.  At twenty, a year after his first poem appeared in Thriller magazine in Rangoon, he told his father who was a district commissioner, 'Dad, there isn't any world-famous landowner, there isn't any world-famous district commissioner, there are only world-famous poets and writers.' In the 1970s, he travelled to Rangoon 'a million times' to mingle with poets. The same decade saw his formative books, Cruel Music on Dead Leaves (1974, both collaborations with Aung Chemit and Phaw Way), The Whining of the Inner Truth (1976) and The Day Maung Chaw Nwe was Had (1979), followed by Upper Class Water (1980) and Maung Chaw Nwe, the Fake (1994) and Train (1994), a collection of five long verses.  A flamboyant troubadour all through his career, Maung Chaw Nwe famously said 'I've never thought of living life moderately.' To him, poetry is 'a karmic disorder and a leprosy of retribution.'  Maung Chaw Nwe's untimely death in 2002 is considered one of the worst blows to contemporary Burmese poetry. He is survived by his wife, Myint Myint Sein, and three children.

Eaindra was born in the Irrawaddy delta in 1973 and is now a 'temporary resident' in Singapore. Since publishing her first chapbook at twenty Eaindra has become regarded as one of the most outstanding Burmese poets of her generation. She is an active and prolific blogger, contributing to significant Burmese magazines inside and outside Burma. Since 1996, she has published fifty poems and fifteen short stories in print media inside Burma. Her first collected book of poems is imminent and will be published in Rangoon. She is a founding member of the Aesthetic Light Foundation, a charity that aims to promote the wellbeing of Burmese writers living in Burma.

Pandora was born in 1974 in Burma delta. As an English major at Rangoon University, she wrote poems and short stories for the campus magazines under several pen names, all of which she has now forgotten. She took a hiatus from writing when she came to Singapore to study in 2001 but bounced back on the scene in early 2007 as literary blogger Pandora. Since then her poems, essays and short stories have been seen in online Burmese journals and books and in printed media inside Burma. Recently she has returned to Rangoon for a change after a ten-year spell in Singapore.

ko ko thett grew up in Burma, performing poems at school competitions and in town halls. By the early 1990s, he was thoroughly poeticized and politicized at Rangoon Institute of Technology. In 1996 he published and clandestinely distributed two uncensored chapbooks on the campus, The Rugged Gold and The Funeral of the Rugged Gold. He left the country in 1997 following a brief detention for his role in the December 1996 student uprising in Rangoon. ko ko thett has written extensively on the country's politics mainly for several Myanmar/Burma journals and leading papers in Finland, where he lived for a decade.

James Byrne has edited The Wolf, an international poetry magazine, for the past ten years, publishing various Burmese poets like Manorhary, Saw Wai and Zawgyi. In 2008, Byrne won the Treci Trg poetry festival prize in Serbia. His second poetry collection, Blood/Sugar, was published by Arc Publications in 2009. His Selected Poems: The Vanishing House was published by Treci Trg (in a bilingual edition) in Belgrade. He is the co-editor of Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, an anthology of poets under 35, published by Bloodaxe in 2009. Byrne was born in 1977 in High Wycombe and currently lives in Cambridge where he is a 'Poet in Residence' at Clare Hall and a research associate for the School of Oriental & African Studies (researching modern Burmese poetry). He completed his graduate studies at New York University, where he was given a Stein Fellowship ('Extraordinary International Scholar').

How Bones Crow: A Few Words on An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets
Leading Burmese poet Zeyar Lynn writes in Jacket2, 'the word contemporary is a loaded term even in Myanmar.'  To some, it means 'modern.'  To others, 'post-modern.'  Again what is 'modern' or 'post-modern' in Burmese literary history is just another bone of contention.

Thus, last January, when James Byrne asked me to be the key translator and co-editor of an ambitiously-titled 'an anthology of contemporary Burmese poetry', the first of its kind to be published in the West, I asked myself 'What is contemporary Burmese poetry? How do we select a handful of poets for the book from probably more than a thousand living 'career poets' of Myanmar, each of whom deserves a mention in our book, not to mention the late and great ones?'

Fortunately Byrne came prepared with his initial list of poets.  Still I found it necessary to capture 'contemporary' in the Burmese context.  To me, contemporary Burmese poems are runes written in daily speech rhythm, in the current language of the populace, in form and content that have departed from the traditional rhyming verses.  With this in mind, in our translation, we have attempted to reflect the 'Burmese speech rhythm' by rendering it into English speech rhythm, whenever possible.

'2010 the curvaceousness of burmese poetry, poetics and an unknown' by Khin Aung Aye, a senior poet whose recent work has seen the influence of language-oriented poetry of Zeyar Lynn, speaks for itself. Next on the plate, 'Mr Charley, I Have Picked You' is quintessential Maung Chaw Nwe in its irony and self-ridicule. 'Lullaby for a Night' by Eaindra and 'An Evening with a City Girl' by Pandora, set in Singapore, show how writers in the Burmese disaspora have become increasingly important in the Burmese literary scene. I hope these four poems suffice as an apéritif to our bilingual tome of almost a hundred 'contemporary Burmese poems.'

-- ko ko thett