The Voice of Poets and Fiction Writers

“The Voice of Poets and Fiction Writers”

By Yin Luoth, 13 July 2015

Poets and other writers assert their voices through their literary works. Poets express their voices through their poems; fiction writers usually express their voice through their novels, short stories, plays and movies. All of these different genres lead poets and fiction writers to use different writing styles including differences of vocabulary, syntax, rhetoric and the type of message they wish to convey to their readers, according to their own tendencies adapted to the time and the mood of their readers.

The voice of a poet or fiction writer depends on each poet and writer’s writing style. Basic to the styles they each use is the question of point of view (POV). Some use first person using subject I, some use second person using subject YOU, and some use third person using subject HE, SHE, THEY. Along with their character and their choice of the person, poets and fiction writers use metaphor, and other imaginative techniques. Working means exploration. They explore or exploration. They explore partly for themselves and leave some parts for their readers to continue their own exploration.

Each poet spends times and makes an effort to create his voice to communicate with his or her readers. William Kluback, in his book, Leopold Sedar Senghor: From Politic s to Poetry,

States that “The voice hovers over us like the shadows which never leave us… I have selected the voices I want to hear, the ideas that are working and creating within me. In other words, listening is a preparation for speaking” (Kluback 1). To create a good voice is a difficult task for each writer. He usually explores from nature or his own imagination. E.B. White, a famous American writer, says: “A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up” (White 100). White reveals the fact that voice is not something that existed beforehand or something that can be taught by predecessors. It has to be attained personally based on each poet and fiction writer’s identity and preference.

T.S Eliot is clear about how he express his voice. In his essay, “The Three Voices of Poetry,” he states: “The first voice is the voice of the poet talking to himself or to nobody. The second is the voice of the poet addressing an audience, whether large or small. The third is the voice of the poet when he attempts to create a dramatic character speaking in verse; when he is saying, not what he would say in his own person, but only what he can say within the limits of one imaginary character addressing another imaginary character”( Eliot 98). Each poet and writer cannot get away from using these three voices. If he doesn’t use one, he must use the other, or sometime use them all at once.

Readers also have difficulty understanding the voice of poets and writers. In the majority of literary works, writers use metaphor, or other imaginative devices which require readers to have some education and knowledge to assess the meaning of the poems or the stories. Therefore, in the world of literature, there are many different genres and readers can choose books that are appropriate to their preferences including style, rhetoric, and the essence of that chosen literary genre.

Works Cited

Eliot, T.S. On Poetry and Poets. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.2000. Print.

Kluback, Williams. Leopold Sedar Senghor: From Politics to Poetry. New York: Peter

Lang Publishing, Inc. 1997. Print.

Strunk, William, White, E. B., and Kalman, Maria. The Elements of Style. New York:

Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2000. Print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Klairung Amratisha, “The Life of Thai Writers”

 Klairung Amratisha,   “The Life of Thai Writers”

From Nou Hach Literary Journal, Vol 4 (2007): 106-108

It is appropriate to begin a study of the writer’s identity by providing an explanation of the keyword. Generally, “identity“ means the qualities and attitudes that a person or a group of people have that make them different from other people.1 In my opinion, these qualities and attitudes can change according to time and social conditions.

 

The identity of a writer means, therefore, the qualities and attitudes of a writer that make him different from other people. This identity may derive from how the writer views himself and what he considers his special qualities to be as well as his obligation to society and the world. A writer’s identity can also come from how the readers and society view writers and what expectations they may have.

 

In an attempt to study the identity of Thai writers, I will analyze how Thai writers think about their duties and their works. In times past, when all literary works were composed only in long verses, Thai poets clearly understood that poetry was the art of language, originating from a beautiful and fine style of writing and providing both harmonious sound and meaning. Thai poets of the Ayutthaya period compared their literary works to the divine garland of heaven[1] or precious jewelry for the ears.[2] Reading or listening to poetry is like receiving an ornament for the soul. For traditional Thai poets, poetry is the sacred and eternal work of art.[3]

 

Therefore, classical Thai literature always followed the literary conventions. Words and expressions were carefully and delicately selected, polished and adorned to perfection. Poets employed ‘high’ vocabulary borrowed from Pali, Sanskrit and Khmer languages and they were not allowed to create a new form of writing or a new rhythm and rhyme. Subjects of their writings usually related to Buddhism or didactic matters.[4] For this reason, we rarely notice any innovation in traditional Thai literature no matter how beautiful it is. And this is one of the reasons why young readers in the present time do not like to read classical literature.

