An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2023

A survival guide for exiles

ko ko thett
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ko ko thett is a Burma-born poet, editor, and translator. His poems have been widely translated, and his translation work has been recognized with an English PEN Translates Award. He was poetry editor for Mekong Review from 2017 to 2022. ko ko thett’s most recent poetry collection is Bamboophobia (2022).

  • For the sake of your health get out of bed first thing in the morning before tuning into news and gossips from your homeland.
  • Don’t collect anything you cannot carry with you—be prepared for a life on the move.
  • Don’t expect your hosts to have ever heard of your country’s name. Don’t expect them to be responsible for your wellbeing. Expect them to give you a family name!
  • Just as a second for gods is a life for humans, your one year in exile may translate into a lifetime in your homeland.
  • Don’t burden yourself with the weight of the world. For some people exile means business. War and pandemic mean business.
  • Do not associate with exiles who will add more woes to yours, be them compatriots or foreigners.
  • Your nation-state you have clung to may go up in smoke overnight. The nation within you no one can destroy.
  • Don’t be a trauma clown; analysed and anonymised by anthropologists, turned into a feature by film makers or your suffering co-written and edited by privileged White writers whose lives have nothing in common with yours—tell your story in your own chosen form.*
  • Revolution will not be less perfect without you.
  • Don’t look too far. Even the earth has her own fever, her own dukkah.
  • Don’t look back—when you left it was spring. Today it might as well be a cold dark bitter winter.

* For trauma clown by Vivek Shraya and how to beat it, see



“A survival guide for exiles” was first published in periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics, April 4, 2022.