Tell Me, Kenyalang
Tell Me, Kenyalang by Kulleh Grasi
Translated from Malay by Pauline Fan
Publication date: October 2019
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White white billows of language,
The dry season engulfs the countryside . . .
Ah, season of idle pleasures,
Shirts trousers, all sizes big and small,
In the laundry of the universe . . .
Grasi’s poems capture the excited intimacy of exploring one’s own beloved country with depth and vision. Grasi leaps between languages, registers, and landscapes to create a multi-dimensional book, and Fan, in her translations, leaps with him into a detailed, rich English, while finding innovative ways to provide context to a place so rarely read about in English.
Kulleh Grasi has channeled “the rhythms from sebayan, / qasidahs from bunian” to bring us the “fragrance of paradise” of his native Sarawak, the place at the heart of his akui-self that springs forth from the Sea Dayak longhouse community (“leaf of the world”) like a Kalang deer and suffuses his poetry with Iban myths, sensual beauty, ancestral bonds, dreams, and the songs of trees, birds, river, and sun-rain. Pauline Fan’s finely woven pua-kumbu translation comes to us as a blessing from kenyalang’s beak.
If you need a reason to believe in the value of translation, here are thirty. Pauline Fan’s versions of Kulleh Grasi’s poems teach Malay and Iban to English. Translation changes us, into and out of languages, thankfully, because without it we might not know what it is like to be young and full of myth, music, and meaning in Malaysia. This multilingual voice sounds like it’s from right now, because it is.
The vitality of poetry hides in its secret veins, from which the unordinary — words, images, dreams — spout and sparkle.
Kulleh Grasi’s verses affirm this and Pauline’s translation gives them a poetic rebirth.
There are many instances of enchantment in this collection of poems. As I see it, in Kulleh Grasi’s pieces Malay poetry finds its “minor literature” (in the Deleuzian sense)— as they create idioms that slip away from the confine of identity (“deterritorialized”) and are linked with issues of finding a voice within a language that is both alien and familiar. The poems stammer, as it were, and disrupt the typically linear, narrative-bound verses in mainstream Malaysian poetry.
What a gift.
December 10, 2018: “Publishing Poetry in Translation” in Poets & Writers
Marwa Helal writes about Circumference Books in the January/February 2019 issue of Poets & Writers.
December 8, 2019: “10 Malaysian books that would make great Christmas gifts” in The Star
February 29, 2020: “Local author celebrates differences with poetry” in Borneo Post
April 1, 2020: “Best Translated Book Awards Reveal Longlists” in Kirkus Reviews
April 2, 2020: “Malaysian author Kulleh Grasi’s ‘Tell Me, Kenyalang’ makes it to longlist of America’s Best Translated Book Awards 2020” in Malay Mail
April 3, 2020: “Karya anak Sarawak ini tersenarai dalam anugerah buku terjemahan terbaik Amerika” in Astro Awani
(An article about the book being longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award in Malay.)
April 3, 2020: “Translated poetry book by Malaysian writer gets longlisted for an international literary prize” in The Star
April 4, 2020: “Book by Sarawakian writer long-listed for international literary award” in The New Sarawak
April 6, 2020: “Tell Me, Kenyalang by Kulleh Grasi Longlisted for International Award” in BFM
Pauline Fan is interviewed on Malaysian radio station BFM 89.9. Create an account to download or stream the audio.
April 13, 2020: “Ten Questions for Ho Sok Fong and Natascha Bruce” in Poets & Writers
Ho Sok Fong mentions that she's reading the book.
April 19, 2020: “Poets, musicians perform online” in The Star
Kulleh Grasi performs online in aid of refugee families in Malaysia affected by COVID-19.
May 3, 2020: “Elaine Chiew Chats With Kulleh Grasi and Pauline Fan about Tell Me, Kenyalang” in Asian Books Blog
August 31, 2020: “Press On! Circumference Books” in Project Plume
An interview with Jennifer Kronovet about the press.
