The Poet of Keng Tung Jail

KimGooi Photojournalist

The Poet of Keng Tung Jail
First published in Bangkok Post January 10, 1982

Author’s note: First published Bangkok Post January 10 1982 in the Sunday Literary Page (Poetry Corner); 2nd publication February 6 1983 again Bangkok Post. It was an encore request, from readers says the editor, for more detail of the poet and jail condition in Burma.

First Edition Jan 10, 1982

They call him the mad Thai. Taworn Nootwong, aged about 42, is a Thai national, a former resident of Thonburi being held in Keng Tung jail in the Shan State of Burma. Very little is known about him and he is shunned by other inmates of the prison.

Taworn has good reason to be mad. According to the accounts of other prisoners, he was sentenced in 1974 to six months for the crime of illegal entry into Burma. Today, after more than five years, he is believed to be still behind bars.

Amnesty International has taken an interest in the case but a spokesman for the human rights organisation said it can do nothing.

Some people say Taworn is mad. He does not want to go home or he has committed some grievous crime. Others say he has lost his papers and cannot go home.

From Taworn himself nothing can be deciphered because he laughs and wallows in his madness. His favourite diatribe is tinged with sarcasm: “Why should I go home. There is free food for no work here, even when you sleep people watch over you. Ha ha ha!” He bursts out laughing and walks away whenever someone shows concern for him.

Because of his attitude people leave him alone, nobody bothers him. Even the tough prison guards stay away from him.

But as his poems show, Taworn is far from mad. Through them some of the inner thoughts and pain of the man can be discerned.


Cold fog falls like a carpet
Over Keng Tung Jail
The sun is late at dawn
Slowly releases the cold
The sky is low
The land is high
The aeroplane is white

Winter wind blows and rustle
Little birds walk on ground
Flying to and fro
The sparrows come out to sing a love song
The prisoners come out to sing a farewell song
From Penang you come to listen to a Burmese song.
My dream if will sing a waiting song


One cigar, think not it’s little value
More than fifty baht without sincerety
One cigar friendship goes far
They give with an open heart
Friends from foreign and distant lands
Where are they from?
Many places to go, this square world
My learned friend find a better life to lead
A happy free society is to be in your jail

Author’s note: Burmese cheroot (cigar) is coveted and
vauable item in jail. prisoners smoke like chimneys
because of hardship and pain. it is also the medium
of exchange in lieu of money.

Paper Book

Book is knowledge…it’s OK to read
We rather prefer not to put thoughts into it
Thai books English books …fluency achieved
Wrapping paper looks good, has many benefits

Cheap books establish….clearly in mind
Expensive books conceal, proverbs and pleasantness
Lost books distribute, surprise is exchange with pleasure
Oral books for the ears to listen spread humanity

Author’s note: January, Cigar and Paper Book were written by Taworn in Thai and translated by the author. The first three stanza of ‘Rose of Keng Tung’ was written by the author in English and the last two stanza was added by Taworn in Thai.


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