 

Contemporary Thai poets have maintained some ideas influenced by ancient poets. Angkarn Kalayanaphong, a very famous poet who won the SEA WRITE Award in 1986, also considers poetry as a precious object and a means to cleanse and elevate the soul of humanity. However, Angkarn’s poetry must possess noble and sublime principles as well as profound imagination. The poet’s imagination originates from nature surrounding him. Every element of nature is a driving force that motivates the poet to compose poetry.[5] Angkarn’s idea is not different from those of traditional poets except that modern poets employ nature to explain Buddhist concepts and to compare it with real life. One of his

poems which is an exquisite example of this idea is ”Loke [The World].“

 

The World does not consist alone                   of diamonds.

Sand and other things too                               go to make it up.

The elements, low, medium and grand                       are in balance.

The universe will not crack                             because of one of them.

 

This world is not the residence                       of golden swans alone.

Crows also have a right                                   to life.

Those intoxicated with pride                          are despicable.

Without friendship the world dies                  and all is lost.[6]

 

We can see clearly that nature, such as diamonds and sand and swans and crows, is the symbol of ordinary human beings or objects and “high-valued“ human beings or objects. Through these symbols, we are informed by the poet that our world exists only because of friendship and unbiased understanding between people.

 

Another famous poet who also won the SEA WRITE Award is Naowarat Phongphaiboon. Naowarat has composed a poem, which defines the characteristics of good poetry and the qualities of a real poet. He compares poetry to a moment of ”a flower bud blooming“. This means poetry, which is the delicate creation of the poet, is similar to a flower which is a delicate creation of nature. In Naowarat’s opinion, poetry originates from ”the perfect skill of a word creator “ and “a recollected intensity of feelings“ of the poet. For him, the most important quality of a good poet is that he must have “an insight of spiritual sweetness.” This insight will enable him to “create words with poetic magic,” which will catch the heart of the reader.[7]

 

As for contemporary Thai short story writers, their ideas about their obligation and duty of the writer seem to be far different from those of modern poets. In my opinion, this results from the birth of these two genres of literature. Thai poetry has had a very long origin and most poems were written by kings and aristocrats. Therefore, most of the classical long verses contain sublimity and sacredness. The short story, on the other hand, is a new form of writing which Thai writers borrowed from the West. Their subjects concern issues that happen in real society and their characters are normal people. For this reason, Thai short story writers have not considered their works to be sublime or sacred. They usually agree that the short story must reflect things that really happen in society. Assiri Thammachote, who has been well-known for more than twenty years and won the SEA WRITE Award in 1981, thought that the duty of a writer was similar to a mirror. That is to reflect problems or important events of human beings.[8] Written in a realistic style, Assiri’s short stories are mostly concerned with problems of poverty in the countryside, workers, farmers, prostitutes or political events that influenced people in general. His style has been imitated by so many other writers that there has been a very large number of realistic short stories published, and this sometimes causes boredom for the readers as they see no difference between one story and another.

In the past ten years, we can see the new generation of short story writers who try to search for new subjects for their writings such as problems in the big city, traffic jams, environmental problems and the loss of old tradition and culture. Writers who do not write about new subjects have to use the new literary techniques. Win Leowarin, a famous short story writer who won the SEA WRITE Award in 1999, has an opinion that contemporary Thai literature is now confronting modern media, namely the internet, television and games. All of these stop the readers from reading. In Win’s words, Thai literature ”is dying.“[9] Win thinks that we might be able to solve this problem if there are changes in the techniques of writing in order to touch the heart of the reader. He himself has used many new techniques of writing. In his short story entitled “Kradat tit–fai [Sticker-Fire].”[10] Win does not follow the traditional style of short story writing. There are only a number of small stickers put on each page of the whole story. On the stickers are short notes from a husband to his wife. Although the writer does not give a description about the main characters, the setting or the story, the readers understand clearly that this story happens in a family where the husband does not have time to meet with his wife as the father always returns home very late. They, therefore, have to communicate with each other via the short notes on the stickers. The couples have a son, but the father also does not have time for him because he has a minor wife. The story ends with the last sticker from the wife informing her husband that their son is now a drug addict. We could see that the subject is not new, but the readers like this kind of literary technique very much.

