No need for rhyme or reason
AUG 2 — When was the last time you read a poem? Er, hello, Hallmark card greetings don’t count even though they rhyme. If you belong to the group that insists “Malaysians don’t read”, big fat tears are probably rolling down your cheeks right now as you laugh out loud at the thought of anybody in Malaysia reading poetry.
Well, our numbers may be few but we do exist. In fact, our numbers are not even that few. Over the last few years, a vibrant poetry scene has sprung up in Kuala Lumpur. These are not polite, earnest poetry readings organised by book clubs... not that there is anything wrong with polite poetry readings but these poetry events are well... fun!
I never thought it would happen in Kuala Lumpur but there are now poetry slams here. These are not just spoken word performances — which the British Council has been organising with great success — but poetry slams are kind of like poetry competitions.
Picture, if you will, poets competing against each other on stage. Very often, these slams are held in clubs like No Black Tie or even Zouk so the atmosphere is much more relaxed and “happening”.
Yes, poetry and “happening” are not exactly the two words you very often see together but there you are. Poetry is a happening thing now. Very far removed from our first introductions to poetry, eh?
In school, we were taught about poetry and rhymes and such. All very boring. We weren’t taught to appreciate poetry, mind. There was no encouraging you to love the words or appreciate the music of the rhythms.
I came to love poetry quite by accident. I came across some poems by Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owens. Both wrote about the First World War and somehow reading their words, I fell in love.
First there was Brooke’s “The Soldier”: If I should die, think only this of me:/That there’s some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England... Then came Owens’ “Dulce Et Decorum Est”: Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,/Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,/Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs/And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
They both painted very different pictures of war with their poems but I felt the emotions keenly just reading their words. I didn’t know how to dissect poetry yet... that would come later under the guidance of a beloved English literature teacher... but just like that, I felt the raw power of poetry.
Years later, a good friend taught me that is all we need to do to enjoy poetry. Submit to its power. She used to joke that she never read fiction because she felt she could write her own stories, why read other people’s.
But poetry. Ah, she was a sucker for the beautiful words of Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Wislawa Szymborska and many more. So what if I was the one who had a degree in English Literature and could analyse any poem to death?
She reminded me why we loved poetry in the first place — because it touched our hearts. Someone once described great poetry as a catalyst that can lead to a change of mind, a change of heart and a change of life.
It’s true. A few years ago, a poem I came across in a magazine literally saved my life. I was at a crossroads: not sure how to go forward, stuck in the present and no clue how to make a change.
Then I read Mary Oliver’s “The Journey”: One day you finally knew/what you had to do, and began/though the voices around you/kept shouting/their bad advice —/though the whole house/began to tremble/and you felt the old tug/at your ankles...
It was as if she had looked into my soul and knew my doubts. Her words told me to trust my instincts, that the answer to my question was already in me. That was when I quit my job and re-invented my life.
The people behind the poetry slams and various spoken word performances in the city already know what I mean. Even better, people like Bernice Chauly, Sharanya Manivanna and Shahril Nizam are writing the very words that will go on to touch, and inspire and entertain those who read or hear them.
Maybe it’s time you gave poetry a chance eh? It’s really much more than daffodils and wandering about lonely like a cloud. Really.
Next: A glutton’s dilemma