Wednesday, 2 December 2015

February 14th - Saw Wei

Arensberg said:
Only once you have experienced deep pain
And madness
And like an adolescent
Thought the blurred photo of a model
Great art
Can you call it heartbreak.
Millions of people
Who know how to love
Please clap your gilded hands
And laugh out loud.

Saw Wei (20th  century) Burma / Myanmar

In the original Burmese, the first syllables of each line are pronounced as follows:
Ar (Arensberg),
Na (pain),
Yu (mad),
Gyi (great),
Hmu (blurred),
Gyi (age/big),
Than (million),
Shwe (gilded).
Connected, the syllables then construct the phrase
Ar-na-yu-gyi Hmu-gyi Than Shwe
(‘Senior General Than Shwe is mad with power’). 
Than Shwe was the leader of Burma’s oppressive ruling military junta until 2011.

The ‘Arensberg’ of the poem likely refers to Walter C. Arensberg, an American steel magnate and poet fascinated by acrostics and anagrams, and author of The Cryptography of Shakespeare (1922).

The author was arrested in January 2008 after the publication of this poem in a Rangoon-based weekly magazine, which sold out after word spread of the poem’s subversive acrostic device. Saw Wei was held incommunicado, but eventually released in 2010.

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