 

From my analysis of the identity of Thai poets and writers, I would like to conclude that the Thai poet has the duty of a spiritual leader while the short story writer is the reporter or the social critic. In other words, the identity of the Thai poet is to be the idealist while the writer is to be the realist.

 

 

 



1 Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 2003, p.805.

2 Lilit Yuan Phai, Bangkok: Silpabannakarn, 1970, p. 21.

3 Lilit Phra Lo, Bangkok : Khlangwittaya, 1974, p.149.

4 Suchitra Chongstitvatana, “Modern Thai Poetics: Pride and Purpose in Modern Poetry”, Manusya: Journal of Humanities, 3, 2, 2000, pp.13-14.

5 For general characteristics of classical Thai literature, see Klaus Wenk, Thai Literature: An Introduction, Bangkok: White Lotus, 1995.

6 Suchitra Chongstitvatana, “Modern Thai Poetics: Pride and Purpose in Modern Poetry”, Manusya: Journal of Humanities, 3, 2, 2000, pp.14-15.

 

[6] Michael Wright, ed. and trans, “The World” in Angkarn Kalyanapong: A Contemporary Siamese Poet, (Bangkok: Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation, 1986), p.49.

[7] Naowarat Phongphaibu, “Poetry” in Phleng Khlui Phio [The Songs of the Bamboo Flute], Bangkok: Platapian Publishing House, 1984, p.25.

[8] Yisipha pi si rite: Ruam bot wicharn katsan [25 Years of the SEA WRITE Award: Select Critiques]. Bangkok: Thai PEN International, 2004, p.753.

[9] Ibid, p.764.

[10] Win Leowarin. ‘Kradat tit–fai [Sticker- Fire]’ in Pan nam pen tua, Bangkok: 113 Publishing House, 2003.

K.S. Maniam, “The Life of Writers in Malaysia”

The 2006 Nou Hach Conference Address

by K.S. Maniam

“The Life of Writers in Malaysia”

Greetings! I am glad to be given this chance to talk to fellow writers and writing enthusiasts here.  I hope what I say will have some meaning for you.  To begin, I’ll give you a picture of the literary scene in Malaysia. The country has four literary traditions, that is, Malay, Chinese/Mandarin, Tamil and English traditions. Depending on educational, cultural and personal preference, the Malaysian can write in Malay, Mandarin, Tamil or English. Malay being the national language, Malay literature is considered the national or Malaysian literature.  I hold the view, however, that it doesn’t matter what language the work is written in as long as it reflects the life, visions, and hopes of Malaysians for it to be labeled Malaysian literature.

Malay literature is the dominant literature not because it is written in the national language, but also because it has more readers than those written in the other languages. Malay literature has therefore received greater institutional attention. If a writer’s work has the desired qualities, the chances are the national publisher, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, will bring it out. This national publisher also organizes short story, novel and playwriting competitions with handsome prizes. And of course there is the Hadiah Sastera or national laureate award. Almost all the major Malay writers have received this award and it is now running out of nominees! This plethora of prizes and awards–Malaysia is fond of rewarding its various heroes with money and houses–hasn’t produced the kind of works that would fulfill national dreams and ambitions. Samad Said, one of the national laureates, also has his own publishing firm, run, I hear, by his son, so that he can reissue his works and distribute them more effectively. There are many publishers now for Malay works all eyeing mega Ringgit. Consequently, popular fiction, usually revolving around love, longing and sex, has become very lucrative. At least one writer is said to earn as much as RM140, 000 through the sales of just one book!

