The first literary work to emerge from Myanmar since the military took over the country a year ago reveals the selflessness and courage of a new generation of writers, its publisher has said.
Picking Off New Shoots Will Not Stop the Spring is an anthology of poems and essays, many of which were written during the military crackdown after last February’s coup. Others date from 1988 to 2020.
Since the coup, “dozens of poets have been persecuted, executed or killed in the resistance,” said Ko Ko Thett, poet and co-editor of the anthology. The deaths of Myint Myint Zin and K Za Win in March 2021 sent shockwaves through Myanmar, he said.
In the introduction to the book, Ko Ko Thett and co-editor Brian Haman wrote, “Many poets…have been imprisoned for participating in the protests. We are honored to include poems by a number of these poets, including some of the most beloved poems by Khet Thi, who died at the hands of junta inquisitors on May 8.
After the military takeover, hundreds of people, including children, were killed in street protests. Security forces used water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse protesters. The army has imposed restrictions, including curfews and limits on gatherings.
“Following the military overthrow of Myanmar’s democratically elected government in February 2021, we found the online literary outpouring of outrage, grief and dissent particularly generous, selfless and courageous,” the editors said. of the book.
The relatively recent introduction of the Internet and social media in Myanmar has become a powerful vector for the circulation of what Ko Ko Thett calls “witness writing”.
“The removal of so much censorship after the 2010 elections in so-called ‘transitional Myanmar’ coincided with the introduction of the internet and social media,” he told the Guardian. .
“Many poets and writers became active online overnight. In the immediacy and virality of social media, protesting poets who posted their poems online became easily known, easily identified and easily tracked down.
In the decade since, the internet has become a “major vehicle for poetry and voices of protest,” he said.
Witness writing was distinct from protest writing, said Ko Ko Thett, who was a student activist in Yangon in the 1990s and now lives in the UK. “All protest writings can be witness writings, but not all witness writings are protest writings. Witness writing is more subjective and usually has no explicit political agenda – no matter how politicized it is or becomes.
The book’s publishers said there was an “urgent need to preserve these writings online in a more durable and enduring format. Not only does this body of writing demonstrate the power and possibilities of writing against the barrel of a gun, but it also reveals that Burmese writing is aesthetically accomplished and meaningful.
Among the pieces in the anthology is Zeyar Lynn’s Portrait of the Need for Oxygen, which compares the suffocating grip of the military on the country to that of the Covid on an individual.
Residual Lives by Mi Chan Wai is a first-hand account of the terror the poet felt in her neighborhood on the outskirts of Yangon.
In Whose Footfall is Loudest, Thawda Aye Lei describes how “flip-flops have always been important witnesses to our revolutions”. In 2021, “every time a group of people were chased with guns and batons, dozens of ownerless flip-flops were left on the street… When the security forces left, people would pick them up and arrange them in pairs for their owners. come get them. »
Last year was extraordinarily tragic for Myanmar, and there was “no sign of the conflict abating in the coming year or even years”, Ko Ko Thett said. “The stage is set for protracted conflict, poverty below human dignity, human suffering and environmental degradation.”