Azam Rais

Speak your worth

Article from the Sun daily by Jason Lim (posted on 20 September 2018)

IT TAKES a lot of courage for someone who has spent years writing poetry quietly in their bedroom to bring themselves to read it onstage, even more if they suffer from a speech impediment.

In one of 25-year-old Azam Rais’ poems, Stutter, he chronicles the challenges he faced, and how only through poetry, he found freedom in penning down the words he could not speak.

He worked hard on his vocal training by joining public speaking, debates, and theatre performances, before finally getting the chance to voice out the poetry that he had written ages ago.

What does your poetry say about yourself as a person?

“I hope it doesn’t say I’m serious, but I’ve been told my work is a bit too serious. I guess that’s because I yearn to make my poetry send a message.

“That is why every song has a message, hence, you can hear it [in] the repeated chorus, and [how] every movie has a theme.

“Similarly, every poem should have a message – something that you’re trying to convey directly or indirectly, through imagery, metaphors or whatever you want.”

Who inspires you?

“My father, who is a lawyer, used to be a playwright and a poet as well. His willingness to pursue it in his younger days, I can see that even nowadays because lawyers speak a lot, there’s a lot of use of words, sometimes it’s just [interesting] to hear them speak, and it’s an understanding of language.

“I feel like it’s not poetry until you share it with people, that’s the whole point of it. My father definitely encourages me to share a lot of my poems because he did it himself. He used to romance my mom with poems.”

What were some of the challenges you faced when you first started out in the industry and how did you overcome these challenges?

“It’s definitely a lack of platforms. Poetry isn’t the top of the list of priorities because perhaps it can’t be [profitable]. Poetry is raw, that’s the attraction of poetry, some people can tressure and appreciate that, but some don’t.

“To the people who appreciate it, they will pay [to hear it], to those who don’t, I feel that they are missing out. People tend to associate poetry with something you read in books, and not realise that it can be an art form performed by itself.

“There is a lot of work that goes into it, there are so many ways that you can deliver a message and really connect with the crowd. Some poets can silence the whole room, and have the audience hanging on to every word, that is the moment that every poet lives [for].

“To provide these platforms for emerging poets, I founded Malaysia’s first poetry podcast called Poet X where we feature poets on our shows and online. It’s like a gateway to get young poets recognised online.

“At the moment, we’re moving our website to a new domain, once it’s done, we will [produce] our second season with more new materials and exciting content. We also interviewed some older and well-established poets like A. Samad Said for advice [about] what should new poets do, which I think really helps [prepare] budding poets out there for what’s coming their way.”

What do you think young poets should do?

“I think they should find their own voice. Sometimes they get influenced by a lot of different things, I mean I don’t blame them because ... we all get bombarded [by] information and messages from society, about what is important or what we should be talking about, but if everyone is [sharing] the same message then there is no originality.

“You should always start with yourself, you have to connect with your poetry before your poetry can connect with other people. Some people get so tied up in the hot topics of the season that they don’t really strike a chord.”

Do you get writer’s block?

“Yes, though my kind of writer’s block is different than what most encounter. Most of the stuff I write, I memorise from top to bottom, each and every word because I don’t want to distract the audience’s attention, I want to connect with the crowd.

“So imagine a seven-minute poem, that’s a lot of words in my head.

“My writer’s block often occurs when I don’t speak to myself enough. That’s how I practise my poetry, I pace around the room speaking to myself, and I write down the notes I needed.

“What I think people need to do is to just think out loud and talk to [themselves].

“It’s different [when you] write for [publications], other times you write for the stage, so when you don’t speak it or perform it, you will never know how it sounds. Speaks what sounds right, and tell how the story should be [told].”

Has the internet and social media contributed to the well-being of poetry?

“Absolutely. Right now there are a lot of what they called ‘insta-poets’ on Instagram via the hashtag #instapoets. They try to fit a poetic caption into a nicely designed image, by doing that, I think it’s definitely helping poetry to get to the masses, in a way.

“Poetry is only niche if it does not [reach] the masses. Any way that poetry manages to get out, is good. We had a rapper-poet before who got into the[rap music scene] and still maintained his poetry style.”

What does literary success to like to you?

“As an artist, it has to be performing on big stages, not to say I have not, but I think we should all chase for more; we should chase for a national poetry festival, or something bigger, because just the name itself is not enough, it has to be backed by resources.

“We have to be united and collaborate with all the different groups to ensure that when we say names like ‘national’, it really is national, or if it’s ‘for the people’, it has to be for the people.

“It [has to be] representative of what the poetry community is as a whole.”

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