Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Her Own Words: Poet Alina Rastam at La Pari-Pari

Earlier we sent out a request for Malaysian-based artists to showcase their creations at La Pari-Pari's retail space.  The first to answer our call is Alina Rastam, a Malaysian poet who has published two volumes of her poetry - Diver and All The Beloveds.  Her books will be available at our shop when we open in January.

Diver, by Alina Rastam, which incidentally
features a cover shot taken at Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi
We're still looking for more work to populate our shelves, so if you have something you think may be suitable, do let us know.

Here Alina talks about her work, her journey with her own poetry and from where she draws her inspiration.

What made you take the self-publishing route for your collections?  

I did contact some publishers when I was working on Diver, but found that no one is really interested in publishing poetry. So I realised that if I wanted to get my work out, I would have to self-publish. And yes, I would definitely be open to going the more traditional route in future – self-publishing is costly and involves a lot of hard work! - but I don’t see the situation changing soon.

Still, there are benefits to self-publishing: I was able to be involved with the production of my books at every level and was present when the books were ‘born’ at the printers’ etc. I learnt a lot from the process and am really grateful to have had these experiences.

2. There's this popular notion that poets tend to be people who daydream a lot and sit by lakes and seashores thinking of their work.  How far or close to the truth is this for you?

I don’t have a routine – the poetry comes when it comes. I’ve done many different kinds of writing in my career – newspaper reporting, book reviews, opinion pieces, lectures and talks – and I’ve found that whereas with my articles and analytical pieces, I can determine when I want to write, with poetry I have to pretty much be led by the poetry. Sometimes I don’t write any poetry for months. Sometimes I write two poems in a week.

The process of writing poetry, for me, involves working with processes that go on in the subconscious or unconscious self. With the analytical pieces, I can marshall together my facts and arguments and write them when I want to as the process is mostly an intellectual one. Poetry involves going much deeper, into realms of feeling, desire, dreams, realms that exist beyond the mind.

Which is not to say that writing poetry is just about throwing all your feelings on paper.  Anyone can throw lines on a page, but good poetry works on many levels, so that you get intellectual integrity as well as emotional resonance. Good poetry also requires a high level of control of language and mastery of technique. You need to make sure the sound and visual elements of the poem add to and support your overall vision of the poem as a whole, rather than clashing with it. Some people like to use unconventional punctuation or startling imagery but without a real reason for doing so, but then the work is just sensational and without depth.

So for me, poetry requires a lot of technical and intellectual work but because my poetry draws on subconscious processes, I must be led by it in terms of when and what I write. Often, I write nothing for months and am just busy living life – but then a poem needs to be written, and once I’ve written it, I see that even though I’ve been running around attending to the demands of life, some part of me has been integrating the experiences I’ve had and making meaning out of them.

3. As a poet, what do you think is the role poetry plays in the spectrum of creative fiction, in terms of what readers get out of it versus reading a short story or a novel, for example.

As a genre, poetry works with brevity and concentration and as such facilitates the attainment of a high pitch of emotional intensity. Fiction – novels, short stories – have the space and length that poetry doesn’t as most poems are short (of course there are exceptions eg epic poems like the Iliad or the Aeneid).  With a novel, the writer can be discursive, and can describe people, ideas and things at great length. You can have an entire chapter dedicated to the description of a person; or even to a part of a person or an animal (Moby Dick, for instance, has a whole chapter describing a whale’s penis!)

Poetry, however, works with brevity, with concision and precision. In a novel, you can have ten or twenty extra words without them making a huge difference to the text – in a poem, because it is so short, every word counts. In fact, sometimes every syllable counts – think, for instance, of the haiku which is traditionally written in three lines of seventeen syllables.

What this does is to enable the poet to create a very high level of emotional intensity in the reader. It’s hard for a novelist to do this, as having lot of words often diffuses emotions – you may feel a feeling -  joy or melancholy or nostalgia, for example -  for a longer time via a novel, but you will feel it less intensely. I’m not saying poetry is better than fiction, though: each genre works differently, and we have to choose whatever suits us best. It’s a matter of personal preference.

5. How do you feel Diver differs from All The Beloveds as collections?  

I think Beloveds was the continuation of a process that started with Diver. I realised after writing Diver that the psychological and emotional process I had embarked on at that stage of my life, which found expression in and was the animating principle of Diver, had not ended: there were still things I needed to say and explore. So I started writing Beloveds. In a sense, therefore, Beloveds was the continuation of a process, but it also went in new directions, especially in terms of technique. I was teaching a course on experimental writing at Monash University while I was writing Beloveds and some of what I covered in that course found its way into Beloveds – see ‘The Glass Sea’ for example, which is clearly experimental.

6. There is a strong, almost visceral thread of emotion in your poetry, and a lot of it seems very personal, almost memoir-like in a way.  What was it like writing your pieces?  

