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Bones Will Crow: An Insider's View

Posted by Arc, 17th October 2012

Khin Aung Aye
Khin Aung Aye

Bones will Crow comes from Moe Zaw's poem Moonless Night. Co-editors ko ko thett and James Byrne thought the Burmese idiom fitting for their anthology of '15 Contemporary Burmese Poets.' Bones will Crow means chicken comes home to roost - whatever you give, you get back. The Burmese use it to express their resentiment, the resentment against injustice. To be honest I did not find it very tasteful when I heard it for the first time. Since then I have acquired a taste for Bones. My ears have been tamed. My lips got used to saying it.

Politics in Burma of 2012 are poles apart from that of 2009, when James Byrne conceived an anthology of Burmese poetry. The censorship doesn't exist any more. The subversive names that most people did not dare to utter before are on the front pages of journals and magazines today. Most political prisoners, including 88 generation students, have been released and most activists are now being integrated into the mainstream political process. Shall I dare say, Bones will Crow had adumbrated such changes.

Six months after the title Bones will Crow was set in June 2011, a gruesome mass murder that'd happened in northern Burma twenty years ago, that seemed to have disappeared from history, was unearthed. In the winter of 1991-92, some members of All Burma Student Democratic Front, ABSDF, the resistance student army, were accused of spying for the regime by their own organization. The branded student rebels were subject to countless ways of dehumanization - think of mutilation of limbs, burning bitumen on your belly, keeping you barely alive under harsh weather conditions - until they were forced to submit to false testimonies at the ABSDF (North) camp in Pajawng, next to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) Headquarters in Laizin, close to the Chinese border. Of about seventy who were literally cooped in inhuman conditions and brutally tortured for months, more than forty were executed medieval-style right in front of their inmates.

Htein Lin, a London-based artist, whose contribution had been instrumental in the publication of Bones, is one of the survivors of what is now known as the Northern Massacre. In December 2011, he became the first to give out the lowdown in the first-person narrative on his magazine, Following him, Burmese blogger Aung Moe Win chronicled the events in ghastly details in a series of articles titled, Bones Have Crowed in the North. When I came across those accounts, I told James Bones was the caw of the day.

As a poet I miss the forerunners of Burmese khitpor poetry, Phaw Way, Maung Chaw Nwe and Myay Chit Thu. They have long been dead but the creative capital they had put into contemporary Burmese poetry in the 1970s has been manifested in Bones will Crow. Don't I hear their bones crowing?

I don't have much to say about my poems in Bones. Perhaps no anthology would do justice to any thirty-year career but Bones no doubt is a handsome compensation for my life tied down by poetry. For this I would like to thank James Byrne and ko ko thett for their dedicated translation of my poems. I am also grateful to Arc for making this happen. My teacher Maung Tha Noe and my friend Zeyar Lynn need a special mention as their books and essays on Western poetics have been influential on my poetical path.

There is another reason why I don't want to sing a gladly tune to my own pieces in the book. I am very pleased with the inclusion of Aung Cheimt, Thitsar Ni, Maung Chaw Nwe, Maung Pyiyt Min, poets before me, and Maung Thein Zaw, Moe Zaw, Moe Way and Maung Yu Py, poets after me. On the other hand, I am not over the moon about my induction to Bones as poets in the stature of Maw Rousseau, Thukamaing Hlaing and Ne Myo whose works, more than my own, deserve a place in any anthology are not in the book for various reasons.

At least I can say that I have done 'something' as my efforts in poetry were not just 'a haystack fire' but a long-burning torch, the flame of which has spread from within myself across my own land into an international arena. Bones can also be seen as door into that arena for up and coming Burmese poets. As such my advice to any junior poets is that you take poetry seriously, not just for fun. Study poetics assiduously and do your 'homework.'

I am excited about the UK book tour. I have some experience reading in international festivals, twice in Seoul, once in London and in some other European cities. Yet this occasion is especially for Bones. I am thrilled to join two other Burmese poets on a poetic journey. I am already delighted at the prospect of meeting members of audience who might not know where Burma is or what Burmese language is all about but having a chance to display to them what Burmese poetry is all about in the first place. No doubt the rewards of new experience I will gain from new exposures, exchanges and symposiums will never leave me until the end of my career.

Khin Aung Aye
Translated from the Burmese by ko ko thett.

Khin Aung Aye is reading in Newcastle, Cambridge and London from 24th october. For more details see the events listings