marcel barang

Young Thai poets (1)

In English, Reading matters on 24/08/2010 at 6:53 pm


One of the vagaries of life: recently, I was contacted to help select a few young, dynamic Thai poets for an exchange with French counterparts, as part of an ongoing international exchange programme: three French poets would spend a week here and three Thai poets another week in France, possibly by the end of next year, to confront their experiences and get their works translated in the other language.
Since I don’t know much about Thai poetry, I’ve started on a crash course and, consulting more learned friends for names, have undertaken to ransack neighbourhood bookshops. The first raids have proved disappointing: poetry has nowhere pride of place, and computer searches of stocks were handicapped by the fact I didn’t know the spelling of those Thai poets’ names I was told to hunt – and neither did the worthy staffs I assailed (I’ve just spent a couple of hours searching for those names on the net, and will be better armed next time around).
In this month of August, the most professional bookshops usually promote the works shortlisted for the SEA Write Award. This year is poetry year – and not a collection in plain sight. Not even at Ran Nai In!
Anyway, I came back home with three or four booklets. And since I was to assess those works, I told myself I might as well translate a piece (chosen at random, not necessarily the best, but perhaps representative) of each worthy versifier.

Actually, I shall abstain in the case of Phawang Pha-wa (State of reverie? Trance in state?) by Phojana Chantharasanti, not just because at 56 Phojana isn’t exactly young, or because his book is mostly composed of short prose items with a few, shorter poems, but because what he has to say is more concerned with philosophical pieties than with poetry: a sideline Zen master and haiku expert. But then, all right, here is one entry, in full:

‘You must learn to accept everything that enters your life, everything without exception.’ (p 87)

Next came the slim volume of poetry of Ora-ai Usa-sang whose title is the same as the piece below. Contrary to what his name implies, Ora-ai is a man. The first batch of thirty poems is mostly a hymn to the land, the second batch of twenty-five mostly a hymn to oneself and the usual spleen, sense of solitude and loss, with titles such as ‘Space for me is your/her heart’ or ‘I’ll come back to meet you/her’. His way of writing is fairly complex, to the point of subtle weirdness – and I do not pretend to do him justice here.

On the ground of a shattering land

I am still alive
In the sounds you don’t hear, tastes to you unfamiliar
The light tread dwelling in smells
Nudges you to seek clues in hidden gusts
Among sculptures that crumble along with the creeds of days past
I hide myself deep under the pocked surface of pebbles
Body tensed in suspicion and scare
Amongst confused footprints on the ground of the world

I am still alive
On the simplicity you once eyed quietly
Heart harking at silence on the move
Away from the uncertainty already there that day
Between dream and reality
You & I standing firm on the way that links
A century-long past to a century-long future

I am still alive
In the skin and flesh of hunted preys
In the dwindling meaning of tale-telling cracks
On the ground of a shattering land

The same banal concerns go for Jak Janthorn – or Chantorn as he misspells his name – in what he entitles in English Tales from a young poet, except that the language is simpler, if no less euphonic, and there is more concern about sura and merai (booze, in plain English). Here is a sample of average length:

Nights without her

Night time…
The bed still empty
Without the creases of intercourse
Her lace pyjamas
Still on a peg in the dressing room
I … sit still on the sofa
Old memories bubble up
She … meaning to win
But defeated
We … each in the other’s embrace
Flesh to flesh warm
The bed still empty
Without the creases of intercourse
I … sleep on the sofa

Next, I’ll tell you about Siriworn Kaewkan. In the course of months I have translated for fun a few of his old poems: they happen to have something to say that goes beyond navel gazing.


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