In this episode of Clocktower Radio’s Close Listening, ko ko thett talks to me about his decision to write in English; his nineteen years in exile and the experience of returning home; the political situation in Burma at the time of his exile compared to the present; his sense of the futility of the student protests; and the international context of the poets he anthologized in Bones Will Crow. In the course of the show ko ko thett reads a recent poem in Burmese and offers a spontaneous translation. Recorded before a live audience at the Kelly Writers House on January 23, 2017, ko ko thett’s reading immediately preceded the Close Listening show.
ko ko thett is a poet, editor, and translator from Burma/Myanmar. He writes in English and his first book The Burden of Being Burmese was published in 2015 by Zephyr Press. It was hailed by John Ashbery as “brilliantly off-kilter.”
ko ko thett’s Kelly Writers House poetry reading (29:18): mp3 ko ko thett in conversation with Charles Bernstein on Close Listening (38:36): mp3
David Antin was one of the great American poets of the postwar period, transforming the practice of poetry, art criticism, and the essay. His “talk poems” are chock full of startlingly philosophical insights, weaving narratives on the fly and making poems that are as engaging as they are wise. I came to the event not knowing what I would say. Among the first speakers was Barbara T. Smith, who asked each of us to cut a lock of hair, which she collected. This reminded me of the Jewish ritual of cutting a piece of clothing at a funeral, usual a tie. So I ended my talk with a reading of “Rivulets of the Dead Jew,” which makes a reference to this ritual.
“We / take the form / of our uncertainty,” Gil Ott wrote in a 1984 poem. I take that as a motto of a poetics we shared, Gil and me, born the same year smack in the middle of the last century. Uncertainty remains now, as it was thirty years ago, as it was in 1950, a poetic vice for many. Gil expressed his searching uncertainty with an unflappable and genial defiance, living his fifty-four years with grace, courage, outrage, and élan.