A renowned editor and translator of contemporary Burmese writing, this volume by Ko Ko Thett is the first major single-volume collection to appear in English by a contemporary Burmese poet. His poetry explores the possibility of the translatability of experience between the personal and the political, and the possibility of the mutual transferabilities between languages as disparate as Burmese and English.
Ko Ko Thett is a poet by choice and a Burmese by chance. The poems in this collection, many of which have appeared in English-language literary magazines worldwide, range from “faddish sugar crystals,” written in Burmese for his 1996 illegal campus chapbook at the Yangon Institute of Technology, to his autumn 2014 “anxiety attack” at the University of Leuven. Apart from his own work as a writer and translator, he is the co-editor and translator of the seminal volume Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets, (ARC, 2012; Northern Illinois University Press 2013).
"Thett circles themes of interconnection, history, destiny, and translatability. He defines the burden of being Burmese through a deep and expansive dive into the quotidian particulars of life as a Burmese national, an expat, a political person, and a poet." — Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Los Angeles Review
Listen to a bilingual reading of poems with ko ko thett, Maw Shein Win, Qiao Dai, and Prof. Penny Edwards, sponsored by the UC Berkeley Burmese language program:
The Burden of Being Burmese, by Ko Ko Thett
The Burden of Being Burmese
Ko Ko Thett
ISBN 978-1-938890-16-1 (paper)
6 x 8
“The road to Mandalay / is paved with good intentions.” One suspected this, perhaps, but other poems in Ko Ko Thett’s brilliantly off-kilter book, The Burden of Being Burmese, home in more closely on just what is wrong: “a few simple rules here / you may bite the hand that feeds you, / just don’t feast on it.” Thett is a brilliant, probably reliable, guide to a virtually unknown kingdom.
how do you write history
in a language that has
no past tense?
This is the question that haunts Ko Ko Thett’s remarkable new collection of poems. Casting a cold eye on the political and cultural landscapes of his native land, he dissects the hypocrisies and contradictions everywhere before him. In the newly urban landscapes of Myanmar, only laughter can compensate for despair: “now a carrot, now a cane. upper house and lower house male bonding / ladies and gentlemen, distinguished white elephants / eminent hierophants and esteemed sycophants.…” The Burden of Being Burmese displays an extraordinary fertile and febrile imagination—one that will both delight and disturb American readers.
As the author says of himself, he is a poet by choice and a Burmese by chance. This is a powerful collection of Burmese poems in English, poems that were conceived in Burmese but first written down in English: thus not exactly translations. Burmese idioms and images abound throughout the poems, alongside English expressions and international concepts. The book deals with the anxieties and uncertainties of change, both political and personal, written during the author’s prolonged (self-imposed?) exile from Burma and against a background of ever more disastrous news from his country under its military rulers.