“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” – Frederick Douglass
The poetry section in Usawa’s December issue has a whopping 77 poems contributed by 34 poets. It would be no exaggeration to say that the poetry in this issue speaks volumes about Human Rights, the theme for this issue. All the poems clearly stem from a deep space of pain within the poet. War, communal issues, pro-democratic struggles, gender exploitation, COVID, physical disabilities, human trafficking, racism, freedom and a plethora of other significant dimensions of Human Rights have been spoken about by the contributing poets.
I was deeply moved to read all the submissions. It called for an evening of dim lights and complete silence to extract these 77 poems from the sea of entries that we received.
The poets belong to different countries- Palestine, Australia, Burma, United States, UK, Zimbabwe, India and some others giving this publication of Usawa a fairly even representation across the world. This was essential if we were to explore the Magna Carta from a universal perspective.
However I cannot emphasise enough the value and worth of the poetry we have from Burma represented by four poets – three of whom have been published posthumously. They were poets in their early thirties and twenties, certainly no age to embrace death. Two of these poets lost their lives in the recent pro-democratic protests that took place in Myanmar in March 2021. One succumbed to COVID.
Their three poems have been commendably translated translated by Ko Ko Thett who is in the process of compiling them into an anthology titled “Picking off New Shoots will not Stop the Spring: Protest Poems & Essays from Myanmar”, edited by ko ko thett & Brian Haman, Ethos Books, Singapore (2022)
Those animals! They are
only into sinking their teeth
into your flesh. They were born
with no conscience.
The history of this spring
has been written in blood.
Even if the rabid dogs are in retreat,
as long as the earth breathes,
the curse of my tears never ends
Moe Nwe (2001-2021)
Ko Ko Thett’s poems are particularly stirring and memorable. There’s a certain defiance in his words, a certain ‘take this or be damned’ note to his verses, a clarity of voice that knows what to say and how to say it given what his country has faced, is facing.
In places where I am considered white, my yellow accent always holds me back.
Since whatever out of my mouth is unpasteurised lie, I will always have a yellow accent.
As for my skin ––
it will be blues when it fancies the blues;
it will be jazz when it fancies jazz.
Ko Ko Thett, Burma