Tell Me, Kenyalang
Tell Me, Kenyalang by Kulleh Grasi
Translated from Malay and Iban by Pauline Fan
Publication date: November 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.
Poetry Society of America, December 5, 2019: “In Their Own Words: Pauline Fan on Kulleh Grasi”.
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 9, 2019: “10 Malaysian books that would make great Christmas gifts” in The Star
March 1, 2020: “Local author celebrates differences with poetry” in Borneo Post
April 2, 2020: “Best Translated Book Awards Reveal Longlists” in Kirkus Reviews
April 4, 2020: “Translated poetry book by Malaysian writer gets longlisted for an international literary prize” in The Star
April 4, 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 5, 2020: “Book by Sarawakian writer long-listed for international literary award” in The New Sarawak
April 7, 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 14, 2020: “Ten Questions for Ho Sok Fong and Natascha Bruce” in Poets & Writers
Ho Sok Fong mentions that she's reading the book.
April 20, 2020: “Poets, musicians perform online” in The Star
Kulleh Grasi performs online in aid of refugee families in Malaysia affected by COVID-19.
May 4, 2020: “Elaine Chiew Chats With Kulleh Grasi and Pauline Fan about Tell Me, Kenyalang” in Asian Books Blog
Longlisted for Best Translated Book Award, 2020.