Songs from A Distance

by Michelle

Many small, independent poetry publishers are producing chapbooks. A chapbook can have the advantage of being beautifully made, less expensive, not as bulky to digest as a complete collection. It distils the writer’s poetry to a selection of their best work.
I’ve written a few lines about an exceptional example I’ve recently read, Songs from a Distance by Bhuchung Sonam:

Born in rural Tibet, educated in India, Bhuchung D Sonam lives in exile in Dharamsala. He is the author of two previous collections and Muses in Exile: An Anthology of Tibetan Poetry In Exile (2004) These are free verse songs which capture the experience of silence, banishment, the economics of displacement. They are imagistic, rhetorical, confronting and impassioned, speaking with such directness that they dismantle the exoticised stereotypes, drawing the reader into the harsh realitites, complexities and mutability of the Tibetan refugee experience. A poem like “She is in Boston” speaks of the ordinary lives of economic refugees suffering the crisis of disempowerment, selling “tsampa, chura and tea bricks” in Kathmandu,”peddling laphing, momo and aloo khatsa” in Dharamsala, “selling sweaters, jackets and T-shirts” in Delhi, then,

At David Square T-station
Between the exit door and the corner
From across the long wooden bench
She sits knitting woolen gloves, mittens
Mufflers and monkey hats that she
Displays on a string and on the floor
A rectangular sheet spread before her.
(10)

The poems also address the lives and hardships of activists like Tenzin Tsundue, Tsering Woeser, Gendun Choepel, author and translator; the monk, Tapey, who self-immolated in protest against religious oppression in 2009 and who was subsequently shot in Sichuan province; the novelist Dolma Kyab, who has been detained in Chuschur prison since 2005 for allegedly “endangering state security”, as well as many others. Such engagement with the Tibetan struggle for a political voice, grounds this collection as an essential text in contemporary Tibetan poetics of resistance.

This a profound collection, one that refuses to respond in silence to the genocide and the humanitarian abuses that the Tibetan peoples, cultures and languages have endured.

Freedom, your footstep
Is what I want to die for.
(38)

For copies of the book contact www.tibetwrites.org

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