Learning Burmese: A Poem

Since being here in Myanmar, and somewhat uncharacteristically, I have started to occasionally write poetry. This is something I haven’t done for a very long time; and when I mentioned (confessed!) this over on Facebook, a few friends said they’d be interested to see what I’m up to. So, with some hesitation, here’s something that I’ve been working on. I hope you enjoy it. * Learning Burmese At first, there is no language.       There are only things and solitude. Out of loneliness …

In Yangon

It is just over a week ago that I landed in Yangon, where I will be living for the next five months. It is a warm Sunday morning, and I am in a crowded restaurant that is noisy with families who have come out to eat Sunday breakfast together and to chat. And after a week, I have shaken off the jet-lag, and am beginning to adjust to the rhythm of life here. I am in Yangon to teach a …

New Year Thoughts on Grief and Friendship

On New Year’s Eve, we stood outside — four of us gathered in the back garden — and we watched the fireworks blossoming in the sky over the rooftops. It was a cold, clear night. We had been drinking wine and eating Chinese food. I wasn’t feeling particularly celebratory, after what has been a punishing year; but it felt important, nevertheless, to mark the occasion, to say farewell properly to a year in which everything in life changed for me. …

The Obligatory Christmas Blog Post

A year ago today, on Christmas day, I was with my partner Elee, having breakfast in the cold and faintly damp restaurant of the Red Age Themed Hotel, in the town of Anren in Sichuan. We were there to visit the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, an extraordinary private museum complex dedicated to the various sufferings of recent Chinese history. The ideal Christmas date, in other words. We were joined at our breakfast table by the Old Revolutionary and his daughter. The …

The Cheerfulness that Keeps Breaking Through

  O gather up the brokenness And bring it to me now The fragrance of those promises You never dared to vow   The splinters that you carry The cross you left behind Come healing of the body Come healing of the mind   We were in kitchen, you and I. It was February, not long after we had received the worst of news. Outside it was still winter. I was cooking, and you were at the sink washing up. We were …

The Inferno of the Living, or Business as Usual

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize …

Under the radar, close to the ground…

At the end of this year, I will be leaving my long-standing permanent academic post, and I will be setting out for more uncertain territory. This has been a decision that has been a long time coming, but in the light of all the changes that have taken place this year, — all of the difficulty, uncertainty, upheaval and sheer, raw grief and sadness — it seems timely to move on to something new. In January, I will be taking …

A Poem for Elee

It is two weeks since the death from cancer of Elee Kirk — who for so long has been my closest companion, wisest advisor and greatest friend. And so I find myself sitting here, watching the wheeling seagulls over the rooftops, looking up into the blue of the late summer sky, and thinking how much Elee loved evenings such as this one. And I find myself thinking how — had circumstances been different, were it not for some copyist’s error at …

This is not the apocalypse

So, I woke up this morning to find that yesterday we voted leave in the EU referendum, that over the next few years here in the UK we will be going through the painful — and unspeakably boring — process of disentangling ourselves from European Union legislation. And it will be boring. Nobody in the Leave campaign bothered to mention how boring it will be. But now that it is happening, it’s probably time to admit that it won’t be the joyous …

The Liu Xie and Wenxin Diaolong Memorial Hall, Nanjing

I’m back at Schipol airport, heading home after a hectic week and a half in China. I still have a few bits and pieces to write up, but I thought I’d post some images from Nanjing, where I visited the Liu Xie and Wenxin Diaolong Memorial Hall (刘勰与文心雕龙纪念馆). I’ve long been an admirer of The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, Liu’s sixth century text on the nature and practice of writing, and as I’m writing about Liu at …