The six poems being published here are all contemporary and have been carefully selected. Several of them have been published already. Two have not. The UK Foreign Office have played an important part in the whole process, though not in the selection.
How to view and download the poems
For the full collection of six poems, click here. Then scroll down through the six.
The poems are also available for individual downloading. Log in on the Home Page (registering first if you haven’t already done so) and then go to “Downloading the Poems” in the left hand margin. Once there, open up the “Poems for… one world “ collection and you’ll find each of the Burmese poems near the top of the list of contents, under B for Burmese. Click on the pdf signs in order to open and download.
How the collection came about
The idea for including Burmese poems in the “One World” collection occurred in 2007. The length of time it has taken to reach fruition is due to several factors.
Personnel at all levels of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office have helped in this long process. In fact it could not have happened without them.
The relationship began in 2003, when I sent a letter to Denis MacShane, then Minister for Europe. I proposed to him that the “Poems for…” project, with its bilingual poems for display in public space such as class rooms and waiting rooms, could have an international application. Not just poems in English, or translations into English. The poems could be in all languages, talking to one another. Centred in Europe, this project could thus help to draw a continent together.
Not everyone responds to letters of this kind. But here was an exception and, soon afterwards, the Foreign Office supplied me with some funding to make a collection of ten bilingual poems, one for each of the 2004 EU Enlargement countries, for distribution round all those public walls, all those places where people gather. The poet Fiona Sampson helped me select the poems.
And soon after that, I was given permission to promote the project on the regular FCO staff bulletin. In response, various embassies expressed interest in receiving poem collections and one was the embassy in Rangoon. It was at this point that the idea of adding Burmese poems to the collection occurred.
But then repression in Burma escalated and poets who might have contributed were imprisoned or went to ground. There was pain and pause before some liberalisation began. Aung San Suu Kyi was released from her house arrest. Hillary Clinton dropped by. More recently, Barack Obama.
The Rangoon embassy put me in touch with a previous ambassador there, Vicky Bowman, now married to the Burmese artist Htein Lin and living in the UK. She in turn directed me to a book of Burmese poems now available. Produced by Arc Publications and called “Bones will Crow,” the book was edited by the poets James Byrne and ko ko thett. It was launched in the UK in the Summer of 2012.
Most of the poems in our small collection have been selected from “Bones will Crow”, with thanks and deep respect.
But Vicky Bowman also suggested a short poem which she herself has translated. It is by a prominent politician in Burma, called Zargana, and was written in a Burmese prison.
I am excited by this collection, and by what it means, and deeply grateful for all the help I have received in putting it together, so that now it can be published free around the world.