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Archive for the ‘Reading matters’ Category

Bulan Sastra

In English, Reading matters on 18/09/2016 at 9:45 pm

bulanThat’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.

Servez-vous, c’est gratuit

In French, Reading matters on 06/08/2016 at 7:54 pm

Edna_FerberQuand 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.

No Englitch, please!

In English, Reading matters on 19/07/2016 at 11:04 am

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
Maybe lost
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
But you?
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 waves
No lotuses
No flock of Asian openbill storks
Fleeing the cold
Just a drifter without an aim
No sunshine
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?
I smile
Answer I’m fine
You’re fine on a white piece of cloth
Eyes closed tight amid a scent of frankincense
Like it?
You don’t answer
Like it or not, you must lie there
Drowsy or not, you must sleep
Sleep forever
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
Hiding teardrops
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

Out of the toy box

In English, Reading matters on 18/07/2016 at 11:08 am

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
Adorning ruthlessness
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
Let’s go
And slain the demon

Riding into eternity

For every battle
We get a hero
For every death
A monument
A story has it that
Every rice grain
We lost
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
Amidst hoorays
The last fistful of rice grains strewn
To welcome our hero
Riding his white horse into eternity

Stop and read for yourselves

In English, Reading matters on 15/07/2016 at 5:51 pm

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.

Poetry time at the SEA Write

In English, Reading matters on 13/07/2016 at 3:02 pm

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


In French, Reading matters on 30/04/2015 at 5:27 pm

J’aurai tantôt septante ans : vieux, certes, mais ni catatonique ni cacochyme. Je ne souffre que d’hyper­tension (et d’arthrose) ; vu la vie que j’ai menée, pas surprenant. Alors, tous les trois mois, je pèlerinage à Siriraj [prononcer ‘si.ri.râte’], le grand hôpital public, pour y faire butin de pilules. Comme le médecin traitant me soupçonne de diabète, j’y allai hier aussi pour une prise de sang. L’affaire a pris… un certain temps.

7h35 : j’arrive dans les locaux des patients pris en charge par l’État (eh oui !) pour y retirer mon dossier. On me dit que ce n’est pas la peine. « Allez d’abord au bureau 102. »

7h40 : On me donne tout de suite un ticket pour faire la queue : 726. Plus de sept cents patients à saigner avant huit heures du matin ! Siriraj est une usine où la santé collective se traite en gros et à la chaîne.

La préposée me prévient que je vais devoir attendre un long moment. Je n’en doute pas : ceux qui font la queue en ce moment ont les numéros 460 à 469. Il y a peut-être deux cents personnes dans la vaste salle ; une moitié, debout, immobile, en rangs ; l’autre, soit assis à attendre, soit en allées et venues permanentes ; tous et toutes avec des mines de gens à jeun en étuve dans un boucan incessant. Pas de place assise ailleurs que sur les marches d’un escalier dérobé : j’en occupe deux en coin et reprends la relecture de The Grapes of Wrath, cinquante ans après la première en français. Un peu plus tard, je m’avise de descendre l’escalier : il donne sur la rue principale. Il y a des bancs de bois devant l’ascenseur de service.

9h16 : j’entends le haut-parleur à l’étage clamer : « Tié ! Tié ! ». Sept-deux-six ? Mais c’est moi, ça ! Je me présente en tête de queue, et me voici muni d’un sachet en plastique contenant un tube en plastique pour faire pipi dedans et, ceci fait, aller faire la queue juste au coin, Bureau 108, où une dizaine d’infirmières perforent des centaines de veines de quidams chacune chaque jour.

9h41 : prélèvement sanguin indolore, rapide, parfait. Je sors de l’hôpital pour prendre un tardif petit-déj (porc bouilli, riz, légumes) dans la rue qui mène à l’embarcadère de Wang Lang, puis reviens au local initial.

10h04 : mesure du poids (91.2 kg – fichtre !), du pouls (62) et de la tension artérielle (159/75 – aïe !). Rien d’autre à faire que d’attendre les résultats de l’analyse sanguine. Cela prend d’ordinaire une heure. More Grapes of Wrath dehors, dans une rue du complexe hospitalier où les trois douzaines de compresseurs de climatiseurs sur les murs d’en face joints à la circulation motorisée incessante font un vacarme éprouvant.

11h11 : Je demande à refaire la mesure du pouls (50) et de la tension artérielle : 136/62.

11h55 : Une infirmière tout blanc sourire se penche sur moi : « Les résultats sanguins sont là mais le docteur est parti déjeuner et sera de retour à une heure ».

13h15 : Dr Marisa, enfin ! Ça fait quelques années qu’on se pratique. Elle est penchée sur cette feuille cabalistique qui me concerne et dodeline du chef : effectivement, mon sang est trop sucré, mais pas au point de mériter traitement. « Alors, voici trois mois de pilules de plus pour la tension. »

J’ai le secret espoir de mourir d’une crise cardiaque. Comme je fais état de douleurs pectorales, elle s’anime et me propose de vérifier l’état du cœur qu’elle vient d’écouter. « C’est l’affaire de dix minutes dans la pièce d’à-côté. »

Elle donne des instructions au personnel soignant. Pour gagner du temps, je prends d’abord l’ordon­nance pour la remettre au guichet devant la porte : je sais qu’au bout de quelques minutes, elle me sera rendue avec un numéro estampillé pour que j’aille… faire à nouveau la queue pour obtenir les médocs.

