That’s the title of a superbly produced and edited anthology of short stories and poems by Thai and Indonesian writers published in three languages by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC) of the Thai Ministry of Culture. I edited the English section. This 660-page-long trade book is available free of charge upon request to OCAC, whose mission is to distribute it to all manner of public libraries for the promotion of regional literature. Trust me, it’s a great gift.
Archive for 2016|Yearly archive page
Quand j’étais étudiant en lettres-langues du côté beurré de la Terre, il y a plus d’un demi-siècle, on me disait beaucoup de bien d’une plume américaine, Edna Ferber, qui allait mourir en 1968 à 83 ans et qui est depuis longtemps passée de mode. Ce fut une excellente nouvelliste, auteur de romans et de pièces de théâtre à succès. Un de ses premiers recueils de nouvelles, au titre délicieux qui résume bien son style, Buttered Side Down, paru en 1912, n’a jamais été traduit en français.
Affligé d’oisiveté forcée ces derniers mois, pour entretenir mes neurones j’ai entrepris de remédier à cet oubli impardonnable. Bien m’en a pris. Car cette mutine chantre des humbles étonne ou fait sourire à tous les détours de phrase. La prose est à croquer, la malice exquise. Comme je ne doute pas que l’édition actuelle dans ses cinquante nuances de craie ait d’autres chattes à fouetter, j’ai décidé de mettre ce joyau de douze perles à la portée de n’importe quel pourceau qui en veut. Servez-vous, c’est gratuit. Suffit de demander à barang arobase mail point com.
If you had only the would-be-English poem introducing Part 1 of Rossanee Nurfarida’s first collection of Thai poems entitled Far away from our own homes, what would you make of this?
Only see own self in boat
Paddle none destiny
In homelands we lost
Or in the one introducing Part 2, of this:
Both we passing
And owned empty space build a kingdom of melt suffering
I’m owned silence and tear drops hiding
Fear not, the answer is down below.
But then, the poem introducing Part 3 has no Thai version. In it you find “migratory birds well smiley” and “The lover every night stars mapping | Let the moon take North Star guiding | Up-down Sea tiding never know”. The reference to MH370 (the Malaysian Airlines flight lost at sea in March 2014) is clear enough, though not quite the ending: “How many sun set and rise | MH370 back a butterfly”.
Since there is no mention of a translator, one must assume Ms Rossanee penned those herself, more’s the pity. Why parade such mastery of pidgin? Fortunately, on the Thai side, she actually makes sense, sort of:
Lost in one’s homeland
No Zheng He’s fleet
No colonialist armada
Just someone lost
A little boat mast lost
Of no known nationality
Crossing a lake
No flock of Asian openbill storks
Fleeing the cold
Just a drifter without an aim
No parting line between night and day
Telling of dawn and dusk
Seeing oneself in the boat
As if adrift
Lost in one’s homeland
Homeland lost to one and all
The place frangipanis shade all day
Long time no see, hey, sea
But the sea remembers me
Asks the sea: you all right?
Answer I’m fine
You’re fine on a white piece of cloth
Eyes closed tight amid a scent of frankincense
You don’t answer
Like it or not, you must lie there
Drowsy or not, you must sleep
Waiting for the day of waking up in front of someone
Who one day might be me
Included on that white piece of cloth
Under the shade of frangipanis
they come and visit each Friday
Long time no meet
The sea asks the meaning of happiness
I am someone passing through
You are someone passing through
We each travel
And claim empty space to build a world
Where suffering melts down
Lest the sea see them
You occupy a space that fits you
Lying on a white piece of cloth
I carefully kept a fine stitched five-piece fabric
For you to sleep comfortably
Intending to fold the bottom into a lotus
As a memento of our last meeting
The Yasin surah is read
Like a muttering from a distant land
Stuttering Arabic grammar
Faltering through the throat
Heard yet far from clear
Shahada whispered repeatedly
Soft as the wind at Maghrib time
The heart as light as a feather
Life as fragile as soapsuds
Under the frangipanis
Can you hear my voice?
The term ‘miss you’ has never faded
With the sound of the waves
It covers the place
Frangipanis shade all day
In Apichart Jandaeng’s collection of poems Trapped in the toy box, the poem at the back of the cover is one of three Englitch translations stuck at the end of the volume. Each has been translated by a different (female) translator. Besides “Trapped in the toy box”, there is “Till the demon is killed” and then there is “Riding to the eternity”! Here they are … revised.
Till the demon is slain
The war has begun
A demon appears
Piecing fear together
Creating a new set of memories
Hurled to the opposite side
The war must go on
Legit and righteous
Till the demon is slain
Telling the story of peace
Leading the people to quiet ease
The only possible way
Is to get together and
Deal death to the demon
And slain the demon
Riding into eternity
For every battle
We get a hero
For every death
A story has it that
Every rice grain
Many people fought with their bare hands
And fell and died like autumn leaves
Our hero riding a white horse
Awaits the time to appear
Time and time again
We walk away from ruins
The last fistful of rice grains strewn
To welcome our hero
Riding his white horse into eternity
Siriworn Kaewkan, who heads PajonPhai Publishing, is not a responsible publisher. He does his very best to devalue his books by imposing Thaiglish texts on them. Among other examples I’ll deal with later, take Jadet Kamjorndet’s latest salvo of poems, Phuea Mi Mek Tam Rao Ma (In case clouds follow us). The collection opens on a (fortunately lone) poem in would-be English entitled ‘Office Accessories’ a responsible publisher would have had edited or dismissed. Its last stanza, as bad as the six previous ones, reads:
My afternoon ended
Stuffed myself into a coffee cups drawer and dreaming
about name and nationality to enter in some form.
