National Poetry Day: Zarganar

zarganar-2Zarganar is Burma’s leading comedian and an accomplished poet, writer, and director who throughout his career has used his artistic talents to draw attention to political repression in Burma.

Zarganar was first arrested in 1988 following the pro-democracy demonstrations, in which he played a leading role. As reading and writing were forbidden in his cell in Insein Prison, he mixed dust from the bricks in his cell with water and wrote poetry on the floor, committing the poems to memory and sweeping away the evidence. He was freed after six months.

He was arrested again in 1990 while making jokes at a political rally, and was returned to Insein, where he spent five years in solitary confinement.

Following his release, he was increasingly involved in social activism and worked closely with international NGOs. During the ‘Saffron Revolution’ of 2007, Zarganar was one of the key figures to lead public support. This led to a further three weeks in detention.

Zarganar’s arrest in June 2008 resulted from his criticism of the Cyclone Nargis relief effort. He had personally organised support from the Burmese arts community and oversaw its delivery to the delta. He was angered by the neglect and corruption he encountered and spoke out about this in interviews. In November 2008, he was convicted of ‘public order offences’ and sentenced to 59 years in prison, later reduced to 35 years.

In late 2008, Zargana was moved to Myitkyina Prison in northern Burma, 1,500km from his family home. Zarganar was awarded the inaugural PEN/Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage in 2009. He was release from prison in October 2011.

by Zargana
Translated by Vicky Bowman

It’s lucky my forehead is flat
Since my arm must often rest there.
Beneath it shines a light I must invite
From a moon I cannot see
In Myitkyina.


Listen to Index’s Free Speech Bites Podcast interview here