Puis je rentre procéder à l’examen cardiaque : électrodes sur la poitrine, les poignets et les chevilles. S’ensuit un graphe sur papier millimétré, furtivement transmis au docteur tandis que je me rhabille.

En sortant, Dr Marisa court vers moi, affolée : « Avez-vous remis l’ordonnance ? Il faut la changer. Votre cœur bat trop lentement !

  • Comment ça ? Ça fait déjà deux ans, docteur, que je vous dis que mon pouls habituel, toute ma vie à 70-80, a descendu aux alentours de 50.
  • En ce moment, c’est 40 ! C’est dangereux. »

Elle récupère l’ordonnance, raye un des deux médicaments. Et me confirme, hélas, qu’à part ça, mon cœur va très bien.

Bientôt, me voici de retour au 108. Pour la livraison des médicaments, j’ai le numéro 493 ; au vu du tableau d’affichage, il y en a encore pour un bon quart d’heure.

14h20 : lesté de 180 cachets d’une seule drogue dont je dois taire le nom, je quitte enfin Siriraj en nage et en rage. Mais plein d’admiration pour ce pourvoyeur de santé haut-débit où de fort bons soins sont dispensés au plus grand nombre – au prix de parfois massives pertes de temps. Comme m’a dit Dr Marisa : « La prochaine fois, venez un lundi ; le mardi, il y a foule ». Sans blague !

A non-poem by a non-writer

In English, French, Reading matters on 22/04/2015 at 6:29 pm


De Phuket, Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa m’envoie deux plaquettes : une longue nouvelle déjà traduite par moi en anglais (“Another day of 1984 happiness” – la nouvelle qui ouvre mon anthologie de nouvelles 2014) et un recueil de poèmes intitulé bien entendu Mai Chai Bot Kawee – (This is) not poetry.

Alors, pour passer le temps, j’ai traduit le tout premier non-poème, et, par habitude peut-être, c’est sorti en anglais :

History cursed to never reach old age – Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa

History cursed to never reach old age
The month of May torn off all calendars
The first rays of dawn never remembered
The tuneless songs on many lips now vanished

Dreamers were mass-murdered in their sleep
Their blood has dried up the time it takes for dewdrops to evaporate
Man who has been cursed with freedom
Redeems his sins binding his legs with goodness

Only domestic animals believe that a cage is cosy
History which is old repeats itself for the seventy-sixth time
There is only sin – wash this slave super-clean
Feed me with deceptive words in the long journey to the truth

Going at the right target in the wrong way
With fragrant carnivorous flowers we never planted
I like your dream
Your eyes space-lost like a blind worm eating poison ivy
I like your beauty
Ripe like a fruit that falls to spoil and slowly turn putrid
I like your love
Hugging me tight like the embrace of a venomous snake
I like your memory
Because it is cleansed white like the skin peeled off a corpse

History has been cursed to never reach old age
Man has been cursed to seek freedom
We have been cursed to struggle
To struggle for victory time after time

Struggle alone is a victory in itself
Because there is only struggle until there is defeat a little at a time
There is only struggle of man young yet
Along the chain of history that never reaches old age

Yeah, right!

In English, French, Reading matters on 02/02/2015 at 7:28 pm

Reading this morning in the Bangkok Post the review of my anthology 14 Thai short stories – 2014, I realised why it took eight weeks for the paper to come up with one: the editor must have had some trouble finding the right person and, de guerre lasse, must have decided to make do with Pimrapee Thungkasemvathana’s copy.

Ms Pimrapee T may be an excellent cub journalist. I’m not familiar with her writings, but judging from this text, it is quite clear she’ll never be a literary critic as she has no time for real literature, even though she got one thing right: the first and last stories are the best.

She dismisses no fewer than eight of the fourteen stories, to ‘be skipped altogether’ as a waste of her precious time. That this isn’t quite right isn’t just my impression. One friend, after reading her book review, wires back: ‘At last, but is it a balanced review?’ Another: ‘I found the article a bit strange — but let’s hope it helps you sell lots of copies anyway.’ (Yeah, right.) And a third: « Je ne sais pas si c’est moi, mais il m’a paru un peu sec. » You don’t say.

My latest fad

In English, French, Reading matters on 01/01/2015 at 12:54 pm


This New Year’s Day, as of midday Bangkok time, my new blog is out:  CHANSONGS. The name says it all. Fifty-five song titles to begin with, with another hundred or more in the pipeline. The result of over two years of idle moments and alternative moods. Most titles have been selected not just out of love for the songs (some I can’t bear to hear) but because of the challenge of the lyrics.

Maybe this new set of English<>French translations will help me show I’m not just a craftsman of literary Thai translation who, now that he’s fallen on hard times, must show he’s also proficient in those lingoes. Either that or making ready for the last act.

Cheers everyone and a happy new year of the Goat. Prenons garde à ne pas devenir chèvre.