Young Thai poets (3)In English, Reading matters on 05/09/2010 at 8:45 pm
What happened to the fellow?
Knowing I was going through a Thai poetry phase, a friend gave me a small collection of poems entitled Typhoon Season in Paradise, by Uten Mahamit, printed twice in 2007 and the eighth such collection for a man who must be in his early thirties and has also published at least two volumes of short stories.
The title is an echo to Rimbaud’s Season in Hell, the book is dedicated to him and the first twenty pages are about him.
Symbolism and wrong-footing are two of the tools of Uten’s trade, who shows here a predilection for travel by train and trains of dejected thought through ‘tunnels of fog’ and rare words arranged in deft concatenations of sounds one can admire but not translate. For instance: phom deun dui lui lip jip narmkhang jark phlai mork – ‘I wade far into the fog taking sips of its trailing dew’ may catch (most of) the meaning but not the music, assonances and beat. Blame my lack of talent, or consider that if Thai as a language is a church organ, English is a harmonium, and French – ah, French, an accordion perhaps.
Most of the book is free verse, which also sometimes takes the shape of prose as in the following scarlet piece.
In a previous life I was born a dog no one had to suffer mouth cramps giving a name to. I remember that almost all my life I spent crouched gnawing on bitter old bones with a feeling of despondency.
As dogs go, I wasn’t good at barking or howling at all, to the point of getting annoyed by my own noise, but I was one of those dogs that are observant, wary and find fault with everything.
Living around foundation posts by a stinky flooded canal along with emaciated people, fat rats, lethargic cats, cockroaches, stuff, bottles, trash, booze, food leftovers, fuggy abomination all, each day went by too dreadfully to brag about.
In the end, I lay dying on the roadside like a shagged mangy dog, gazing vacantly at the society of the time full of terminal diseases nothing could treat. I unsteadily chased after the smells of food-on-foam scattered and stained all over as the parade of love of the Thai nation shattered. I remember something else that was disgraceful, which was I crouching helpless without the strength to get up, cross the road and get car-jumped dead on the spot as fellow dogs do.
Obviously, that city dog has been reborn an astrophysicist.
His latest, just published collection of poems, entitled Korp (an archaic term meaning ‘consisting of’, ‘in addition’), I am going to cannibalise – not for its poetry, which I find hard to understand at all, being no astrophysicist myself, but for its precious footnotes, telling me how to translate ‘antiparticle’, ‘antimatter’, ‘dark matter’, ‘fusion’, ‘initial singularity’ or ‘cosmic background radiation’ (to mention only words culled off the first four pages) and even … what they mean.
Amazing! How does one go from, say, ‘Infection of dental roots’ (It’s happening again | Rose petals out of kilter | Toothbrush-thick thorns squeezing [sic] sticky dew out of the fog’s nose (praengfan narm beep narmkhang jark jamook mork)…) to paeans entitled ‘Comet crossing a new galaxy’, ‘Acid rain over dull dark matter’, ‘Plummeting towards the irregular galaxy’ or ‘Radioactive matter under sand cover’ and crammed with Cape Canaveral mumbo-jumbo?
I bet his next collection will trawl cyberspace and treat us to Silicon Valley slang. If he hasn’t been there done that yet.