International Writing Program collaborates on reading in support of Burmese/Myanma poets

Voices From Burma: Poets of No Name

Online—Monday, June 14 at 6 p.m.

Pagoda Field of Bagan, Myanmar. — Alexander Schimmeck/Unsplash

Since the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (Burma) had its most recent military coup d’etat on February 1, 2021, preventing the leaders elected last November from being sworn in, over 700 citizens have been killed, nearly one-third of its schoolteachers have been suspended for their opposition to the coup, and thousands have been detained, many in undisclosed locations. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated recently, “In just over four months, Myanmar has gone from being a fragile democracy to a human rights catastrophe.”

Among those caught up in the violence have been the nation’s poets. In a March op-ed, poet and University of Iowa International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill wrote of IWP alum Maung Yu Py, who was arrested in early March and sentenced to two years of hard labor, and of two poets who had been killed in the approximately 200 deaths at that point. Merrill wrote also of the tension that was palpable there even in 2004, when he had first visited, and he said in a recent press release that “The IWP has been committed to freedom in Myanmar/Burma since the coup of 1988, bringing more than 25 Myanma and Burmese writers to IWP’s Fall Residency to share in our community … We continue to stand with our alumni in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all the Burmese citizens jailed by the military junta.”

As part of that solidarity effort, the IWP is co-presenting, with the Asia Society, a free online reading intended to raise awareness of the situation. Merrill, along with U.S. Poet Laureates Joy Harjo and Robert Hass, Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek and many other U.S.-based and international writers, will speak about the situation and read works from Burmese Poets of No Name — “a moniker chosen to safeguard their identity,” the event press release stated.

The IWP also has a petition circulation calling for the release of the political detainees.

Voices from Burma can be watched live at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 14, on the Asia Society’s YouTube channel or Facebook page.

“While mourning the peaceful protesters already killed, we cannot lose sight of the real nature of these mass detentions,” Merrill said in the release. “The military junta is waging a ferocious attack on universal rights and freedoms.”

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