The poem that threatened “public tranquility”

Saw Wei, pictured left, whose “only ‘crime’ was writing a poem,” has been released from prison in Burma, “nearly five months after his sentence expired and two and a half years after he was sent to prison for ‘inducing crime against public tranquility’.”

How did Saw Wei, according to the government in Myanmar, threaten public tranquility? He wrote “February the Fourteenth,” an eight-line poem about Valentine’s Day, which was published in Love Journal, a weekly magazine based in Rangoon. We published an anonymous English translation in PEN America 10: Fear Itself (the translation was later reprinted in Harpers):
Arensberg said:
Only once you have experienced deep pain
And madness
And like an adolescent
Thought the blurred photo of a model
Great art
Can you call it heartbreak.
Millions of people
Who know how to love
Please clap your gilded hands
And laugh out loud.
“February the Fourteenth” is an acrostic poem: When the first letters of each line are put together in Burmese, they read “General Than Shwe is crazy with power.” Than Shwe is Myanmar's 77-year-old military dictator. The issue of Love Journal in which “February the Fourteenth” was published sold out quickly after word of the coded message spread.

PEN continues to work with the Open Society Institute to pressure the government in Myanmar to follow the rule of law and release the “many other writers, journalists, and bloggers still imprisoned in that country today, including Nay Phone Latt,” who received the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award this year. Learn more about (and get involved in) the campaign here and here.

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