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Singapore

We scavenge and curate homegrown works from aspiring artists and dreamers alike.

Writing to Remember

Literature

We get a glimpse into Jennifer Anne Champion's mind as she shares her experiences with literature, how she fell in love with writing and spoken word. 

Writing to Remember

Alethea Tan

Featuring Al Hafiz Sanusi

alhafizsanusi.wordpress.com

 

Portrait of Al Hafiz Sanusi during an on-site performance

HE WRITES BECAUSE he does not want to forget. You will never catch 23-year-old Al Hafiz Sanusi without a notebook that is crammed full of his records of memories, feelings and observations; that he “won't have an excuse of forgetting certain stimuli that [he's] picked up”. 

Coming from a background of theatre and performance, Hafiz explained that he is often perceived as an extroverted character. However, he reveals that he feels much more at ease rationalizing his thoughts and emotions through writing. Top poet tip: inspiration can strike you anywhere and... everywhere. 

“The strangest place I ever wrote something was in a public toilet cubicle. I wrote a poem about my experience in it and how much I loved being there. I probably locked myself up for a good half an hour just to write that one piece of poem about my silent solitude in the toilet cubicle!”

 

Interestingly, Hafiz’s literary journey started out as verses for a rap; inspiration courtesy of the real Slim Shady himself of course. As for the inspiration for his more recent literary work, Hafiz believes that the sheer observation of things, events and the people around him is his greatest source of inspiration.

Last year, Hafiz saw through the publishing of his first collection of poems entitled Voices in My Head. He attributed the thematic framework of this anthology to a life-changing experience. He had witnessed a case of domestic abuse on a bus one night, and while he would ordinarily be compelled to step up for the abused, he felt his entire being paralysed by existential angst in that moment.

"After that bus ride, I reflected strongly on the issue of the Self. I came to a conclusion that every morning, the first thing that all of us do is not to decide what to do or where to go, but simply and subconsciously [decide], what face do we put on today? What voice do we emulate today?"

One of Hafiz's favourite self-written poems entitled If The World Doesn't End in 2012.. (featured below) won 3rd place in the recent NUS Creative Writing Competition 2013, an inter-varsity creative writing competition. His other favourites My Son, Sazali and Tampines (both at the bottom of this article) are more telling of Hafiz's distinctive poetic style that is infused with a punch of local flavour. It is not surprising to learn that this talented poet is a English Literature (Hons) undergraduate in Nanyang Technological University.

The strangest place I ever wrote something was in a public toilet cubicle...  a poem about my experience in it and how much I loved being there in  silent solitude
 

If the World Doesn’t End in 2012..

If the world doesn’t end in 2012,
then I want a break-up. Yes, a break-up with you.
Please don’t get me wrong, it’s not you, it’s me.
When you ‘innocently’ asked if you had grown fat when you couldn’t fit into that skinny fit jeans and I answered, “No honey, you look fine”—
I lied.
Even 2, 3 pairs of jeans wouldn’t fit you.
When I said you were the apple of my eye,
that I really meant it. An oversized one.
But although my eyes were gazing at you affectionately, my hands were kept busy,
on somebody else.

If the world doesn’t end in 2012,
then let me sleep in.
Let me forget what comes after Sunday.
Let me forget about having to wake up at 5 to brush my teeth, at 6 to go to school, and at 7 rushing for a bus cramped with mindless zombies.
Let me roll in bed as I make love to my bolster
repeatedly, over and over again.
And while I’m at it, I’ll even have my breakfast in bed.

If the world doesn’t end in 2012,
then return me that $20 you owed me.
I know I said to “keep the change” but I want it back. Now. Money doesn’t grow on trees and times are bad these days. A plate of rice cost me 5, that’s 4 plates I can get.
So please, give me back my 20
for I owed loan sharks money too.
The world may not end in 2012 but my world will end
if I don’t pay up.

If the world doesn’t end in 2012,
then I might consider getting a tattoo.
The shape of a transcendental butterfly inked across my back
one that ten-year old girls would cringe and want to lay their hands on. I might consider trying Ice, K, and everything nice.
I might consider running away from home, just for the fun of it.
I might consider burning down all the mosques, churches, temples,
the mark of institutionalised religion.
Forcing me to bow down and pray to He-Who-Can’t-Be-Named.
I refuse to anymore. 

But if the world will end in 2012,
then I will pray away my sins for one last time
I will give away all my change and never ask for it again I will wake up early to see the sun rise at its finest hour and I will watch it rise with you, my love.

The apple of my eye.

 

 

Thus, born were the three voices (the Body, the Mind and the Heart) that can be identified in Hafiz’s collection of poems. He explained that Voices in My Head is an exploration of the multiplicity and cacophony of voices everyone has in their own heads.

"Like the collection, the Self is also governed by three stimulus: the body (our desired wants), the mind (our rationalized wants) and the heart (our unfulfilled wants)."

