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Poetic reflections on the life of an ‘exile’ in Cambodia

Scott Bywater describes himself as ‘kind of a music guy’ who ‘writes a bit’.
Scott Bywater describes himself as ‘kind of a music guy’ who ‘writes a bit’. Athena Zelandonii

Poetic reflections on the life of an ‘exile’ in Cambodia

Scott Bywater’s business card reads “kind of a music guy” and “writes a bit”, although a lyrical performance piece and – now – five volumes of poetry published since 2011 suggest more than “a bit”.

A mainstay of the Phnom Penh music scene and a co-founder of the Cambodian Space Project, Bywater has lived in the capital on and off for the better part of eight years. His latest poetry book, in voluntary exile, launched this week and is a personal reflection on life as an expat.

“It’s like a diary – it does kind of read that way,” Bywater said this week. The book chronicles his time in the Kingdom over the past year, and comes on the heels of four prior collections, which alternate between Cambodia and France.

The theme of exile draws heavily on how he views going back to his hometown of Hobart, Tasmania. “It’s been four years since my last trip back to Australia, and each time before that was for shorter and shorter time periods, because I just don’t get it anymore,” he said between sips of espresso.

“It feels in a way like the idea of being banished from Athens or Sparta and having to therefore make a new life.”

The first poem of the collection, white legs, captures Bywater’s return from nearly a year in France – described in his fourth book, Fog on the Loire – and focuses on re-discovery.

Scott Bywater’s latest book of poetry is a reflection on expat life.
Scott Bywater’s latest book of poetry is a reflection on expat life. Athena Zelandonii

“This was noticing again things that you stop noticing after a while [of being away],” he said. “Like one ever gets used to early morning wedding music,” a verse reads.

Other poems are treatments of more iconic subjects, such as the temples at Angkor in down from the sky, up from the earth.

“It was about the seventh time I’d been to the temples and felt compelled to write something that went beneath the surface of the guidebooks,” he said.

The poem reads like a ballad, each stanza drawing the reader’s vision up and down through Bywater’s imaging of the temple complex.

Others, like a city of two wheels, turning into four are odes to his adoptive home of Phnom Penh:

“Like the gnarled hand of a motodop,
weathered and scarred,
Phnom Penh still grips tightly
to the throttle”

Bywater says that, as with his songs, he tries to capture in writing expressions of love for places as he feels it in his “own little world” as an expat. “This is where I’m supposed to be . . . when the spirit moves, you run with it.”

Scott Bywater’s poetry is available for purchase at Space 40 on Street 118 and Links Music on Street 141 for $5 or can be read on his blog: thesilverpepperofthestars.wordpress.com.

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