Klairung Amratisha, “The Life of Thai Writers”
From Nou Hach Literary Journal, Vol 4 (2007): 106-108
It is appropriate to begin a study of the writer’s identity by providing an explanation of the keyword. Generally, “identity“ means the qualities and attitudes that a person or a group of people have that make them different from other people.1 In my opinion, these qualities and attitudes can change according to time and social conditions.
The identity of a writer means, therefore, the qualities and attitudes of a writer that make him different from other people. This identity may derive from how the writer views himself and what he considers his special qualities to be as well as his obligation to society and the world. A writer’s identity can also come from how the readers and society view writers and what expectations they may have.
In an attempt to study the identity of Thai writers, I will analyze how Thai writers think about their duties and their works. In times past, when all literary works were composed only in long verses, Thai poets clearly understood that poetry was the art of language, originating from a beautiful and fine style of writing and providing both harmonious sound and meaning. Thai poets of the Ayutthaya period compared their literary works to the divine garland of heaven or precious jewelry for the ears. Reading or listening to poetry is like receiving an ornament for the soul. For traditional Thai poets, poetry is the sacred and eternal work of art.
Therefore, classical Thai literature always followed the literary conventions. Words and expressions were carefully and delicately selected, polished and adorned to perfection. Poets employed ‘high’ vocabulary borrowed from Pali, Sanskrit and Khmer languages and they were not allowed to create a new form of writing or a new rhythm and rhyme. Subjects of their writings usually related to Buddhism or didactic matters. For this reason, we rarely notice any innovation in traditional Thai literature no matter how beautiful it is. And this is one of the reasons why young readers in the present time do not like to read classical literature.
Contemporary Thai poets have maintained some ideas influenced by ancient poets. Angkarn Kalayanaphong, a very famous poet who won the SEA WRITE Award in 1986, also considers poetry as a precious object and a means to cleanse and elevate the soul of humanity. However, Angkarn’s poetry must possess noble and sublime principles as well as profound imagination. The poet’s imagination originates from nature surrounding him. Every element of nature is a driving force that motivates the poet to compose poetry. Angkarn’s idea is not different from those of traditional poets except that modern poets employ nature to explain Buddhist concepts and to compare it with real life. One of his
poems which is an exquisite example of this idea is ”Loke [The World].“
The World does not consist alone of diamonds.
Sand and other things too go to make it up.
The elements, low, medium and grand are in balance.
The universe will not crack because of one of them.
This world is not the residence of golden swans alone.
Crows also have a right to life.
Those intoxicated with pride are despicable.
Without friendship the world dies and all is lost.
We can see clearly that nature, such as diamonds and sand and swans and crows, is the symbol of ordinary human beings or objects and “high-valued“ human beings or objects. Through these symbols, we are informed by the poet that our world exists only because of friendship and unbiased understanding between people.
Another famous poet who also won the SEA WRITE Award is Naowarat Phongphaiboon. Naowarat has composed a poem, which defines the characteristics of good poetry and the qualities of a real poet. He compares poetry to a moment of ”a flower bud blooming“. This means poetry, which is the delicate creation of the poet, is similar to a flower which is a delicate creation of nature. In Naowarat’s opinion, poetry originates from ”the perfect skill of a word creator “ and “a recollected intensity of feelings“ of the poet. For him, the most important quality of a good poet is that he must have “an insight of spiritual sweetness.” This insight will enable him to “create words with poetic magic,” which will catch the heart of the reader.
As for contemporary Thai short story writers, their ideas about their obligation and duty of the writer seem to be far different from those of modern poets. In my opinion, this results from the birth of these two genres of literature. Thai poetry has had a very long origin and most poems were written by kings and aristocrats. Therefore, most of the classical long verses contain sublimity and sacredness. The short story, on the other hand, is a new form of writing which Thai writers borrowed from the West. Their subjects concern issues that happen in real society and their characters are normal people. For this reason, Thai short story writers have not considered their works to be sublime or sacred. They usually agree that the short story must reflect things that really happen in society. Assiri Thammachote, who has been well-known for more than twenty years and won the SEA WRITE Award in 1981, thought that the duty of a writer was similar to a mirror. That is to reflect problems or important events of human beings. Written in a realistic style, Assiri’s short stories are mostly concerned with problems of poverty in the countryside, workers, farmers, prostitutes or political events that influenced people in general. His style has been imitated by so many other writers that there has been a very large number of realistic short stories published, and this sometimes causes boredom for the readers as they see no difference between one story and another.
In the past ten years, we can see the new generation of short story writers who try to search for new subjects for their writings such as problems in the big city, traffic jams, environmental problems and the loss of old tradition and culture. Writers who do not write about new subjects have to use the new literary techniques. Win Leowarin, a famous short story writer who won the SEA WRITE Award in 1999, has an opinion that contemporary Thai literature is now confronting modern media, namely the internet, television and games. All of these stop the readers from reading. In Win’s words, Thai literature ”is dying.“ Win thinks that we might be able to solve this problem if there are changes in the techniques of writing in order to touch the heart of the reader. He himself has used many new techniques of writing. In his short story entitled “Kradat tit–fai [Sticker-Fire].” Win does not follow the traditional style of short story writing. There are only a number of small stickers put on each page of the whole story. On the stickers are short notes from a husband to his wife. Although the writer does not give a description about the main characters, the setting or the story, the readers understand clearly that this story happens in a family where the husband does not have time to meet with his wife as the father always returns home very late. They, therefore, have to communicate with each other via the short notes on the stickers. The couples have a son, but the father also does not have time for him because he has a minor wife. The story ends with the last sticker from the wife informing her husband that their son is now a drug addict. We could see that the subject is not new, but the readers like this kind of literary technique very much.
From my analysis of the identity of Thai poets and writers, I would like to conclude that the Thai poet has the duty of a spiritual leader while the short story writer is the reporter or the social critic. In other words, the identity of the Thai poet is to be the idealist while the writer is to be the realist.
1 Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 2003, p.805.
2 Lilit Yuan Phai, Bangkok: Silpabannakarn, 1970, p. 21.
3 Lilit Phra Lo, Bangkok : Khlangwittaya, 1974, p.149.
4 Suchitra Chongstitvatana, “Modern Thai Poetics: Pride and Purpose in Modern Poetry”, Manusya: Journal of Humanities, 3, 2, 2000, pp.13-14.
5 For general characteristics of classical Thai literature, see Klaus Wenk, Thai Literature: An Introduction, Bangkok: White Lotus, 1995.
6 Suchitra Chongstitvatana, “Modern Thai Poetics: Pride and Purpose in Modern Poetry”, Manusya: Journal of Humanities, 3, 2, 2000, pp.14-15.
 Michael Wright, ed. and trans, “The World” in Angkarn Kalyanapong: A Contemporary Siamese Poet, (Bangkok: Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation, 1986), p.49.
 Naowarat Phongphaibu, “Poetry” in Phleng Khlui Phio [The Songs of the Bamboo Flute], Bangkok: Platapian Publishing House, 1984, p.25.
 Yisipha pi si rite: Ruam bot wicharn katsan [25 Years of the SEA WRITE Award: Select Critiques]. Bangkok: Thai PEN International, 2004, p.753.
 Win Leowarin. ‘Kradat tit–fai [Sticker- Fire]’ in Pan nam pen tua, Bangkok: 113 Publishing House, 2003.