With the power of beautiful words comes great responsibility. That was the life motto of Angkarn Kalayanapong, a renowned poet and National Artist, who passed away yesterday at 86 after long battles against heart disease and diabetes.
“I breathe poems,” Angkarn said during one of his last interviews this year. “I do believe that poems can change society for the better. Only people like me are never mistaken that we can do it alone.”
The poet and painter was recognised as one of the greatest of his era. Born in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat on February 13, 1926, Angkarn graduated from the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts at Silpakorn University under Professor Silp Bhirasri, the father of Thai modern art.
He was named a National Artist in 1989 (Literature) and won the SEA Write Award for “Panithan Kawee” (The Poet’s Pledge) in 1986. In this much acclaimed work, he describes the power of words: “Poetry should be in every throb of the hearts of all poets. Poets are like the heirs of the sky and earth. Poetry is like a poet’s breath.”
Poets were not ordinary people, he said in one interview. “Since we are born as poets, we have to dedicate our life and soul to it. You give your all to nothing else but poetry. As a poet, your heart is not like the ordinary. If you are a poet, your heart is a poet. Poetry is so important.
“It’s like you’re losing your way on Mars, and then you find a glass of water. It has charming qualities. It’s like our spirit has experienced the universe for a long time before. Poetry is food for the heart. It is ‘the vitamin’ for the soul.”
He began writing in the late 1950s and was initially criticised for his transgressions of poetic convention and use of unorthodox language. Some of his last pieces of work were politically inspired, reflecting the problems in the deeply divided Thailand. The People’s Alliance for Democracy received his contributions during the antiThaksin campaign.
One of his last poems lashed out at the Yingluck government’s plan to let the United States use the Utapao airbase.
“Poets, first of all, are supposed to be free and love fellow human beings,” he once said. “We are not supposed to take anyone in as a master simply because that person pays us.”
Angkarn was also famous as a painter. He created many highly rated drawings and paintings through his career, including “Prints of Himmapan”. In 1989, Angkhan was finally honoured as a National Artist.
He liked to return to his work and tried to remove any flaw.
“I always go back to refresh my work,” he said. “The only time we can perfect our work is when we are alive. After we die, we can’t climb out of our coffin and change anything.”
The artist survived by a son and two daughters.
His funeral ceremony will be held at Wat Tritosathep at 7pm daily until August 31.