The book is also a collaborative effort of Hafiz’s poems and art from a friend of his, abstract artist Skye Ak. He felt that the art accompaniments further painted the literary voices he is trying to convey.

Hafiz is a lover of imperfection, a believer of living and a fan of a menagerie of writers - both Western and Eastern - Alfian Saat, Boey Kim Cheng, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Rumi, Farid Attar, Samuel Beckett, Kuo Pao Kun, Sherwood Andersen, Darren Shiau (just to name a few).

Hafiz's favourite artwork entitled "What if" by Skye Ak

"Perfection in the imperfection. I find beauty in the ugly. Maybe because I'm not perfect and I'm not beautiful that I've become so interested in finding beauty in the grotesqueness of humanity.

And I loved stillness as well. I find it the most beautiful when things are still and silent. To be still in stillness. To find [absolute] silence in the silent. I've always believed, we have to embrace the beautiful, if not, then all will be wasted."

 

 

Tampines

What is this place?

This unknown familiar?

This overarching, structured architectures?

These strange, collective residents called natives? This—

Cheh! It’s Tampines.

If it weren’t for the constant signs of reminders,

Tampines is as Clementi to me as Mountbatten would be.

I am immediately greeted by this old man

who can't seem to stop gawking at me

his eyes carefully studying my colonial mannerisms his heart clearly baffled by my colloquial looks.

"Eh young Sir, where you want to go?"

Often, I’m asked if I’m an immigrant

from India or China, or some Third World country coming to this land of opportunity

chasing for that pursuit of happiness

that Singapore dream—

Ha!

No

we do not share that same dream, You and I.

Yet, this tongue I speak is as foreign to me as a Native Indian.
 
I have learnt Malay from the Orang Laut
Former fishermen who now rap to the repetitive beats of drilling and digging.

I have borrowed Javanese from the Majapahit leaders I once bowed to

not forgetting the Japanese taught to me by my friendly Syonan-to counterparts. I was educated by Britain.

Funny, I've turned American now. 

Will someone please direct which language this tongue should speak? Because I can’t seem to translate to this old man,

He who calls himself: the Resident here.

Yet, his tongue sounds more foreign than mine.

“No, it’s not ten-penis, uncle,

I’m going to temp-pen-niece, understand? What? Ah, never mind.

I’ll find another local then.”

 

  1. Orang Laut (Malay) sea people
  2. Majapahit A 13th century Javanese kingdom
  3. Syonan-to (Japanese) name given to Singapore under the Japanese occupation

 


My Son, Sazali

I hear the call, And I remember.

Inilah panggilan pertama.

It is the same call that I whispered into your ear
As you cried your way into this brave new world Welcoming you in with my hati yang terbuka
And I assured you that I’m here every step of the way.

And as you grow, I hear those calls
Speaking to me as I speak to you
Every word, every sound, every tune I taught you, Tanggungjawab telah ku laksanakan.

Your smile became my tranquillity Your cry became my pain
I planted a thousand seeds of virtue Termasuk doa dan harapanku.

But as you learn, you begun to unlearn Relearning everything, reinventing anything My words suddenly become noise to you And the call I gave sekarang sudah tiada.

I hear the call, And I remember.

Inilah panggilan kedua.

That you are not you anymore
Your eyes are now hollow, an entire different gazeg

I tried to cleanse the blackness of your soul

But your tongue is now, pelik, as mine is to you.

I tried calling you with that same call
Hoping that you would turn and call back
But your back remained turned, your feet refused I called tetapi tiada balasan.

I hear the call, And I remember.

Inilah panggilan ketiga.

It is the same call that I whispered into your ear
After you shut yourself away from this cold, cold world
With a white cloth, I wrapped you delicately dengan hati yang tertutup And I assured you that I’m here every step of the way.

I hear the call, And I remember.

Inilah panggilan terakhir.

 

  1. "My Son, Sazali" A direct translation of a 1956 Malay film titled, Anak-Ku Sazali.
  2. Inilah panggilan pertama  (Malay) This is the first call.
  3. hati yang terbuka (Malay) an open heart
  4. Tanggungjawab telah ku laksanakan (Malay) My duties have been served.
  5. Termasuk doa dan harapanku (Malay) Including my prayers and my faith/dream.
  6. sekarang sudah tiada (Malay) is now gone
  7. Inilah panggilan kedua (Malay) This is the second call.
  8. pelik  (Malay) weird 
  9. tetapi tiada balasan (Malay) but there was no response
  10. Inilah panggilan ketiga (Malay) This is the third call.
  11. dengan hati yang tertutup (Malay) with a sealed heart
  12. Inilah panggilan ketiga (Malay) This is the final call.

 

 

Readers can keep up with Hafiz’s writings and musings on his blog and for those who are keen to purchase a copy of Voices in My Head, it is now being sold at Books Actually and Select Books. More details can be found on his website.

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