Local author celebrates differences with poetry


Kulleh reads his poems during the launching of one of his books.

AFTER expressing his emotions and feelings in words for two decades, poet/author Kulleh Grasi reached a milestone when his book titled ‘Tell Me Kenyalang’ caught the eye of Circumference Books, a publishing house in New York, USA, three years ago.

The book, published in November 2019 in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Iban, has undergone meticulous translation and editing into English to ensure the essence of the poems remains intact.

“It took about three years for the book to be published as I’m based in Kuching, my translator in Kuala Lumpur, and the editors in New York and Berlin (Germany),” Kulleh told thesundaypost.

He said the book had been launched in Penang, Singapore, and Berlin last year.

He admitted it was a very complex yet interesting experience to be able to work and come up with a book despite being in a different time zones and locations.

(From right) Kulleh was a panellist during the Singapore Writers Festival 2019. With him are Louis-Jean Calvet – a linguist and professor from Université of Sorbanne, France; Caryl Lewis – an award-winning novelist and children’s author, and a BBC associate producer; Waubgeshig Rice, an author and journalist from the Wasauksing First Nation; and festival moderator Phang Ming Yen.

“It’s the dream of every writer to have the golden opportunity to have his or her work published.”

He said he never quite expected to be able to catch the attention of publishers, let alone one based in New York.

“I believe getting a work published will require the intervention of the universe. It’s not solely based on how good or bad a writer is.”

The front cover of ‘Tell Me Kenyalang’.

When asked how he fell in love with writing poems, Kulleh, who is also the founder of Nading Rhapsody, an award-winning band, billed as an avant-garde Borneo Ethnic – World Music ensemble, said it all started when he was about 13.

“I started experimenting with words as it gave me some form of escapism. I’m an introvert and find it hard to talk to and mingle with people.”

He added that this led to him making a habit of expressing himself in his writings and drawings.

“Over the years, this habit has sharpened my descriptive skills and related my feelings and surroundings to poetry.”

Among the influences he got from extensive reading during his younger days, were books written by Enid Blyton, Hans Christian Andersen, and Mark Twain.

“‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Konserto Terakhir’ by the late Abdullah Hussain (8th State Literature) were among the earliest books or novels I read,” he recalled.

According to Kulleh, writing is an “accidental” habit he has come to accept and be comfortable with. So creative or poetry writing is a career choice that is already part of his fate.

He said besides ‘Tell Me Kenyalang’, his work could also be found in a literary journal – ‘Naratif | Kisah’ produced by a group of Southeast Asian writers.

Kulleh visits the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore to draw inspiration for his poems.

“It’s an honour for my work to be published alongside those of top literature writers such as Goenawan Mohd, Pak Sapardi Djoko Damono, Professor Emeritus Muhd Salleh, Usman Awang, Pauline Fan, Eddin Khoo, and Zahid M Naser.”

On what had he learnt as a writer, Kulleh said it taught him to bridge the gap between different philosophies, ideas, and opinions.

“These are the experiences and learning curves that have taught me to celebrate our differences. It is a priceless experience.”

On who inspired him the most, Kulleh, said without hesitation it was the poet, Subagio Sastrowardoyo, with his book ‘Broken Wings’.

Others include Goenawan Mohd, Muhammad Salleh, Kahlil Gibran, and Pablo Neruda in that order of preference.

He also loves the writings of Malaysian authors Zahid M Naser and Zy Masri.

Kulleh said he would write anywhere and whenever an idea or a feeling came to him.

This, he added, would be the best foundation for writing poetry.

“I prefer scribbling the ideas on a piece of paper instead of using my smart phone to keep the notes. I’m that old school.”

Kulleh said the ideas could come randomly – even when he was feeling sad, disappointed or angry, adding, “Unfortunately, I would also get writer’s block when in a euphoric state.”

He is confident he will still be writing in the future and exploring other possible genres.

“So far, I’ve four poem manuscripts – one of which is titled ‘Beringin Di Dada Laja’. There is one novel to complete.”

He said the vital aspect of writing was not to change the originality of a written work as it is the identity of the writer.