MIDWEST MONKEY: Reading Sunthorn Phu

Jasmine An shares her notes from the field in her monthly column Midwest Monkey.


Recently, my reading skills, and those of my classmates, have finally improved to the point where we were able to read a little bit of Thai poetry in class. This was a super exciting milestone for me after many months of only ordering fried rice because those were the only words I recognized on the menus.

Our Thai instructor brought in a short poem by Sunthorn Phu, Thailand’s national poet.

Sunthorn Phu (1786-1856) is most well known for his travel poems, including an epic-length poem “Phra Aphaimanee.” One day, perhaps I will be able to tackle such poems. For the time being, the poem that my class studied was barely a quarter of a page long.

For me, the structure was the most interesting thing about the poem. I enjoy writing in forms and the new and unexpected directions a poem can take guided by seeming constraints of rhyme or word count. The form of the poem was highly scripted: lines with two sections, end words of one section that must to rhyme with the third word of the next section, other end words that must rhyme with the end word of the next section, etc.

sunthorn-phu-poem

I’ve been in somewhat of a writing doldrums since moving to Thailand and away from all my usual writing supports of writerly friends and workshop groups. However, dissecting this structure was one of the things that has made me most excited to grab a pencil and start scribbling again.


Jasmine An is a queer Chinese-American who hails from the Midwest. A 2015 graduate of Kalamazoo College, she has also lived in New York City and Chiang Mai, Thailand, and she studied poetry, urban development, and blacksmithing. Her chapbook Naming the No-Name Woman was selected as the winner of the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in HEArt Online, Stirring, Heavy Feather Review, and Southern Humanities Review. Her soulmate and forever muse is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. As of 2016, she can be found in Chiang Mai continuing her study of the Thai language.

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