And yet, when he is not stuffing himself in coffee cups drawers and writes in Thai, Nai Jadet is a pretty good poet attuned to the noisome noise of these Thai military times. For instance, this:
Stop. I’ll read it out to you.
I am a poet who loves democracy.
I have three poems I’ll read out to you,
But first you must vote which one you want to hear.
When you’ve voted, I’ll read.
All right, I’ll start reading,
But let me ask you first what kind of tone you want:
Gentle or firm?
Vote and let’s see if you want music as well.
…Now that Bin Laden is a Jedi, what are we going to do?
Revenge will proceed freely,
Fire after fire lit without respite.
All right, you must tell me if you like Bin Laden
Or if we should change to another villain.
What did you say? You want a new vote?
Why? So that I stand down, is that it?
What? That the election was rigged?
Come, now, this is just about reading a poem
And I want it to be democratic.
What was that? Bin Laden had no democracy?
That’s the very question. I’m against it.
What now? You want to phrase the question yourselves and then have me read?
What? You want to read yourselves?
Enough. Keep quiet.
This is a gun.
I want everybody to keep quiet.
I’ll hold the gun in my right hand and the poem in my left.
Thanks to Siriworn Kaewkan for sending me these four volumes of poems, by Jadet Kamjorndet, Apichart Jandaeng, Wisut Khawneam [Khaoniam] and Rossanee Nurfarida – all Southerners, the latter a womanand a newcomer.
Must be poetry year at the SEA Write casino. Must be the rainy season as well, given the covers’ lack of sunshine.
Publisher Siriworn keeps insisting putting what he believes to be English on his covers rather than consult his listed advisor – me! If he had, I’d have told him the correct translation of Jadet’s book’s title is not “As if clouds follow us” but In case clouds follow us. A good case can be made for Rossanee’s Far away from our own homes, although a closer translation of the Thai title would be Beyond the fences of our homes.
And then there is Jadet’s 10 lines at the back of his Trapped in the toy box: he should change translators or get a real one.
Those 10 lines say this:
Amidst the sound of guns
Boys grew into young men
Amidst the sound of bombs
Girls became young women
Each night and each day passed
Walking amidst gunshots
Breathing amidst bomb blasts
Dust-clad in the toy box
Where children kept paper
Birds never to turn real
My Thai-born French daughter is worried about my getting killed out of cultural misunderstanding.
Saturday night, she took me out for a Japanese dinner to celebrate my thirty-eight years (and two days) of sustained non-residency in Thailand, and a good thing she did: I was about to blow a casket over the deafening music washing through my house since five o’clock from the terrain vague at the back where, for the second weekend running, whole chunks of shanty houses were being torn down at Wagner volumes, except it was lousy local yodelling.
By the time we came back, silence reigned and we watched TV and by midnight my Cinderella went back to mummy’s and by two am, as usual, I was out for the count.
Only to be woken up at 7 by Esan fare at full blast.
I took refuge on the other side of the house, all windows and doors shut down, to read the Bangkok Post on the front porch, but then, unable to stand the racket any longer, got dressed, went round the block, entered the terrain vague and walked over to the source of the din.
A couple of guys in the open air were dismantling this and that, but the deafening noise would prevent any parley. So I went into the hut where the sound came from and, seeing it was empty, with a TV cum sound system with baffles turned in the direction of my kitchen five yards away across a low wall, unplugged the damn thing and came out to glorious lack of sound. I then told the middle-aged chap next to me up in the air that it was all right to listen to music but not at deafening levels; he kept nodding his head in assent and the other fellow further along actually apologized as I left.
But then, perhaps ten minutes later, a young man on a motorcycle came to my gate, of the type Thais call a jikko, a hooligan, under thirty, IQ included. He started to berate me, saying he was the owner of the huts that were being dismantled and that he was leaving soon, so there – or that’s what I understood, given that he wasn’t very articulate. At one point, he kept shouting Nan ban koo, That’s my fucking house. Third time around, I raised my voice and shouted, Nee ban koo na mueng – answering in kind, And this is my house, you fucker. That shut him up for a moment. What to make do of that athletic farang who knew the lingo, bloody hell? In a normal tone of voice, I told him I’d gone to bed at two, been woken up at seven and had a right to feel unhappy, no? I too had loud sound systems but kept them at low volume at all times not to disturb neighbours. Eventually, he left, with an irrelevant parting insult I can’t recall.
When I told my daughter this, she blamed me for having walked into that hut and plugged off the sound system without asking for permission first. That’s what the fucker meant by ‘Nan ban koo’. I was exposing myself to being shot or worse.
Which reminds me of another happening at the very same place some twenty years or so ago. At the time the former-orchard terrain vague only had one hut, which happened to be precisely where the jikko’s hut stood, and from my kitchen I had a view of its back room and so, one evening, witnessed the occupant, a plain cop called Somkit, punching his wife and she seizing a mega knife and he grabbing her by the hair and dragging her into the front room and I hearing punches and knocks so that I ran over to the police station five hundred yards away to disturb a ring of officers having dinner together only to learn they couldn’t possibly intervene in a dispute between man and wife.