Pal Vannarirak’s poetry amazed Swedish readers in November, when his poems appeared in the Swedish literary magazine, “Word and Image,” Editor-in-Chief Ylva Gustaffson said.
“It’s full of blood and real-life stories,” so unlike poetry written in Sweden nowadays, she said.
One poem, for example, describes Cambodians dancing in the moonlight after a day of harvest, and talks of the Khmer Rouge who forced people to work all night. Pal Vannarirak’s poems also appear in a book, titled “Preah Chan Srok Khmer,” or “The Moon in Cambodia,” in Khmer and Swedish, published by the Literature Association Cambodia-Sweden.
The book was launched in Phnom Penh during a literary evening Saturday, marking the association’s first publication. About 100 people attended the event. The group was founded in October to encourage Cambodians and Swedes to discover each other’s literature, said Anna Mattsson, a writer and founding member.
Cambodian writers tend to talk about political or social issues, while their Swedish counterparts concentrate on personal matters, she said. For example, Pal Vannarirak has a poem on traditional treatment for pregnant women, and one on prostitution, said Mattsson.
These themes startle Swedes as much as Swedish themes surprise Cambodians, said Gustaffson, who chairs the association in Sweden.
A Swedish poem about a modern virgin, and one about a woman who wishes she were a tree, have puzzled Cambodians, she said. These poems will be part of a Khmer book of Swedish poetry—the association’s next project.
The group also plans to publish books of children’s literature, said Neth Sary, the association’s chairman in Cambodia. A Swedish work, titled “Piggy,” soon will be translated into Khmer, he said.