In conjunction of World Poetry Day, we have Azam Rais, a 25-year-old Malaysian who finds escapism in poetry which revolves around themes of love, morality and also dangerously, politics.
1) So, tell us a little more about yourself.
My name is Azam Rais, I’m a spoken word artist based in KL and I’ve been performing poetry around the country for several years now. I am also the Director of Poet X, Malaysia’s first poetry podcast that is involved in online content production and events with its own brand of art activism.
2) What inspired you to get into spoken word?
I actually wrote a poem about this! It’s called ‘Stutter’ and it talks about how I used to find speaking hard due to my stutter. During those years in my life, I found escapism in penning down the words I could not speak. I used to have books full of poetry I couldn’t read. Over the next couple of years, I worked hard to fix my speech problems and signed up to be on stage any chance I’d get. Public speaking, debates, musicals and plays, you name it.
3) What were some of the challenges you went through when you first got into the spoken word industry and how did you overcome those challenges?
Validation, I suppose is what every new artist craves. In many cases including mine, a poet brings his/her little book of poetry up on stage and bares all to total strangers. This is a feat itself as poetry is heartbreakingly honest sometimes. In my humble opinion, it isn’t like a song you cover or a character you play. For most poets I know, to not be appreciated for their inner most thoughts is a risk they take every time they step on stage.
Personally, I practice rigorously. I recite my pieces to myself whenever I’m alone to make sure I’m prepared during the show. I know I can’t control what people think of my performance, I can only control my performance. Being prepared helps with your confidence a lot I think.
4) What does poetry mean to you?
To me, poetry helps me find words for things that are hard to say. And in today’s world, I believe there are a lot of hard things that need to be said.
5) Which poem of yours is your favourite and why?
Hmmm this is a tough one. I’d probably say ‘Stutter’ because of how personal it is to me and it really reminds me of why I do poetry. I can safely say poetry has been a silent but major contributor to who I am today. I started writing rhymes since I was 10.
6) Who inspires you every day?
My parents truly are my inspiration. They worked hard to build a better life in challenging circumstances to help their families. What I appreciate most about my relationship with my parents is our ability to talk to each other. Being professionals and orators themselves, we have quite lively dialogues which allows me to learn so much from them. Though we don’t always see eye-to-eye, I know I am blessed to always have their unwavering support and love. In his younger days, my dad was a great Malay poet and playwright in Singapore too actually. Must’ve rubbed off some of that drama on me.
7) What do you hope your poetry/spoken word art will achieve?
I hope poetry/spoken word can be a major medium of art hosting intellectual discourse on current social issues. In my eyes, poetry has a role to play along with other arts in shaping our culture and the way our future generations think. Truly, all art is a form of poetry, be it catchy lyrics, beautiful scriptwriting or comedic punchlines. I believe we can harness the power of poetry to send deep and meaningful messages to people of all generations.
8) What has been your most significant project to date?
Oh no, I really don’t think I can single one out but I’d like to say the social causes work I’ve been involved in has been the most gratifying to me. As Director of Poet X, I’ve organised poetry showcases for campaigns against Paedophilia and Sexual Harassment as well as raising awareness on Mental Health issues and Migrant & Refugee rights. The response of the audience as poetry takes stage to speak on important social issues is what I do it for. They witness two things at once – Activism and Art.
9) What are your future plans for your career?
My plan is to reach a stage in my poetic career where I can host and organise sustainable platforms for younger ones coming through. Where I could have the ability and influence to help artists, of any kind, develop and succeed in their own fields (just like I hope I have by that time haha!)
Nothing lasts forever, and we should always leave things better for future generations.
10) Do you have any artistic guilty pleasures?
Oh, do I. Haha! I take really long showers. I’m going to whip out my poetic licence here and justify that I am most inspired after a bath and I don’t waste water. I just like, pace around, a lot. So if you hear poetry from the bathroom, just say hi.
11) If you could have a meal with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I would have a meal with the old Sultans of Malaya, I’m talking like Parameswara, Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat etc time. Firstly, because you know it’s gonna be an absolute feast. It will be kingly food mixing dishes from around the world. Secondly, I’d get to experience the ancient ‘glory days’ of Tanah Malaya that we only get to read about in history books. The classic language they used, the clothes they wore and the laws they abided to would be an amazing journey back to my roots for me. Sorry, a bit of a history geek too.
12) Any advice to give budding writers, poets, spoken word artist?
Believe in yourself. In your abilities and your poetry, you must be your biggest fan and worst critique. Allow yourself time and space to develop as an artist, not just a poet. Do not let yourself be restrained or dictated to by anyone. You are your own artist.
Personally, I have received criticism from many people for my work in poetry. Those moments made me doubt myself and my art. It would have broken me but I found that doubt is useless, and belief is just so much more powerful.
To the budding poets, know that there will be doubters, discriminators and just plain haters sometimes. There will be those who are jealous of how brave your poetry is. There will be those who say they want you to win but hope you lose.
Pay them no mind, my friend. Develop your craft, go the extra mile and fingers will snap soon enough.
Do check him out at his upcoming show on the 3rd of March at DPAC called ‘Ketika Bumiku Menari’!