Featured here is an interview with poet Maung Day who went to the UK to stay at Edge Hill University in November and December last year as a Writer-in-Residence, a programme organised by the British Council.
Writer in Residency - the introduction
I met English poet James Byrne in Thailand while working for an NGO there. My poems were also published in his magazine. About five or six months before this programme began, I learned from James that there was going to be a programme called Writer in Residency jointly orgarised by the British Council and Edge Hall University where he was teaching. I have great admiration for some British poets and I have never been to the UK. I am a very busy person here (in Yangon) and amid my bust schedules I write a lot. If I went for Residency, I thought, I would have more time to write and to think creatively too. So I took part in the Residency programme.
I went to the Netherlands in 2013 on Artist-in-Residence programme on invitation by an art institution called Extrapool. In 2005, I went to attend a symposium held in Weimar in Germany- a programme arranged by Gothe Institute. I also went to ASEAN Poetry Festival in Indonesia and Singapore Writers Festival in Singapore too.
The significance of writing poems in Residency is the changes in place and location. For artists like us, we associate the contents and thinking for our artwork with the things, places, people in our surroundings. When I was in the UK, I gave a lot of thoughts about the country itself. The current issues and social, cultural and political hot topics such as Brexit that I learned from the students, as well as other accounts inspired by the new surroundings are represented in my poems. When I visited the Tate Liverpool gallery as part of Residency programme, I was inspired by the paintings of Tracy Emin and William Blake to compose poems instantly to reflect their works. It was really an unforgettable experience. I even recited my poems at the gallery.
Looking at the paintings and doing some research about the paintings creates motivations to write more creatively for me. It is totally a new experience. I think this type of activity could be arranged by PEN Myanmar or other literary organization here in Myanmar. For example, visiting National Museum and studying the paintings of U Ngwe Gaing or U Paw Oo or visiting places in Mandalay and write about the experiences in the poems. These can be experimented.
Where I have been, I think the audience there hardly met any Myanmar poet before. Therefore I noticed eagerness in the audience to know and to ask questions (about Myanmar). I also saw the same enthusiasm during the discussions sessions with the students and teachers at Edge Hill University. They are curious about and are very interested in Asian Poetry. They are interested in the intertwining of cultural, social and political matters in the poems in our country.
Another very pleasing experience is taking part in the Literary Night held at the SOAS University of London. This event was led and arranged by Professor Justin Watkins from Myanmar Department of SOAS. Many of his students who are studying Myanmar Poetry, and who have keen interest in Myanmar language attended the event. Among many interested individuals, famous author Daw Wendy Law-Yone also was present at the event too. I gave a talk on the 21st century Myanmar Poetry and I then recited about 4 to 5 poems from the book of Gasoline. We discussed about various topics and the discussions were very lively and stimulating, making the night really warm and enjoyable.
Thresholds and Labyrinths – a Creative Writing Workshop
In early March this year, I led a creative writing workshop called “Thresholds and Labyrinths – a Creative Writing Workshop” which was jointly organized by the British Council and Pen Myanmar. We discussed about the works of local and international authors and the participants experimented with new writing techniques and further discussed about them among themselves. They also wrote a short story each, based on the ideas they developed during the workshop.
I think the British Council should continue to support Residency programmes in future. It would be better if the Residency stay period could be longer. In addition, it would be nice if workshops following “Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds” programme could be held more often.
If you want to read more about the British Council’s ‘Hidden Word, Hidden World’ project please visit here.