'Culture is the heritage of the people, indestructible and forever,' says Burmese poet Tin Moe. During a conversation with him at the Prince Claus Fund, which awarded him in 2004, the tension between culture and repression is discussed.
Tin Moe has been writing poetry for more than half a century, and says that he still writes every day. Nature is highly determinant for the rhythm of life in Burma (Myanmar) and is a theme often seen in Tin Moe’s work. The way in which keeps pace with the developments in Burma. In Each With Its Own Beauty, a poem Tin Moe wrote in 1963, he describes everything in nature as beautiful. Later, with the rise of the dictatorship, nature comes to a standstill, as seen in the poem Sobs: 'The bees cannot make honey, the mushrooms cannot sprout'.
Tin Moe has written numerous school books. Unlike his poetry, these books have not been banned. Because he believes that rhyme is an excellent learning tool, these text books are amply seasoned with small poems.
The generals also learned how to read with his school books, as they learned to understand what Tin Moe’s poems are about. They decided that he was a threat and imprisoned him in the infamous Insein prison in 1991. On a prison wall, he found one of his old poems. He was locked behind bars without a pen for four years because of his words.
For fear of losing his pen forever, at the age of 71 Tin Moe decided to go to the West. Now he is writing again every day, without restrictions. “But I miss the language,' he says, 'the way it sounds.' The optimist Tin Moe still has hope: 'Some of the generals are really good people.' His thoughts reach Burma over the radio waves, and are received by a people hungry for knowledge and culture. 'I love the freedom of expression,' is the statement that is not soon forgotten.
The exerpt from 'Sobs' was translated by Dr. Kyi May Kaung.