The prison poets

Joseph Woods

Aung Cheimt. Photograph : Dana Lixenberg

Burma Storybook

Petr Lom, Corinne van Egeraat, Khin Aung Aye (eds)

ZINdoc: 2017

Burma Storybook as a title could easily be in the plural, because it is both film and anthology in book form. The film focusses on one of Burma’s most famous dissident poets, Maung Aung Pwint, and his family with a chorus of supporting poets’ voices. The book anthologises the individual stories of seventeen poets who have emerged from the ecdysis of the brutal and moribund military regime that was Myanmar’s until recently. It was also a regime that singled out writers and poets for harsh and cruel treatment.

The opening pre-dawn scene of Bagan with hot air balloons slowly ascending, moving across a roseate sky and over a landscape of stupas and temples, made me wary we might be in for a saccharine view of modern Myanmar. But this is swiftly allayed by the contrasting everyday scenes that follow, people going to market, someone pushing a motorbike over a precarious bamboo bridge. The screen narrative progresses through personalities, seasons and events and even a National League for Democracy truck on the campaign trail through the countryside, blaring from speakers the popular song,

Our mother Aung Sang Suu Kyi

Will sweep the elections 

All minorities unite. Be free from fear.

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