7 Questions: Sisovath Sereyvuth

7 Questions: Sisovath Sereyvuth

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Sisovath Sereyvuth holds one of his most popular books, How to be a Lyricist. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post

One Cambodia’s leading poets and song writers, Sisovath Sereyvuth– also a lecturer at the Khmer Poets Association and Cambodia International Institute – discusses how he began writing Khmer poetry, what it takes to be a poet and how to get the younger generation interested in the classic art, with reporter Sou Vuthy.

When did you first start writing poetry and songs, and  what inspired you to start?
I was among the first generation of students at the Khmer Poets Association, which was located in the Ounalom Pagoda in 1992, but my interest predates that. Even in high school I was  drawn to Khmer literature and before I took part in the association I was a sort of informal poet.  

What are the major difficulties students face in writing and reciting poetry?   
Well, it depends on how close you are to language. Personally, I think it is not easy to learn how to write and recite poetry because you need to learn the elements, like meter, rhythms, rhymes, alliteration, association and forms, etc.  It is very complex.

What talents are required to be a poet?
I think it could be something natural, something you are born with. If you do not have the talent then you cannot become a poet. However, basic writing skills are also necessary for success.

Are more students studying poetry now?
There is an increase compared to several years ago. Most are university students and monks.

Why do some young people dislike formal poetry?
Most Khmer youths are confused between the lyricists and poets. Lyrics are one part of the poet, but to be a good lyrist requires having a good grasp of poetry.

How will you attract more students?
I think the best way is through the Khmer Poets Association. As it grows it can attract the next generation.  

Do you think it is important to translate Khmer poetry into English?
I think translating Khmer poetry into English is good for promoting Khmer poetry and letd readers from around the world understand Khmer culture and literature. But the translation must be done carefully or the message will not be conveyed correctly. The translation must focus on the hidden meaning and emotion of the writer. For example, a bamboo stalk in a poem can be a metaphor for social status because even bamboo stalks have a mark that divides levels of height, the same way people are divided in society.

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