Straits Times' US bureau chief showcases poetry in Washington

(From left) Ms Tanya Ghosh, Mr Nirmal Ghosh and Ms Liuyu Ivy Chen at the Chinese American Museum's Wild Cranes exhibition in Washington DC.
(From left) Ms Tanya Ghosh, Mr Nirmal Ghosh and Ms Liuyu Ivy Chen at the Chinese American Museum's Wild Cranes exhibition in Washington DC.PHOTO: COURTESY OF MS TANYA GHOSH

WASHINGTON DC - In 2015, while waiting three hours for the rain to stop during a remote assignment in the Shan Hills of Myanmar, Mr Nirmal Ghosh scribbled a poem in his notebook.

Years later, half a world away in Washington DC, United States, but this time trapped indoors during the pandemic, the 61-year-old again turned to poetry as a form of escape.

Those poems and others by Mr Ghosh are now showcased at a poetry exhibition at the Chinese American Museum in Washington DC, where he is based as The Straits Times' US bureau chief.

The show, which runs from Thursday (July 15) till Aug 7, features Mr Ghosh's English poems alongside Chinese translations by Ms Liuyu Ivy Chen, 31, a China-born poet and translator who lives in New York. The translations are rendered in calligraphy by Chinese artist Zhao Xu, 36, who splits his time between Beijing and Dalian in China.

The displays are laid out and designed by artist and photo retoucher Tanya Ghosh, Mr Ghosh's 31-year-old daughter.

Titled Wild Cranes - a nod to the long-distance migratory birds' inclination for crossing borders and Mr Ghosh's conservationist background - the transnational and cross-cultural show will open in Singapore at The Arts House in February next year.

Getting his poems translated into Chinese appealed to Mr Ghosh, an avid reader of English translations of Chinese, Japanese and Persian poetry. And when he wanted a visual element to the show, calligraphy was a natural choice.

But the choice of language and medium took on new significance as geopolitical animosity between China and the US deepened.

"It became a little bit more significant because of the pandemic, the tribalism that emerged, the blaming of China, and the anti-Asian American, anti-anyone who looks remotely Chinese sentiment," says Mr Ghosh, a foreign correspondent with The Straits Times for nearly three decades.

"But what I write about is the human condition and it's universal to everybody. And the whole idea of having the calligraphy... was that if you don't know the background, you don't know whether it's Chinese being translated into English or vice versa.

"And it should not make a difference because some of the thoughts expressed are basically universal," he adds.


ST US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh at the Chinese American Museum's Wild Cranes exhibition in Washington DC. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MS TANYA GHOSH

Ms Chen says his poems have imagery and a depth in simplicity that resonate with memories of her years in China, even though they are written in English.

"All this political tension between the two countries has so little to do with people at the person-to-person level," she says.

"The only way we can resist this US-China animosity is to see individuals as who they are at a personal level and to share small moments in poetry and beauty."

Info: Chinese American Museum's website