If Walls Could Talk
they’d tell you all their stories,
steal your inked papers
to dress their souls,
while crafting frames of
your honest self,
fitting courage into corners
before hanging them up
for the world to hear
Gaslight Cafe and Music
So today I attended the tenth session of a poetry and spoken word open mic at Gaslight Cafe & Music. This was done in conjunction with the Malaysian Writers Fest 2015, and this time it was to showcase poets who have published their poems.
Before I begin enthusing about the amazing time I had during the session, I’ll put down the information of the poets that had performed during the session first. (Scroll past the second photo for my thoughts on the event if you’d like to skip this information part!) Information of the poets were obtained from the event invite itself.
With pleasure, I’d like to introduce our amazing Malaysian poets!
WANI ARDY & THE GUITAR POLYGAMY who embodies the spirit of self-discovery and wonderment. Her earliest exploits had deep foundations in the acousti-femme movement of the early 2000s; most of her output from this particular era are standout examples in the lost art of overcoming bleakness with a uniquely beautiful mix of vulnerability and iron will. Leaving that comfortable niche behind for trippier, more atmospheric pastures; the Senikatawati exudes a delicate form of toughness and detachment. Don’t be fooled by the bleeps and the ambience and the drum loops, she retains the same level of intensity that made her such a powerhouse in the first place.
• ANGELINA BONG is a Sarawak-born poet and visual artist with a background in Fashion Design. She represented Malaysia in the lingual arts-poetry category at the 3rd Delphic Games 2009 at Jeju Island. Since then, her poetic performances have travelled to South Korea, South Africa, Botswana, Australia and UK. She chirps on Twitter and Instagram as @swakgel.
• DR JAYATI ROY brings to the drawing board a varied cache of experiences as an educationist, having spent many years as a lawyer, banker, management consultant and professor. Her earlier publications mainly focused on school text books and non-fiction. She is currently completing an anthology of Malaysian short stories and poems. Her book ‘In the Shadow of My Pen’ (Amar Kolomer Chaya) translated from Bengali, recollects her early life and shares many of her varied experiences growing up in Malaysia.
• DHIYANAH HASSAN is an artist/writer who keeps the ghosts of favorite dead poets close . Her works orbit around memories and desires, tracing myths in personal narratives, symbolisms that become vital in navigating internal and external landscapes. Her zine, ‘Double Helix’ explores the symbolisms of earrings (and ear piercings), indulging in their memories to find what makes the act of wearing jewelry more than just decorative.
• KATHLEEN CHOO co-founded the Poetry Underground writer’s collective with the Poets of the Underground one fateful year and has been unable to really divorce herself from an on-again, off-again, on-again flirtation with performance poetry ever since. Her book ‘Writings’ is (in theory) an ongoing series; an assortment of poetry assembled over the years, in no particular chronological order.
• KHOR HUI MIN is a book editor in educational publishing. Her most recent publications include three poems published by Eastlit, and two short stories published in ‘As Life Found Me’ from the Taylor’s University ‘Stories From…’ series.
• MICHELLE LEONG is a banker by qualification and resume yet a passionate writer at heart and soul, who embraces her need to share the kaleidoscope of life’s observations. Her book ‘The Black Cheongsam’ is collection of poems, written based on the emotions involved between two persons where apparent attraction and chemistry exist or had existed in their intense relationship.
• DR RAJA RAJESWARI SEETHA RAMAN earned her Doctorate Degree in Malay Literature from Academy of Malay Studies, University Malaya. She has a collection of poem and 30 anthologies published by leading publications in Malaysia. Recipient of the National Literary Award, her poems have been translated into English, German and in the process of translation in Thai language. Her book, Mekar Bunga, (Blooming Flower) is a compilation of 50 poems on various themes such as nature, humanity, patriotism and love for peace.
• UTHAYA SANKAR SB writes poetry, short stories, novels and essays in Bahasa Malaysia. His lates books are Pulau Pendatang (short stories) and Nari! Nari! (Indian folktales).
• LARA HASSAN has been writing from when she was little, although Across Dreamlands (2015) is her first published collection of prose and poetry. She released limited copies of her unpublished chapbook, Small Talk with the Moon in 2009. She now lives in Subang Jaya with her family.
• SHEENA BAHARUDIN (@sheenadin) is a spoken word artist, poet, educator, writer of Rhymes for Mending Hearts and founder of the local multidisciplinary performing arts gig Numinous. She has performed at various events including Urbanscapes, The Cooler Lumpur Fest, Georgetown Literary Fest, and Lit Up Fest in Singapore. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Malaysian Literature in English and finalising her second book of poems.
Photo taken by Tina Isaacs, edited by me.
Look full house!
Okay so, this is my first time at an open mic session. Also, my first time meeting the MY Writers, and boy, were they ever so nice and friendly! To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I got my answer not long after, and my mind was blown. Yes, really. From the very beginning.
I shall begin with Sheena. Sheena took the stage first as she was the host and also one of the performing poets as well! I won’t exactly share what was said, but what I felt caught my attention. Sheena has an amazing way of getting the audience to feel each word that flows from her lips. Even as she fumbled a few lines, I paid no mind, because my body was high-strung, awaiting each precious word to complete the poem. She had a way of building the tension in the room, and we listened with rapt attention to the words that weaved itself into a beautiful picture in our mind’s eye. I could see each word building itself an image in my mind, and I was reluctant to watch her step down the stage. It was that awesome. Sheena would return to complete the poem titled ‘Moles’, and I think that was one of my favourite poems of that night. I loved the way it begun, the way it worked itself into a story, and ended with a thoughtful note. Definitely one of my favourite performances of the night.
Dhiyanah would then take up the mic, and she was a soft-spoken lady, but even so, her words rang strong and true. I loved how her forehead would wrinkle up, and her hands would clasp itself into fists as she lost herself into the world that she had built.
