Axon: Creative Explorations, Vol 3, No 2, October 2013
In a sense, the creative histories of the world chart the known spectrum of imaginative responses to crisis: economic, natural, political, cultural, personal. Among the cultures and civilisations of the Asia-Pacific, for instance, such strategies have evolved, of necessity, over many centuries. The ideas, forms, techniques, insights and creative approaches that persist today suggest a certain obstinate vitality, if not always institutional resilience, that human beings can demonstrate in the face of relentless and often wrenching change. It is this spirit that characterises the work that appears in this issue of Axon. Filipino poet and scholar Dinah Roma's visit to prominent ruins in Southeast Asia, reread through Benjamin, leads her to startling confrontations with her own personal devastation. Poems by James Byrne, Marjorie Evasco, Jane Baker and Adam Aitken sift through the remains of disrupted narratives for immanent meaning. Poet Cyril Wong does the spadework, long overdue, to excavate themes of sexuality, repression and expression in the oeuvre of one of Singapore's most respected poetic pioneers.
James Byrne, a British poet, is also editor of a noted anthology of Contemporary Burmese poetry; together with Ko Ko Thett their prose accounts begin to uncover the cultural life of a society which has until very recently been closed to global scrutiny, but which has nevertheless evolved remarkable and innovative aesthetic workarounds under deeply oppressive circumstances. In a similar vein, Malaysian cultural activist Pauline Fan outlines the healing power of ritual theatre in Kelantan—a living tradition that faces dire threat from the twin forces of rapacious development on the one hand, and narrow religiosity on the other. Ian Chung, employing the venerable (and oft misused) cento form, assembles an edifice of literary fragments that both celebrates a shared national past and shades in its inconvenient truths.
Creative recovery is neither a matter of nostalgia nor gritty subsistence. Instead, it can be about generating new possibilities, combinations and insights, as is the case with translation, ably discussed by Anouska Munden. Like the body aging, or healing and scarring over, it is not so much a restoration of what once was, but the achievement of a new synthesis and equilibrium, however tenuous, in the face of denial or death or simply the fog of what we do not know. Some of the writings in this issue—including pieces from Burmese poets Ye Myint Thu and Zeyar Lynn, Singaporeans Jerrold Yam and Jee Leong Koh, and Filippino poet Joel Toledo—pick compulsively at the scabs of a fractured life or polity, feeling for an early path to wholeness that may itself prove bewildering. If these are anxieties that keep us awake, they are also—as Ian Wedde’s ‘brilliant conversation’ with Jen Webb suggests—what keeps us moving forward and outward.
Consultant Editor for this issue: Alvin Pang (Singapore)