Part One: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

 Bones Will Crow

 
 
 
Bones
Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne
 
with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman,
Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye
 
Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel
 
Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
 
 
 
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
 
 
 
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“This collection is important because these poems are a splendid counter to the current scholars’ obsession with ‘cultural authenticity’ of national literatures. What we have got here is not so much just Burmese poetry as simply poetry (in the cosmopolitan sense) that happens to have been composed by the Burmese in their language. It shows that Burma is part of the world and significantly part of World Literary Culture. The fact that we have both the Burmese language originals and the English translations (which are really lovely and wonderfully free of the usual attempt to ‘Burmanise-Buddhacise’ the English) makes the collection not only enjoyable to readers anywhere, but also of serious importance to scholarship on Burmese literature.”

– FKL Chit Hlaing
 
 
 
Bones Will Crow is an illuminating account of real Burma narrated by uncensored and often deviant Burmese, who dare to dream and challenge the norms. Burma Studies scholars and literature fans often lament the lack of authentic Burmese voices in print, accessible to the world outside Burma. Bones Will Crow not only fills this gap but also presents the readers with a counter-narrative of ‘exotic’ Burma often associated with golden pagodas and smiling faces. Daily struggles under crony capitalism, confronting commercialisation of female bodies, an exile’s homesickness, issues Burmese grapple with leap out of the pages of this anthology. This anthology is a long overdue, much-welcomed addition to everyone interested in Burma and Burmese poetry.”

– Tharapi Than
 
 
 
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About the editors
 
  

ko ko thett is a Burmese poet who writes in English. He translates Western poetry into Burmese, and he is working on his first full poetry collection, the burden of being burmese.
 
 
 
James Byrne’s
second poetry collection, Blood/Sugar, was published by Arc Publications in 2009. He edits The Wolf, an international poetry magazine, which has published various Burmese poets like Zeyar Lynn, Saw Wai and Zawgyi. In 2008, Byrne won the Treci Trg poetry festival prize in Serbia. 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, and he recently edited The Wolf: A Decade (Poems 2002-2012).
 
 
 
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Desert Years
Tin Moe
 
 
Tears
a strand of grey hair
a decade gone

In those years
the honey wasn’t sweet
mushrooms wouldn’t sprout
farmlands were parched

The mist hung low
the skies were gloomy
Clouds of dust on the cart tracks
Acacia and creepers
and thorn-spiral blossoms
But it never rained
and when it did rain, it never poured

At the village front monastery
no bells rang
no music for the ear
no novice monks
no voices reading aloud
Only the old servant with a shaved head
sprawled among the posts

And the earth
like fruit too shy to emerge
without fruit
in shame and sorrow
glances at me
When will the tears change
and the bells ring sweet?
 
 
Translated by Maung Tha Noe & Christopher Merrill
 
 
 
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My Island
Ma Ei
 
 
Singhala for Prince Wizaya
Saint Helena for Napoleon
Tahiti for Gauguin
The Isles of Belles for Maung Shin
The Coco Islands for a baby turtle.

An island is a landmass surrounded by water.
But what do you call a place surrounded by dukkha?
Amalgams of body and soul,
Angst and anguish, suffering, doubt and delusion,
Circled by an illusory life,
I keep on trying … Yes, trying so hard to stand upright.

It was me! I was such a handful,
Such a flirt, such a red.
I’ve had no reward, just fingers pointing.
Dying ain’t much of a living!
The lady is a crank.

I’m out of shape,
A sculpture chiselled by two masters,
Here’s a chipped ear …
there’s a cock-eyed eye.
(Let them be chipped and cock-eyed).

Diluted in water
After slurping curses down
I turn a new page,
But life is un-renewed.
Sometimes I sing ‘I Seek Retention Loss’.

Look …
To purify the soul
Firstly, don’t deceive yourself.
Secondly, don’t deceive others.
In the long run, lies grow legs.

How I hate to spit it out,
Some men are too featherweight,
The copulate with their own craft.
 
 
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
 
 
 
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A Sun-ripened Song
Maung Chaw Nwe
 
 
Don’t chime in with
A definition of ‘the individual’
Just live within your own meaning
Just be sure
You’ve known defeat.

To punch a man
You need a strong lower jaw
When I land my fists on you
I maintain a good solid chin.

You are jawless
Yet your jabs keep raining on me
Mr. Truth
You are beyond the dhamma

What I hate most in this whole world is
That scumbag named Truth
Whose fat face is
Scarred with chicken pox.

In this life
You don’t need four, five, or six.
You only need two.
Just two, real love and
An authentic foe.

Maung San Aye, my friend,
Who has had to survive
By the smell of strangers
You need not install
Mercury lights in the town.
Towns are made of mercury.

There at Table No. 1 is
The man who lays down the law
Unerringly over his life.
Firmly seated there,
Isn’t Aung Cheimt, my pal,
A booming city?

Like Pompeii
Inundated with lava
The poet Phaw Way
Had once been a thriving city.

Who has lost
The whole earth?
Only they
Will get it back.

Maradona channelled
‘The Hand of God’
To score.
 
 
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
 
 
 
 
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.
 
 
 
 
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