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5Q Interview: Maung Day, 2017 IWP resident

The Writing University conducts is a series of interviews (the "5Q Interviews") with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the International Writing Program's 2017 fall residency. We sit down (sometimes remotely) with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.

Today we are speaking with Maung Day, a poet, artist and translator from Myanmar. 

1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the residency?

I have always wanted to see the United States with my own eyes. From the short stories of Raymond Carver to the poems of Frederick Seidel, from the photography of Robert Adams to the movies of Robert Altman, I have been exposed to some sections of American society and some elements of American psyche. But during the residency at the University of Iowa, I will be able to observe this culturally diverse yet politically divisive country firsthand. I have a project in mind to document my experience. It’s a photography/poetry/prose project. What I want to do is take loads of photos and write poems and pieces of prose to accompany each photo. The idea of ‘place’ as a social and political character is essential to my work. I don’t know what will come out of this project. But I am very excited.

2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

I write a lot in my mind, conceiving ideas and coming up with fragments of sentences. Sometimes I write down these thoughts in my notebook. But when I finally sit down in front of my computer, it is usually in the nighttime. I like to write into late night. From time to time, I would be stuck in the middle of a poem. Then I would pick up books by other poets to get inspiration and to detach myself from my own poem for a minute. When I return to my poem, I usually have some new ideas.

3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

I recently finished a batch of poems for my new book. I wrote these poems in Burmese, and maybe I can work on their English versions later. To write this book, I read so many poems of Michael Dickman, Matthew Rohrer and Burmese poet Thukhamein Hlaing. I intend to read Frank O’Hara’s poems in coming days. I am familiar with his work, but I want to read more extensively and thoroughly this time.

4. What is something the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and your work?

I would say my work is imagistic, associative and contemporary. I employ a conscious choice of surreal juxtapositions and irony in my work.

5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I grew up in a working class neighborhood of Rangoon, the former capital. Sweat, booze, brawls, jizz and swear words made up this neighborhood. This was also where I discovered rock and roll, poetry and love. My friends and I had a lot of fun growing up together. But there were also so many problems. First of all, lack of opportunities to fulfill our potential under the rule of the military regime. Then there were so much poverty and social disparities across the country. The lack of freedom of expression and heavy censorship hit young poets like me really hard. But things are changing dramatically these days. Censorship has been lifted even though there’s still censorship of some sort. Anyway, the situation of free speech has got much better. Today, the streets of Rangoon are filled with hopes. The art scene, music scene, and universities are teeming with vigorous young people. Maybe it’s too early to say better days are ahead, but definitely something to wish for. A lot of my poems are about Rangoon, its people and its stories. For those who have never been there, it will be worth visiting for the street food, art and cultures, beautiful colonial buildings and interesting social dynamics.

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Thank you so much Maung!

Check the IWP website for events that will include Maung Day throughout the residency.