Pen-named poet “Fire Spark from Chentsa” remembered for preserving Tibetan culture

Tibetan writers gathered in northern India to mourn and remember poet Sonam Tenpa, who was more widely known by his pen name Chen Metak – which meant “Fire Spark from Chentsa,” a reference to his hometown – and celebrate his work to preserve Tibetan culture through his poetry.

“Through his poems Chen Metak expressed the political and social messages of the society and demonstrated a strength of understanding, so that many Tibetan youths liked his works,” said Bhuchung D. Sonam, a Tibetan author and co-founder of Tibet Writes, which organized the ceremony on Nov. 20 in Dharamsala, where the Tibetan government-in-exile and the residence of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan’s spiritual leader, are located. 

“We are very sad about his passing away,” he said. “I believe that paying respect and tribute to the legacies of Tibetan writers and artists from inside Tibet is our most important responsibility,  and doing such will bridge the gap between us and them.”

Chen Metak died on Sept. 20 at age 52 in Xining, capital of China’s Qinghai province.

He was last employed as a teacher in a middle school in Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the southeastern corner of Qinghai province. Some of his poems are included in school curricula.

Tibetans inside Tibet and those living abroad in exile expressed their condolences on social media. 

Gyalo, a former professor at Northwest Normal University in Lanzhou, China, who currently resides in Canada, noted the late poet’s efforts to preserve Tibetan culture through his poetry amid efforts by China to separate Tibetans from their language, culture and Buddhist faith. 

“Since the 1980s, Tibetans have worked really hard to preserve Tibetan identity, beliefs and willpower through their writings,” he told Radio Free Asia. “All those poets and intellectuals have made a huge contribution to the preservation of Tibetan culture and language.”  
 
“Chen Metak’s artistic expression through his poetry showed him to be a great poet who strongly influenced contemporary Tibetan poetry,” said Ajam, a Tibetan poet and former professor at the Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education in India, who now lives in the United States.

Bhuchung D. Sonam translated six of Chen Metak’s poems into English for the anthology of poems titled “Burning the Sun’s Braids: New Poetry from Tibet,” published in 2017 by Blackneck Books, an imprint of TibetWrites.

The volume contains a short introduction to Chen Metak in which the poet says that the relationship between writing and society is one of “blood and flesh, sword and arrow, father and son,” according to a 2018 article by the High Peaks, Pure Earth blog, which provides commentary on Tibet-related news. 
 
Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibetan. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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