Kathleen shocked me when she first started reciting her poem. Wow! For a moment it sounded like rap, with its speed and eloquence. Each word smoothly fitted into each other, and she spoke with fierce determination to suit the mood of her poem. I loved listening to it, and thought to myself, is this how poems are made? Is this how poems breathe and live and come alive? Her second poem was just as surprising as the first, with Kathleen going into a Southern (?) accent, once again to suit the general mood of the poem. The third, and final poem, descended to a soft sweet tone, with the hint of teenage angst. I think at this point, I was ready to sit there and listen to all the poets recite forever.
Lara’s poems were brief but no less impactful, I think she was one of the shy ones, I can’t say for sure. But the small gestures close to the body told me that she was a little shy at least. Still, her poems were short and sweet, lyrical and beautiful all the same.
Uthaya came up and begin speaking in what I had assumed then to be Tamil. I quickly nudged Sarvin a few times so that he could translate it to me. Sadly he was not adept in Tamil too. Still, that did little to distract us from the beautiful sounds that seemed like music. It occurred to me then, that some of the most beautiful poems were sung. Thankfully he then switched to a more familiar language. Uthaya recited a poem in Malay after that and it was amazing. I’ve always admired sajak, puisi and the like. They were crafted painstakingly, or easily (it depends I think), and the end result would almost always dazzle the audience. This was no different, and as Uthaya spoke, the walls seem to rattle with each fierce note, and he was also masterful in building the tension in the room. A wonderful and powerful poem. I particularly loved this poem and it is from his book ‘Pulau Pendatang’. In the future (when I’ve started work, and have more money), I’d like to own it one day.
Then came a musical session. Wani turns her poems into music, or rather she recites them with musical accompaniment. (Because I believe all poems can turn into music when spoken in a certain way.) Each poem/song was so wondrous, and again, powerful. Soul-wrenching. I loved the way she would close her eyes, sway to the music, and use her hands to illustrate further the emotions that the poem demanded. Her hands would curve itself into flying birds (?)/butterflies, that rose and dove with each beat of the song. The music could be hauntingly beautiful at times too, and occasionally a little bit like electronic pop rock. Listen to Wani’s beautiful poems turned into music here on SoundCloud.
Hui Min’s poems gave me the impression of flowing floating words, even if she did recite them briefly. They were short, and sweet, but I thought could have been longer as well. At this point I was hungry for more and more poems, and it could be why I wanted her poems to be longer.
Dr Raja would be one of the more renowned poets performing that night with her poems being translated into so many languages! Really, truly amazed, and inspired. Her poems would be in Malay as well, and once again I am floored by the sheer power of words. I just love listening to the words fluently weaved into stories. Dr Raja had a poem translated to English, and she recited both versions. I still prefer the one in Malay as I felt it was more rousing and poignant than the one that had been translated. I know of some poems that fared better in the translated form, but I believe in this case, the Malay poem was mightier than the English one.
Michelle had poems that were about the process of love, and falling out of it. At this point of time in my life, I could relate to the poems so much! Also, it was clear by the way she recited them, that these poems were so dear to her heart. The other poems that she brought forth also pulled the strings of my heart with how relevant they were. Truly, these writers write so beautifully of the emotions we experience, and bring such depth to it.
Dr Jayati started with a poem in Bengali, and once again, even without understanding it, the poem still moved our hearts with the beautiful musical sound of it. The translation came after, and with the meaning, came an even more powerful emotion that took hold of us, and we all went “Awww”. Her poem about her mother rocked me, and I like how that poem gripped my heart with pain and longing. That’s how beautiful poems are, the way they can move you with simple words placed together in a certain way. Even the one about durians, it brought back fond memories of my grandpa’s farm.
Angelina’s recitation was perhaps the most alluring of them all. I liked the way she shifted between moods, and how she would sing at certain points. Her lips would curve and she would whistle a tune, and that was how the poem begun. This recitation was like a performance in a theatre, and one could not help but be captured by her as we too, swayed with the melodious words that she spoke and sung and weaved around us.
I didn’t know poems could be recited in so many different ways, and it was as if I sat there and watched as they painted their souls with bold swatches of colour, or some with little tiny dabs of colour that gradually grew to form a stunning picture. Some would swirl and twirl the colours to form gentle waves and some would use strong strokes to form a tsunami. What a wondrous experience.
There was an open mic session too, and two lovely girls went up to recite their poems. I do not remember their names, but I remember sitting there, mesmerized, unwilling to let this night end, even though I know it must. The poems ranged in topic, and were recited in so many different ways, but they were all powerful, impactful, amazing poems in their own way.
All in all, I had a great time. I had not expected to be filled with such tremendous joy after the session. If I could name a life-changing experience, this would be one of the momentous moments this year. I didn’t even go forward to pick up the mic to recite one of my own. No. I had no idea that just by listening to the beautiful words that they carefully placed together, I would be so enthralled and inspired.
Poetry is hard (at least for me), and I am so amazed by all the speakers that night. You guys are all awesome! Kudos to the organizers as well, for arranging this event. Also to Gaslight Cafe and Music for providing a safe space for people to come together to appreciate the talents in Malaysia (and beyond!).
Thank you for reading this super long post. I couldn’t help it! I am still so stoked and fueled by this fire that you’ve ignited in me! This is the power and magic of words, and I’m proud to be one of the people who has been touched by it. I would recommend anyone reading this post to google the poets, and to support them by getting their poetry books! They’re all epic. So do so!
With that PSA, I’ll end this long post.
p/s: I also brought my boyfriend along! His first time at a poetry session too. And he loved it so yay!
This is the only photo of us that we took that day which is terrible, but I love it.