‘Under the great ice sheet / A great country has been buried alive’: Transreading Myanmar Poetry

‘Under the great ice sheet / A great country has been buried alive’: Transreading Myanmar Poetry

Explore poetry from Myanmar to inspire new work, as well as fresh ways of thinking about translation and writing through political turmoil and censorship.

This course will explore poetry from Myanmar through a contemporary lens, inspiring new works of poetry, as well as fresh ways of thinking about translation and writing through political turmoil and censorship. Participants will develop new ideas for creative writing projects through course feedback, one-to-one tutorials and taught sessions with James Byrne. 

Myanmar poetry has a rich and complex history. Several movements, including khitsan (‘testing the times’) from the 1930s and khitpor (‘modern poetry’) have contributed to a dynamic poetics, one that has frequently adopted an innovative aesthetic so as to avoid censorship. Words like ‘mother’ (a nickname for Aung San Suu Kyi) and ‘red’ (for its political connotations) were routinely censored from poetic texts. During the strict regime of General Ne Win, he banned the word ‘sunset’ because he suspected its appearance would be like an assassination attempt on him (Ne Win roughly translates as sunrise). In recent times, following the imprisonment of Suu Kyi, poets have routinely been targeted for arrest and have been tortured or killed. 

This course will explore how, despite the political landscape, Myanmar poetics has been able to survive and, indeed, thrive post-khitsan / khitpor, and develop Postmodern, Language, Conceptual and performance poetry strands that have flourished in the country. A fusion of these aesthetics is evident in the key course text, Bones will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets, edited by ko ko thett and James Byrne. This will be made available as a free PDF document to course participants. There will also be material presented from poets who have been historically marginalised, such as Rohingya refugee poetics. This course will include a special guest speaker from Myanmar. 

Students will receive individual and group feedback and a range of supplementary course materials, enabling them to produce a portfolio of new poems, using prompts that emanate from discussions on Myanmar poetry and individual poems. No previous knowledge of Myanmar poetry or speaking of Burmese (or other languages from the region – there are over 100) is required.

5 fortnightly sessions over 10 weeks. No live chats. Suitable for UK & International students.

To apply for a concessionary rate, please send relevant documentation showing your eligibility for one of our concessions to administ[email protected]. Conditions of eligibility are detailed here. If you have any questions or wish to be added to the waiting list of a sold-out course, please email [email protected]. For more information visit our Online Courses page. 

Image credit: Gayatri Malhotra

About James Byrne View Profile

James Byrne is a poet, editor, translator, and visual artist. His most recent poetry collections are Places you Leave (Arc Publications, 2022) and Of Breaking Glass (Broken Sleep Books, 2022), both to be launched at Ledbury. For fifteen years he was the editor of The Wolf and has co-edited and co-translated various anthologies, including Bones Will Crow, the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poetry to be published in English (Arc, 2012), I am a Rohingya, the first book of Rohingya refugee poems in English, and Atlantic Drift: An Anthology of Poetry and Poetics (Edge Hill University Press/Arc, 2017). He works as a Reader in Contemporary Literature at Edge Hill University. His Selected Poems / Poemas Escogidos are published by Buenos Aires Poetry. With the author, he co-translated Libyan poet Ashur Etwebi (Five Scenes from a Failed Revolution, Arc 2022). Forrest Gander writes that Places you Leave is ‘restlessly energetic and politically insistent…these are knife-sharp glimpses of the world’.

‘Poetry School classes have been really important to me stimulating me to write more and improving the quality of my writing.’

– Autumn 2022 School Survey

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