September 7, 2020: “Malaysian author Kulleh Grasi's book of poems longlisted for another American literary prize” in Malay Mail
September 7, 2020: “Kapit-born author’s translated book of poems longlisted for American literary prize” in Borneo Post Online
September 7, 2020: “Sarawakian Writer Kulleh Grasi's Book 'Tell Me, Kenyalang' Longlisted For American Literary Award” in RojakDaily
September 7, 2020: “Buku Puisi Anak Kapit Jadi Buku Malaysia Pertama Tercalon Anugerah Terjemahan NTA Amerika” in iloveborneo.my
A Malay piece about the book being longlisted for the National Translation Award
September 7, 2020: “‘Tell Me, Kenyalang’, karya terjemahan anak Sarawak dapat perhatian di Amerika Syarikat” in Astro Awani
A Malay piece about the book being longlisted for the National Translation Award
September 12, 2020: “Tell Me Kenyalang, mara ke persada antarabangsa” in Berita Harian
A Malay piece about the book being longlisted for the National Translation Award in the Kuala Lumpur Berita Harian
September 30, 2020: “Buku puisi M’sia disenarai pendek untuk anugerah terjemahan di AS” in MalaysiaKini
A Malay piece after the book was shortlisted for the ALTA translation award
October 4, 2020: “ALTA Names Its 2020 National Translation Awards Shortlists” in Publishing Perspectives
October 8, 2020: “The NTA Countdown to ALTA43: Tell Me, Kenyalang” in The American Literary Translators Association blog
A quick review of the book at the ALTA blog
October 17, 2020: “Trending translation: the winner of the 2020 National Translation Award in Poetry” in The Vibes (Kuala Lumpur)
Eddin Khoo writes about the ALTA awards, mentioning the book
October 19, 2020: “Kenyalang terbang tinggi” in BH Online
A Malay interview with Kulleh Grasi and Pauline Grasi about the book and its awards
November 2, 2020: “6 Malaysian writers who are making waves in the 2020 literary scene” in Options (Malaysia)
Kulleh Grasi and Tell Me Kenyalang are part of a roundup of six Malaysian writers getting international attention
November 6, 2020: “Dream-weaving between worlds” in The Vibes (Kuala Lumpur)
Pauline Fan talks about translating the book
December 3, 2020: “Men of the Year 2020: The #MadeInMalaysia Awards” in August Man Malaysia
Kulleh Grasi is one of August Man Malaysia's 2020 Men of the Year; includes interview about the book
December 12, 2020: “‘Tell Me Kenyalang‘ Flies High” in New Sarawak Tribune
Priscilla Tawie talks to Kulleh Grasi about his exciting year.
January 25, 2021: “TuesdayTalk LIVE | Interview with Kulleh Grasi: A Sarawakian Poet” in Place Borneo
An interview with Kulleh Grasi about the book and his work, with a bilingual reading of "Akui".
February 28, 2021: “Eliot Weinberger: New Trade Routes of the World” in Asymptote
Eliot Weinberger's keynote from the 2019 George Town Literary Festival mentions Kulleh Grasi and Pauline Fan
June 22, 2021: “Faisal Tehrani: Kulleh Grasi Leka Main” in Malaysia Now
A review of the book by Malaysian writer Faisal Tehrani (in Malay)
July 17, 2021: “Telaiku Kenyalang: Makam Maulana buat Kulleh! (Bahagian I)” in Ikatan.my
Part 1 of a review of Tell Me Kenyalang in Malay by Zahid M. Naser
August 7, 2021: “Maulana: Makam Yang Perlu Dijaga Grasi (Bahagian II)” in Ikatan.my
Part 2 of a review of Tell Me Kenyalang in Malay by Zahid M. Naser
April 11, 2022: “Indigenous Sarawak music group invited to the Venice Biennale 2022” in The Star (Kuala Lumpur)
Kulleh Grasi & band are going to be in the Venice Biennale; Tell Me Kenyalang gets a mention.
April 11, 2022: “Kulleh Comrades - kumpulan Orang Asal Sarawak diundang ke Venice Biennale” in MalaysiaKini
A Malaysian piece about Kulleh Grasi heading to the Venice Biennale
April 11, 2022: “6 Indigenous performers from Sarawak invited to Venice Biennale 2022” in The Vibes (Kuala Lumpur)
A piece about Kulleh Grasi at the Venice Biennale with a mention of Tell Me Kenyalang
April 14, 2022: “People of Poetry: Kulleh Grasi and Charissa Ong TY” in Bandar Aktiviti Seni (Kuala Lumpur)
An interview with Kulleh Grasi and Charissa Ong TY
Longlisted for Best Translated Book Award, 2020.
Shortlisted for National Translation Award, 2020.