Writers using Chinese, Tamil and English are left to fend for themselves. There are few literary competitions, except perhaps for works written in English. In the late 1980s the burger king MacDonald’s and Shell offered the money, and “The Straits Times” organized the competitions, but these competitions haven’t been continued. The Chinese and Tamil writers have developed their own traditions, inspired in part by what is happening in Chinese-speaking countries such as China, Taiwan, South Korea and Tamil-speaking countries such as South Indian and Mauritius. The tradition in English, to which I belong, is almost fifty years old and only surviving, rather than flourishing. Writers in English belong to various groups: the veterans, like me; the younger set, who like to try their hand at writing; the elitists, who hold manuscript or book reading sessions; and finally, the internationalist, that is, Malaysians who have settled in other countries and who seem to write to an international market formula. I’ll be referring mainly to writers who live in Malaysia and try to make something of their experience in their home country.

Whatever group they may belong to there are a couple of factors that they can’t escape. One is they must work for their living while pursuing their writing career. The internationalist writers may receive six-figure advances but his or her Malaysian counterpart doesn’t enjoy that kind of financial independence. Nor do they enjoy the extensive book-signing travel and the glamour of fame. The life of the writer in Malaysia is often routine bound. He or she observes the nine-to-five office hours or, if they are teachers or academics, school and university semester times. A number of Malay writers have been and are university academics. The flexible schedules may give them more time as I had when I was teaching in the Universiti Malaya until 1997. The other is commitment to their calling. By that I mean they can’t fool themselves that they are writing when they are only making pretence. Their writing soon exposes them. Their works either fall by the wayside or only appeal transitorily to their peer groups. Commitment to writing has to be total. It is shown in the writer’s discipline: he/she writes almost every week if not every day; in the meticulous attention he/she pays to form and language. These are the writers who have written works whether in Malay or English that continue to hold the attention of readers.

Commitment can also be seen as the vision behind a particular writer’s works. This is the hidden but attainable sense of perception that gives coherence and power to the writer’s works. I mentioned my own vision in an interview for a newspaper in July 1996. I said, “I want to see the universe in man.” That is the opposite of seeing the man in the universe.  The latter statement implies man’s position in the universe, planet, country, society, etc. But seeing the universe in man is seeing how many personalities can be contained within the individual self. This is essentially a writer’s creed. I meant by the statement in the interview that I wanted to explore as many kinds of persons and identities as I could in my writing. In other words, could I successfully become a widowed woman who struggles to see a wayward son through school; the sister-in-law who, reduced to a slave’s position in the household, takes revenge by seducing and wielding power over her brother-in-law; the successful businessman who suddenly finds a colossal void in his life; the Malay young man and later the elder, who knows the spirit of the land; the Chinese hardware shop assistant who makes of his marriage to a fat, barren woman, a Romeo-and-Juliet love. In other words, could I take on whatever personality a certain work demanded and in doing so discover the wealth of experience an individual holds within himself? I think that is what I’ve been doing in my works.

But that is only the larger vision that guides the body of work the writer produces in his lifetime. The more immediate task is to produce works that speak intimately to the reader. This means responding to events in your society, in the present or the past, and addressing the imaginative needs of your fellow countrymen. I believe that fiction, more than any other form, does this effectively. Fiction allows the reader to create for himself the images triggered off by the words on the page and therefore become a creator himself rather than a passive consumer. Fiction acts as a voice within yourself that is constantly telling, however indirectly, to alert you to the surroundings around you, social trends and needs and the influence of history. I would go so far as to say that this voice creates a greater sense of history for you. These are the stirrings that have helped me to write my own works.

So what are my works about? They all generally are about the sense of belonging, by which, I mean belonging to the country or acquiring a national sense of identity. Of more than thirty stories I’ve written, the stories that explore this feeling fully are “Haunting the Tiger” and “Arriving.” In the first story a third generation Indian seeks to really identify with his country. He tries all kinds of rituals, chief of which is to spill the blood of his hunts, such as a boar or deer, onto the ground. But he experiences no ecstatic feeling. He meets Pak Mat, a native of the country, who believes that he has an intimate relationship with the muse or aboriginal spirit of the country. So they go on a trip to haunt rather than hunt the tiger. When they come in sight of the tiger, Muthu, the protagonist, feels his personality is being burned away. So, he flees. It is only on his deathbed that he realizes how empty his life had been as a result of not having tried to identity with the spirit of the country.

