Thursday, August 30, 2007



trespasses by Padcha Tuntha-obas
(O Books, 2006)

[Editor's Note: Due to Blogger formatting constraints, some of the poem-excerpts below may not appear as intended in terms of formats.]

In her first full-length book of poems, trespasses, Thai writer Padcha Tuntha-obas employs the act of trespass as a device that allows her to inhabit not only a “foreign language”—whether it is English for her or Thai for English speakers—but also the concept of “foreignness” itself and language-making as a process.

trespasses negotiates specifically and in a prolonged fashion with the process of translation, whether it is within the philosophical texts of Plato and Wittgenstein in her series “sophos symposium,” or her own arrival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Operating between the borders of Thai and English; memory and country; and word, sound, and script, translation functions as a strategy that acts upon her, but that she also enacts.

The longest piece in the book, “a poem composed to call one’s self,” contains Thai script written in the traditional 60-line Dok-Soy Thai poetic form, with sections of English above and below each line of script, as well as a strip of English text that runs at the bottom of each page.

                              whispered, there is every meticulous

               [Thai script]

in these utterances. among them,
her self. somewhere. no matter how
composite, regardless of what sound.
somewhere, her self.

               they are free. their routes only then exist in the wind (46).

As in the above excerpt, Tuntha-obas wrestles with the “self” she knows in Thai and the “self” being created in English, while western authorities repeatedly define both her language, symbolized by the Thai script, and her body as ineffable, amorphous, and meaningless. She returns to the metaphor of pollen and “the wind that / drifts through it” (48) to illustrate the quality of her “language body,” as well as to portray the weight of both its silence and its enunciation, in which it continually shifts and reconstitutes itself. Considering the form of “a poem composed…”, Tuntha-obas succeeds in voicing herself in multiple locations, by allowing multiple voices speaking simultaneously to trespass the page.

In fact the form throughout the entirety of trespasses is many-layered. The title poem, noted as “In admiration of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée,” can be compared to an annotated grammar rule book and a standardized multiple choice test. Each section includes a block of rapid-fire, staccato sentences punctuated by periods.

…            derangement. mad.
chaotic. conceptual. such.
established.           my now.
being. here. subtly. I
turn. watching. my.
being. inside out. or is
it outside in side (63).

In passages like these, her abrupt rhythms infiltrate the colonizing force behind such concepts as perfection and fluency, an act through which she refuses to be silenced. A similar infiltration of language occurs in “translation in six steps: thai to english.” Tuntha-obas translates a short Thai school book passage in six different ways, using a combination of Thai script, transliterated or phonetic Thai, and English. In an effort to make the Thai language “visible” to the non-Thai reader, she gradually applies English grammar conventions to the phonetics. As the piece progresses they become colonized, or transformed, by the introduction of commas and periods, capitalization, and plural and possessive forms.

Choojai kaows kor Seetaow, baow baow.
Seetaow choos kor, porjai.
Manii hua-rors.
Toe mahars Maanii
Maanii kaows hua Toe.
Toe choos khor, deejai.
Choojai hua-rors.
Maanii is porjai (72).

These overlays of English grammar morph the Thai into a hybrid language, so that it becomes an enunciation that pronounces itself between languages. As in her concluding poem series, “trees,” trespasses is a work in which Tuntha-obas’ transplanted voice grows in this fissure, a contradiction without contradiction, “yearning to be debordered” (3).


Alysha Wood holds an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University, where she wrote her critical thesis on the poetry of Padcha Tuntha-obas in relation to other poly-lingual texts. Wood’s work has appeared in Glimpse Abroad, “Focus on the Fabulous: Colorado GLBT Voices,” and is forthcoming in an Asian American female poets anthology. Wood is also a contributor to Feminist Review.


Post a Comment

<< Home