Mui Poopoksakul, who guest-edited the November 2016 issue—Modernization and Its Discontents: Contemporary Thai Writing—recommends new and forthcoming Thai works.
I started following Uten Mahamid’s work after coming across a poem of his that contains no vowels. This kind of lipogram is possible in Thai (although his is the first and only example I have seen) because there is one consonant that doubles as a vowel. Still, the poem is visually striking because without vowels, which in Thai are often placed above or below consonants, the lines look unusually even (in fact the poem also has no tone marks, which would otherwise hover above). A comparable visual effect in English might be to write a line only with letters that do not extend above or below, for example, a, c, e, m, n and w.
That poem, “Frog Sporting a Top Hat” (literally translated), may not lend itself to translation in the traditional sense, but Uten (b.1975), a poet and artist with a niche following and over a dozen collections to his name, has written a large number of a kind of poetry called “three-line poems,” which have been described as the Thai version of haikus. They are free-verse poems with no formal restrictions other than the line count of three. With a knack for strange combinations of words and ideas, Uten creates miniscule stories that are vivid and often disturbing. In a 2008 collection Taler Tala 2-3 Bantad (2-3 Lines of Fooling Around), for example, he describes a writer who tries to cure his writer’s block by swallowing two or three pens and washing them down with water before going to bed; and an owl perched on the top line on the page, waiting to eat off misspelled words.
With a knack for strange combinations of words and ideas, Uten creates miniscule stories that are vivid and often disturbing.
Across different collections, Uten’s writing is preoccupied with the corporeal: the body as both a trap (the site of illness and death) and an outlet (the site of sexual pleasure). His 2015 collection of three-liners, Leunk Kadee (Case-Linga), treats both of these aspects of the body, the first half consisting of mini murder mysteries—a corpse with stab wounds along the buttonholes is one case—and the second dealing with masturbation, with a penis draped on a table next to a rolling pin in one instance.
Also exploring the body through writing is another writer-artist Uthis Haemamool (whose work was featured in the November issue of WWB). Uthis is working on a two-part creation that will be a novel, due out next year, to be followed a few months after by an art exhibit displayed as the work of the story’s protagonist, Kaosing. Set in a country that has suffered a string of coups, the novel will be political commentary-cum-erotica: a product of the system, Kaosing seeks to contain his desires through painting nudes, and he meets a seductive young man who becomes his model. With this project, Uthis is aiming to push the limit of writing, to blur the line between literature and visual arts. One intriguing aspect of the novel is that the author is planning on designing a new font that will be suggestive of the body’s poses.
Uthis is aiming to push the limit of writing, to blur the line between literature and visual arts.
Another forthcoming work that has my interest piqued is Prabda Yoon’s novel, which has the working title The Basement Moon, so named after the bar where the entire story takes place. (Yoon’s work was also featured in the November issue.) The novel will be a dystopian fantasy set in the near future that will take up the subject of totalitarianism. I’m told to expect some of the author’s trademark humor, although his more recent works have tended to be darker than his early writing.
Published Nov 30, 2016 Copyright 2016 Mui Poopoksakul