marcel barang

Young Thai poets (4)

In English, Reading matters on 11/09/2010 at 12:38 pm

The attribution of the SEA Write Award this year to a free-verse poet (Zakariya Amataya) away from the stultifying constraints of traditional forms has been applauded by most Thai literati as long overdue acknowledgement of modern creative practice, and of course deplored by a few stick-in-the-khlong as yet another betrayal of the Thai cultural makeup – a perennial tug-of-war echoed, on another social playground, by a poem whose title, ‘Love behind borders’, caught my attention in the first collection of yet another young poet, Krit Lualamai, of whom I know virtually nothing except that, if he keeps trying, he might get there, whether or not he goes on peppering his Thai with Lao words, which of course gives him away as an Esarn bard.
Everyone’s destination, a set of fifty poems stretching from starting point in life to … guess what?, was published in 2007 by Praew Publishing, an imprint of Amarin Printing, in the usual sumptuous format and terrible binding.

One thing that bothers me, though, with this particular set of poems – and a few of those other collections already reviewed – is how many of them read like weather reports (windy, sunny, cloudy, foggy, moony), with a particular emphasis on the orb of the night, understandable perhaps from those poets still rocking their hammocks in the boondocks, but, frankly, how many of them in town do raise their chins long enough to notice the moon or the absent stars? Symbolic value, of course! Yeah, right. But what’s the point of freeing the verse form if it is to carry on with the mental clichés of tradition? Come to think of it, few poems I’ve read lately tackle today’s urbanised world in their imagery. Their computer-wise authors drive cars, ride buses or the BTS, live in condos, townhouses or slums, breathe noxious fumes, eat farang junk food, are adept at French letters and French kisses, yet their poetic minds are stuck on quills, carts, bamboo huts, honeysuckle dew and the sheen of their sweetheart’s flowing hair. Go finger.

Anyway, here is the poem in question, and another two for good measure.

Love behind borders

I’m told I’m wicked to want a farang husband
Our forefathers’ legacy will be spoiled
By a woman who has never sat
Front row in the dharma pavilion
Relatives, uncles, aunts, the whole tribe
Curse me with
May you die and go to hell
Each ganging up on me swearing it’s taboo
Even your mother will be hurt and will not lie in peace
                Who are they to tell wrong from right? I am my mother’s daughter
Mother whose arms cradled me from before
In hard times anyone can break off relations
As all lumber through jungle
I paid my respects to mother before paying them to the Buddha
Mother’s doctrine was purer than the monks’
She taught me to believe in being honest
Love not, greed not, anger not, stray not no matter what
                Love? I went through that … long ago
Is it crystal or dust? I still wonder
In times of sweet soaring, permeating deep, heart-shaking
When estranged, so beyond reach
Yonder … dykes, buffalo herd by the edge of the field
The man meant for love came from there
Piling up straw, the sky noonday bright
Ah … how sweet heaven was then! At night
The truth passed by, and occasion, and time
On Lent night … waking up a stranger
Temple fair, farandole still fun-filled…
A nightmare in the depth of night, just all alone
Mother’s whispered prayers in the room upstairs
Repeated often, thus remembered
When I was in a distant land
The whisper still could be heard
                He is not the man I love
Except elseways and with something missing
Shackles that bind – me and my homeland
He’s helped get rid of them for good … with love?
Mother used to teach
We live for others
So must put up with distress however grievous
Oh, mother … I must go far away again
As if I might never rest or stop myself

                The granddaughter’s voice is heard outside the room
Complaining I want a farang husband
Tears flow … in loneliness. At times
Still like being jailed … for life


Yes I know we are unequal
Happiness there is and some sorrow, as once dreamed
And then sadness as a thread in the reel of days
What we share equally is time
When still little, we study, soak up knowledge
Come adolescence, we struggle and seek
When we step close to old age
We go over what happened in life
Who took advantage, who to whom lost … Isn’t it so?
Not at all … if you don’t hold to belief, don’t cling
Of time in the human world there is little
Close companionship, you realise, takes time
You are the freshness of youth
As for him he may be tougher, stronger
I am old, sort of sluggish in thought
We break through the way … minds apart
Maybe at times I’d like to play the little child
You watching over his growth
Let’s take turns to see what it’s like
Maybe no one will say it’s unseemly…
                …Before the revolving hands of time
While liveliness is plentiful
You, me, him, her, all equal
Come! Let’s make sure we use it to the full.

Who would know?

If that day we had gone further than that
Today would we be like this?
Still coping as close friends
Or avoiding each other, friendship forsaken?
                Do you remember that forlorn lad, that dreamy girl?
We were each other’s shadow everywhere
The wider the world, the more paths
Good or bad, they kept intersecting
                We kept swigging moonlight in the sheen of sandal trees
Drunk to the verge of sleep – still singing
Mouthing poems – music
As if the heart never had enough
                Helping each other count myriad sky-pegged stars
As of a land close at hand
Leaning out, body warmed flames-side
Numb with cold without ever feeling so
                The fire in our hearts was but one
Our hands flexed the sky down as they would grass blades
Our feet trod the ocean bottom all the way
Oh! Dreams once far from the eye, now close at hand  
Life isn’t like dreams
Making their way to land’s end … For all the winds
A hundred times a hundred jungle stones into ten thousand rice fields do not turn
What moves in circles drunkenly is just us
                The further away we strayed, the lonelier
The calls in our hearts all the stronger
Ways differed, good or bad, yet fear to impose prevailed
The more confused and haunted, the more adrift
                Sometimes we were almost strangers
At times worse than next-seat neighbours
Some things too confusing, too blurred, too delicate
For us to understand
                If that day we had gone further than that
Today we might be a newly love-struck couple
Or might have broken up, cut off the web
Is there anyone in the world who would know?


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