Weekly Feature: Poetry at The Arts Fuse

Welcome to “Poetry at The Arts Fuse.” A new poem every Thursday.


The day Khet Thi was tortured to death

                                                                                                          after Lou Reed


I dreamed


I was the poet laureate of Naypyitaw,

the Abode of Generals.


The Generalissimo was a poet too.

So was the Generalissimo’s

American Cocker Spaniel.


To exorcise the woes in me

I took the wok pan

I used to cook kanzunywak for supper,

I smacked it so hard

it bled.


Against a monsoon gust

we were in a national spitting contest.

No matter how hard we spat

the gale always spat right back

into our faces.


Just like in Akhmatova’s Russia,

people learned to speak Whisper.

Even in Whisper, they murmured.

“Combat drones will exterminate

hornbills in the Chin Hills,”

I overheard.


We were Gormley’s men

on a sinking shore. Each of us

in our own way, began to look out

to the west, between 247 degree west

and 245 degree west.


I woke up to find Khet Thi

between me and my other half in our bed.

It wasn’t Khet Thi.

It was Khet Thi’s disembowelled body.


Khet Thi’s death wasn’t wasted.

Life, even under tyranny, was

meaningful, purposeful and beautiful.


It wasn’t at all what

everyone imagined —


full of pain, peril, and paranoia,

saboteurs and sycophants.



Khet Thi (1976-2021) was one of the household names in contemporary Burmese poetry. He became an anti-junta protest leader after the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021. He was further radicalised by the murder of his poet friend K Za Win (1982-2021) who was shot in the head by security forces in an anti-coup protest in their hometown of Monywa in March 2021. On May 8, 2021, Khet Thi was snatched by security forces in Shwebo, Myanmar. The following morning, his body, internal organs missing, was returned to the mortuary in Monywa, near Shwebo. The poem was written in Burmese and translated into English by the author. First published in Griffith Review 74, Escape Routes, 2021.


ko ko thett’s heart language is Burmese, but he often dunks himself in the discomfort of English. He has published and edited twelve poetry collections and translations in both Burmese and English, and taken part in a number of literary festivals, from Sharjah to Shanghai. His poems are widely published and translated. His translation work has been recognised with an English PEN Translates Award. ko ko thett’s most recent poetry collection Bamboophobia (Zephyr Press, 2022) has been shortlisted for the Walcott Prize. He lives in Norwich, UK.


Note: Hey poets! We seek submissions of excellent poetry from across the length and breadth of contemporary poetics. See submission guidelines here. The arbiter of the feature is the magazine’s poetry editor, John Mulrooney.

Arts Fuse editor Bill Marx

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