[iDC] Saw Wai, Myanmar poet, jailed for publishing a poem

A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz liszkiewicz at gmail.com
Mon Feb 11 19:49:04 UTC 2008

Hello everyone,

In case you've not yet heard: on January 22, 2008, in the country of
Myanmar, a man named Saw Wai was jailed for writing a poem.  The
eight-line poem, "February 14," had been published the previous day in
the popular Burmese weekly A Chit (or The Love Journal), and is about
a man who learns the true meaning of love when his heart is broken by
a fashion model.  Because "February 14" looks the part of a saccharine
Valentine, Burmese government censors missed its hidden message: when
read top-to-bottom, the first word of each line forms the phrase,
"Power Crazy Senior General Than Shwe."

Senior General Than Shwe leads the military junta that has ruled
Myanmar for almost twenty years.  After seizing control of the Burmese
government in 1988, the junta refused to relinquish power in 1990,
when a democratic political party led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Aung San Suu Kyi won a popular election by an enormous margin.  Suu
Kyi has been in a Burmese prison for twelve of the past eighteen
years; Than Shwe has been the country's dictator for the past fifteen.
 Saw Wai has been in prison, unable to see his family, for almost
three weeks.

Than Shwe's junta has long detained critics and dissidents for
indefinite periods of time.  But their methods do not stop at
imprisonment.  There are many accounts, some first-hand, of jailed
dissidents being tortured while imprisoned.  And in September, 2007,
Than Shwe's troops opened fire on a peaceful, pro-democracy
demonstration and killed more than thirty people, including several
Buddhist monks who were leading the protests.  It is unclear what will
happen to Saw Wai, but with each day he spends in prison, it becomes
clearer that his message is true.

In response to Saw Wai's situation, I have edited a small, twelve-poet
anthology of poems that each contain the phrase, "Power Crazy Senior
General Than Shwe," in a manner that remains faithful to Saw Wai's
poem.  (The phrase is also the chapbook's title.)  The anthology has
been published in the online literary journal ANTI-
(http://anti-poetry.com/chapbook1/), and may be freely downloaded and
distributed.  As the editor of ANTI-, Steven D. Schroeder, has
written, "[this project] takes advantage of the fast turnaround time
and unique presentation possibilities of the online format, and...
stands against something that's clearly important and worth fighting."
 Participating poets have remarkably different backgrounds, and hail
from California, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia,
Washington, and elsewhere; one poet has never before been published,
while another has won the National Book Award (Phillippines) five

What unites these poets is the desire to speak and act against
injustice.  And sociable web media have allowed this to happen.  I
first heard about Saw Wai's jailing via another poet's blog, on
January 24th; I immediately wrote and posted a poem-response on my
blog, and began soliciting other bloggers I knew to do the same; I
also contacted the editor of ANTI-, who had previously published my
work in another venue, and proposed that I guest edit a small,
chapbook-sized collection of such poetry.  Via e-mail, listservs,
blogs, and the like, the project was developed from conception to
completion and publication in sixteen days.  The speed of this
realization was essential to the project, for as I write this Saw Wai
is sitting in a jail cell in Myanmar.  And this project is first and
foremost concerned with raising awareness of that fact.

With this in mind, I invite you to read and freely distribute the
chapbook.  Share it in any way you see fit.  The sociable web carries
with it the potential to speak across and through boundaries of all
kinds, and though it remains to be seen whether our voices can
penetrate the walls of Saw Wai's jail cell, we can at least allow Saw
Wai's voice to break through them, by speaking through us.

Thanks very much,
A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz

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