The novels “The Return” (1981), “In a Far Country” (1993), and “Between Lives” (2003) form a trilogy in exploring this sense of identity. In “The Return” Ravi, the protagonist, becomes very influenced by British culture through the colonial education system. His ambition is to be freed from poverty and to lead a life of dignity, which he does when he becomes a teacher, trained in England. But a nagging doubt about his achievement at the cost of family relationships assails him. He expresses his doubt about his accomplishments in the poem “Full Circle” which closes the novel. Here are the last few lines:

 

Words will not serve.

You’ll be twisted by them

Into nameless little impulses

That roams dark city roads, raging.

They will be vague knots

Of feeling, lustreless, cultureless,

Buried in a heart that will not serve.

 

“In a Far Country” was a greater challenge to write because it involved numerous characters and really called upon my ability to fulfill my ambition of seeing the universe in man. This novel explores in complex prose the various characters’ relationship to the country. Finally, “Between Lives” dramatizes the memory of an immigrant’s struggle to belong and the necessity of not forgetting that struggle. The last novel is a fully Malaysian novel in that it evolves around all the three major communities: Malay, Chinese and Indian though it is narrated by a young Malaysian Indian woman, Sumitra. There have been other preoccupations in my works which I don’t have time to go into.

I was fortunate in getting my works published almost without any difficulty in the beginning, that is, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. My stories were published in a university journal in Malaysia and subsequently in Singapore. There was also the Heinemann Asian Writers Series which brought out my first novel “The Return.” But Heinemann closed down that avenue somewhere in the late 1980s. Publishing Malaysian works ran into difficulties around that time as well.

So, when the London based Scoob Books came along, there were sufficient titles waiting to be published. “In a Far Country” was brought out by this publisher as were my story and play anthologies “Haunting the Tiger: Contemporary Stories from Malaysia” and “Sensuous Horizons: the Stories and the Plays.” This publisher has discontinued his interest in Malaysian works from the year 2000 for personal reasons.

Writing that isn’t published fails in the most important aspect of its existence: it fails to reach readers. As I said at the beginning of this talk, Malay works are more easily published than works in other languages because there is a national publisher. It is also easier because the Malay readership is substantially higher than other language readerships, so sometimes the phenomenon of runaway success of popular fiction. This is not to say there are no publishers for English works. There is Silverfishbooks and more recently, Maya Press, which published “Between Lives.” Writers need not pay these publishers to have their works published, but they also do not get fantastic royalties for the reason that reading is much in decline and also readership for works in English is limited. But these factors don’t discourage writers. They continue to toil at their computers, notebooks or exercise books, to give birth to their masterpieces!

The distribution network is fairly sophisticated and covers every accessible town and village. But it is also pricey, forty percent of the published price goes to the distributor. This is a setback for self-publishing authors. As you know, self-publishing is fast catching on and not all of it is vanity publishing. A couple of novels first self-published in the U.S. and Canada got offers and substantial advances from big-name publishers afterwards. In Malaysia there are self-publishers in such areas as migrant histories or fiction based on such histories. Or even memoirs. The writer can at least recover his production cost by hawking his work through distributors or simply placing it in any of the bookshops.

There isn’t exactly a close-knit writer’s society, as far as I know, in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, but there are a few writers’ groups. I’ve already mentioned aspiring young writers’ groups, which hold book meetings and read from works in progress. One such group even got together and published collections of poems in small, highly portable books. Then there are gatherings to honor visiting foreign writers, which afterwards also becomes a time for exchanging progress-in-writing notes among writers. Sometimes there is a local book launch, usually on a small scale, and this again brings writers together. I don’t think there is an open fellowship of writers, for there are all kinds of loyalties other than to writing. These may also lead to vicious and often uncalled-for backbiting. I suppose this happens in all literary communities, but this is a time when writers have to come together not only for the sake of their own writing but also to take stock of what is taking place in the publishing business worldwide.

Writing is a hard and demanding discipline but the only voice I know that can speak sincerely and intimately to the reader. Writers have to watch out for false attractions and seductions, such as of instant fame and glamour and celebrity status. Writing is a continuous process of individual and social discovery and must not be sacrificed for the mere glitter and the money. Writers have also to continually work at their craft and produce a sufficient body of work to justify their commitment to that vocation.