Han Lynn (b. 1986). A quiet soft-spoken young man, his shyness disappears once he begins to speak about poetry. He is a fine example of the kind of seriousness that is typical among poets in Myanmar today: poetry is not a hobby or a vanity-calling card; it is a calling that emanates deep from one’s being. He has no need to entertain the question Rainer Maria Rilke poses in his Letters to a Young Poet: “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?” Han Lynn already knows the answer.
When did you start writing poetry?
I am not sure. But let’s say when I was about twenty.
When did you realize that you wanted to become a professional poet?
Frankly speaking, I don’t know what “professional” means when it comes to poetry. I have never thought of it. The only thing I would like to do is to write poetry.
How do you write?
Writing poetry is not only writing it down but also writing in one’s mind. So, like many other poets, I don’t have any particular times, and write poetry in my mind almost everyday.
How do you get inspiration to write a poem?
It depends. And it is not clear. Things that inspire me to write poetry are bizarre. Sometimes a piece of music. Sometimes a movie. Sometimes a text. Sometimes a fragment of a voice. Or a fragment of a thought. Sometimes what I witness. Or unknown, unidentified things, maybe the unconscious mind. And of course, it depends where I am.
Since I am always writing poetry in my mind, it’s difficult to realize when such inspirations come to me. Sometimes I force myself to write even if I am not in the mood. Fortunately, fruitless inspiration doesn’t last long either. And inspiration is not the most important thing but just part of writing process. In many cases, before I write it down or when I am writing it down, I do not know what and how the poem will be. You only know the result through practice.
What is important to you about creativity? Where does it come from? How do you feed it?
Passion. Your passion will make you do/get everything – through resourcefulness, spirituality, and practice.
But the word “creativity” is a loaded term. I have never tried to be a creative poet and don’t want to be considered creative either. Authenticity is what I am always hunting for. Maybe my creativity is made by this hunt. Authenticity may be a kind of creativity.
Tell me about the craftsmanship of writing.
If you want to be a poet, you have to study the fundamental elements of poetry – its parts and structure. And then international poetry – movements, history, etc. And you must be into and study almost everything in the world as much as you can. I study poetic elements including rhyme, symbol, image, rhythm, and I read as much as I can though my memory is bad, which means I forget almost everything. In writing poetry, I always try to be aware of myself, and know what my fear is. Fear could be in any form. Your fear always ruins your discipline, your art, your originality, your poetry. Spirituality is very important in every art. I never look down on it. You are not a robot, you must know yourself and not lie to yourself.
How does rewriting and editing – working on a poem – work?
For me, when it comes to poetry, rewriting or editing is a type of fear. It is sometimes good and sometimes bad. You have to accept that fear sometimes, and sometimes reject it.
I write poetry in many ways. One is that I set a time limit, whether one or two hours, and finish one during that time. It’s like sitting an exam. Listening to random music from YouTube, I write whatever comes into my mind. I sometimes edit the poem during the fixed time though sometimes I don’t. Editing a written poem can make it better. It could destroy its beauty and originality as well. So I always try to know what my fear is, and how to handle it.
How was your writing affected by living in an unfree society where freedom of expression was not permitted?
Banned books, difficulty of getting international books, government-controlled internet – all this limited what I could do. Apart from that, nothing affected my writing because I never submitted any of my poems to periodicals during the military junta era. I wrote what I wanted only in my diary.
My writing has been changing only because of my own experimenting, and not because of the lessening of external restrictions in the world around me. I did emphasize imagery. I still do that and will do so in the future. But I started submitting my poetry to periodicals only when restrictions were loosened – when censorship was abolished.
An unfree society is not good for art at all. If works of art in an unfree society are good, they will be better when it is free.
Now that Myanmar is “in transition,” one thing that has not changed for a poet is this: a poet, not only in his poetry, but in his real life, must always be against, and fight, injustice.
You now work in advertising – what influence does that have on the poetry you write?
Advertising is strange. When I write commercials, I have to think of a mass audience. For a poet that is totally bizarre. As a poet I rarely think of any audience at all while I am writing.
I decided to take a job in this field mainly because I knew it would give me access to really fast internet, which I don’t have at home. I thought this would be a way of getting great inspiration. But I find it difficult to be inspired to write poetry because of my work. Still, with good internet, I am able to read more than ever before. I am enhancing my knowledge of literature like never before.
Authors’ Note: These interviews are excerpted from Burma Storybook, a poetry and photography book inspired by the documentary film of the same name, produced by Corinne van Egeraat and directed by Petr Lom.
The English language hardcover edition of the book is for sale at Hla Day, Innwa Bookstore, Myanmar Book Center and the Strand Hotel.
A Burmese language-only paperback edition of the book is for sale through Yangon Book Plaza.
There will be a Free Open Air Screening of the Burma Storybook documentary film (82 min.) in Mahabandoola Park in Yangon on November 25 at 6 p.m.From Nov. 25 to Dec. 4, you can visit the interactive Burma Storybook Photo Exhibit at the Tourism Burma Building.
For more information: www.burmastorybook.com