Translated from the Burmese and introduced by Violet Cho & David Gilbert
This is the first anthology that presents contemporary poems translated from Burmese writers on the cultural margins. The introduction situates the poems of Mya Kabyar, Tin Nwan Lwin and Khaing Mar Kyaw Zaw within a historical and cultural context and explores their significance in Burmese poetry. The three poets provide alternative voices to the dominant culture of Burmese poetry because of their ethnic minority status or location in the country's troubled periphery. The featured poets are part of diverse literary communities that have emerged within and in response to Myanmar’s decades-long experience of dictatorship and civil war.
Mya Kabyar (b. 1974) was born in Palewa, Chin state. He grew up and finished high school in Chin state, then studied philosophy and graduated from Rangoon University. Mya Kabyar began writing when he was in high school, influenced by Burmese postmodern poetry. His first poem on the depiction of Chin land was published in a student magazine in 1990. Mya Kabyar writes in Burmese language and since his arrival in Yangon, he has regularly published poetry in magazines and journals. Mya Kabyar’s first book, Chin, was published in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital. Mya Kabyar remains highly influential within Chin literary circles as one of the leading Chin contemporary poets. Apart from his career as a poet, Mya Kabyar is also a political activist. He helped found the Chin Progressive Party, where he serves as an Executive Committee member.
Tin Nwan Lwin (b. 1955) was born in Namatoo, northern Shan State. He worked for the Ministry of Mines through the 70s and 80s. Tin Nwan Lwin was actively involved in the national pro-democracy uprising in 1988, against the dictatorship of General Ne Win. Political activism put him in touch with Mya Than Tint, who helped him establish as a published poet and he has been a regular contributor to literary journals since. Tin Nwan Lwin is based in Myitkyina, the capital of Myanmar’s northernmost region, nearly 1500 kilometres from Yangon. He is a member of Ottara La Min, a Myitkyina-based group that promotes literature and publishes occasional books and journals, including an anthology of Tin Nwan Lwin’s own previously published work. The group plays an important role in the development of a local poetry scene and has been important in facilitating access to publishing opportunities in the cities to the south.
Khaing Mar Kyaw Zaw (b. 1963) was born in the Karen Liberated Area, into a family involved in Myanmar’s decades long ethnic conflict. As such, she only had limited access to education and left home in order to attend school. She worked as a primary school teacher and later joined the Karen insurgency, active in the women’s movement and later in indigenous media and publishing. In the borderlands, Khaing Mar began writing poetry and fiction, publishing her work in a Burmese newspapers and journals based in exile. From a precarious exile in Thailand, Khaing Mar was able to write poetry free from the Burmese censorship board and the risk of imprisonment faced by dissident poets inside the country. From Thailand, Khaing Mar was able to access a more open audience for politically tinged poetry and was able to publish her first books of poetry and short stories. Khaing Mar now lives in the USA, where she has continued to publish Burmese language poetry and prose.
Violet Cho is a Burmese translator and writer living in exile. From the Karen ethnic minority, she grew up in refugee camps on the Thai-Myanmar border, where she began working in English, Karen and Burmese language radio, print and online media. In 2009, Violet was awarded the Asian Journalism Fellowship by Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre. Violet is currently a Visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University.
David Gilbert is a PhD Candidate in the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. His research is on transgender everyday life in urban Myanmar. David previously worked in community education in Thailand and Myanmar, supporting Burmese activists and displaced people to access higher education. He has written for journals and websites including Sojourn, Arena and Poetry International.
Cover image © Branli, Abstraction of Kachin Pattern, 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 120 X 120 cm.