Poetry for me is a journey inward. I think many of us are distanced or completely cut off from the deep sources of life in us: from our own feelings, our yearnings, the deep hurts and pain that is part of being human and that all of us have. What we often don’t realise is that when numb ourselves to all those ‘bad’ feelings, and focus on our external achievements so that we don’t have to face them, we also lose the capacity to feel the ‘good’ feelings: the joy, the love, the passion of life. So we end up in a wasteland: physically alive, but dead inside. T.S. Eliot’s poem of that name dealt with this issue at one level: how can you bring life back to those for whom the springs of life have gone dry? There is also the story of The Fisher King in the Arthurian legends – a King who has an un-healable wound and whose land was a wasteland, where the rivers have dried up and the ground is barren and the people starving. Eliot was referring to this story in his poem; and both Eliot’s poem and this story talk about a condition of psychological and spiritual deadness that can befall countries and individuals.

Going inward, for me, was a way to finally face and come to terms with a lot that I had repressed and not wanted to deal in my life. I know that the process, though it involved a lot of pain and more courage than I knew I had, is life enhancing: for one thing, it started me writing poetry again after years of not doing so.

Having said that, I am very mindful that poetry is an art and a discipline, not just a vehicle for exploring your feelings and emotions. It’s not a journal, where you can write anything and not worry about technique and skill; or your therapist at whom you can vent. Poetry can be a way for you to connect with your deeper self, but the material must still be shaped and worked with to the best of your ability. If you are doing it right you will find that every poem puts new demands on your technical skill, and so you are constantly being pushed to grow as an artist and as a human being.

7. As a poet, what is your intent in writing your poetry and putting the pieces that you do out there for people to read?

‘Only connect’ says E.M. Forster in A Passage to India which is one of my favourite novels. I publish my books in the hope that somewhere out there, there will be people who will be able to connect with what I’ve written. Also because I believe in the poetry and it must have its own life which it cannot do if I were to keep it under wraps.

I’d like to end this by saying thank you, Karina, for coming up with these insightful and stimulating questions. I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to think about poetry and what it means to me. And I wish you all the very best for La Pari Pari!

Alina has a First Class Honours in English Literature from Durham University, UK and a M.A. with Distinction in English Literature and Women's Studies from lancaster University, UK.  She is a freelance writer/editor and conducts workshops on literature and creative writing.  She has written on literature and the arts, as well as on social issues for various publications including NST, The Sun and Off The Edge.

Diver & Other Poems was published in 2009 and All The Beloveds in 2011.  Her work has also appeared in Tautan (2011), an anthology of Malaysian and German contemporary poetry produced by the Goethe Institute KL in collaboration with the National Translation Institute and in Readings from Readings: New Malaysian Writing (2011) edited by Sharon Bakar and Bernice Chauly.

For enquiries about Alina's writing and her workshops, write to her at

Friday, November 4, 2011

Showcase Your Creativity!

Nessa The Angel by our Chairman - Kaeden, age 4
We are currently allocating a small retail space in our reception lobby and would like to showcase creations by Malaysian-based artists/creators.  Since our resort is going to have visitors from all over the world, we thought why not use it as an outlet for promoting Malaysian-based talent?  After all, we are a pretty creative bunch.

1. Must be SMALL - books, CDs, small jewelry items, clothing and knick-knacks are OK.  Unfortunately, we don't have room for large objects.
2. Items must be created or designed by a Malaysian or Malaysian resident.
3. Sales will be purely on consignment basis and designer/creator must bear shipment cost of stock to La Pari-Pari.  For things like books and CDs, please provide us with a non-returnable browsing copy.
4. No perishable items please.

Think of items that would make great souvenirs for travellers visiting our resort and restaurant.  Ideally, we are looking for items that would give visitors a nice alternative to the usual, kitschy tourist souvenirs that are often sold.  If it gives them a taste of our culture (contemporary or traditional), even better. And no, you don't have to be famous.  You just have to produce something unique and wonderful :-)  One-off items are also welcome.

Those interested, kindly e-mail with details of the item/s you would like to sell as well as suggested retail price.  Stock will need to be delivered to us before January 31st.  We are only looking to stock small numbers of each item.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Magic of Mia!

Like I've said time and again, there is undoubtedly more than a little magic that has helped us get this far.  Every time we've been stuck for ideas or resources, someone has come to the rescue.

This time it has come in the guise of a friend who is practically family, whose courage I hugely admire.  Mia took a break from her advertising career three or so years ago to pursue her passion in art and today is one of Malaysia's up and coming artists.  As someone who is only a fledgling writer, I know full well how challenging this must have been for her.  But she has come a long way in such a short time.  If you don't know her, it's time you do :-)  Visit her website please to get acquainted :-)  I think she does a far better job of telling her own story than I ever can.

One of my favourite pieces by Mia - Biru, photographed on exhibit at the National Art Gallery.  It now resides in a private collection in Singapore.

And, she's currently working on a NEW piece, specially for La Pari-Pari's reception lounge!  Stay tuned for the big reveal.


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