Thursday, June 23, 2016

Zurinah Hassan is National Literary Laureate of Malaysia. She is the 13th writer and the first female writer to be conferred the tittle of Sasterawan Negara  at a ceremony held on 26th of April 2016. The award is the highest award given to a writer in Malaysia.
Prior to this Zurinah Hassan had received Southeast Asian Writers Award (SEA Write Award in 2004 and Sunthorn Phu Poets Award, 2013.
Name                         :           ZURINAH BINTI HASSAN
Tittles:                        :           Sasterawan Negara (National Laureate), Dato’ Dr.
Date of birth:             :           13 June 1949
Place of birth:            :           Bakar Bata, Alor Setar, Kedah
Postal address:         :           No.2, Jalan Pinggir, 8/1L, Seksyen 8,
                                                40000 Shah Alam, Selangor.
E-mel                          : 
Blog                            :           zurinahhassan.blogspot Interprestasi (in Bahasa Melayu)
                                                zurinahhassan1306 On Malaysian Literature (in English)


ii.        Entered English School Sekolah Inggeris Sungai Layar, through an examination, Special Malay Class (1961-1963)
iii.           Secondary School, a Convent School at Sungai Petani (1964-1966)
iv.           Sultanah Asma Secondary School, Alor Setar (1967-1970)
v.            Universiti Pulau Pinang (then renamed  Universiti Sains Malaysia) graduated with Bachelor of Arts 1974 (1971-1974)
vi.           After optional retirement from government service, joined Universiti Putra Malaysia for Master of Arts degree. Graduated with Master of Arts . (1998-2001)
vii.         Continue to pursue a Doctorate degree  at Universiti Malaya. (2003-2008).


i.          Information Officer at Department of Information, Ministry of Information, Malaysia
ii.         Karyawan Tamu (Guest Writer) at Institut Tamadun dan Alam Melayu, UKM
iii.        Pakar Perunding di Akademi Pengajian Melayu, UM

1974.  Sesayup Jalan. (The Long Journe) Pulau Pinang: Publication Bureai, USM.
1977.  Di Sini Tiada Perhentian.(No Stopping Here) Kuala Lumpur: Pewarna.
1985   Keberangkatan  (Departure). Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
1988   Kuala Lumpur and Other Places,Penerbitan Al-Huda.
1994   Pujangga Tidak Bernama.  (Unknown Poet),  Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
2004   Pesanan dari Gunung Ledang (A Message from Mount Ledang),  Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
2005   Salasilah (Ancestral line).  Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
2014   Cerita dalam Cerita.  (The inside story)Kuala Lumpur: Institut Terjemahan dan Buku Malaysia.

2000.   Nota Waktu (Time Notes,  with  Lim Swee Tin).  Kuala Lumpur: Citra Publishing Sdn. Bhd.
 The work of  Zurinah Hassan (poetry and short story) have been translated into several languages including English, Tamil, Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, French, Japanese and Thai.  Some notable works are:
2010. Facing the Harbour /Menghadap ke Pelabuhan.  Kuala Lumpur:Malaysian  Institute of Translations and Books. ( translations into English by the poet).  
2012 Menghadap ke Pelabuhan/Frente al Puerto.  Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Institute of Translations and Books, (translation into Spanish by Patricia Vazquez Marin)
2012 Menghadap ke Pelabuhan/ Глядя на гавань, Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Institute of Translations and Books, (translation into Russian by Victor Pogadeav)
2015 Menghadap Ke Pelabuhan/En Regardant Le Port, Paris: L’Harmattan and  Malaysian Institute of Translations and Books. (translation into French by Jean Severy).
2016 short story  “Bendang Lahuma” (Lahuma Padi Field) in an anthologyi Miniatures, Nouvwelles de Malaisie, Paris Magellan &CIE and Malaysian Institute of Translations and Books 
1993, short story  “Nenek” (Grandmother) in Antologi Cerpen Penulis Wanita Malaysia, Xiandai Publication, China, (translation into Mandarin)
2014, cerpen “Kerongsang Berlian Wan Tempawan” (Wan Tempawan Diamond Brooch) in  Antologi Cerpen: Malaysia-Taiwan, Malaysian Institute of Translations and Books  and  Taipei Chinese Centre Pen International (translation into Mandarin .
2016 Poetry  “Puisi Cinta yang Lain”, Anthology  in conjunction with India-Malaysia Writers Meet, 2016 (translated into Tamil)


1989.    Meneruskan Perjalanan.(Going On)  Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.      
2004.    Menjelang Pemilihan. (Election Soon) Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
2016     Murka Lautan, (The Wrath of the Ocean) Kuala Lumpur, Institute of Translation and Books.


1991.  Hatimu Aishah.  Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

1996.  Sasterawan Negara Usman Awang.  (Usman Awang, the Literary Laureate). Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
2003.  Memoir Zurinah Hassan Menjejak Puisi.  (Memoir of Zurinah Hassan Journey in Poetry), Bangi: Penerbit UKM.
2010.  Unsur Alam dalam Puisi Melayu.  (Nature in Malay Poetry), Bangi: Penerbit UKM.
2011.  Puisi Melayu Tradisional-Pantun, Syair, Gurindam, Nazam, Seloka.  ( Traditional Malay Poetry)Pekan Ilmu.
2013.  Catatan Perjalanan Seni Zurinah Hassan.( The Pessage Through Arts)  Kuala Lumpur: Institut Terjemahan dan Buku Malaysia.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Muhammad Haji Salleh is National Laureate (Sasterawan Negara) of Malaysia, an Emeritus Professor , a well known poet, critic and translator.

A further illustration of this individualism comes from the works of a woman poet, Zurinah Hassan. Her poems not only show that she is a different woman from other woman writers but also a person who finds in poetry the opportunity to speak out her inner most  soul without the decorum of the past literary practices.
Although Malaysian literature does not discriminate against women poets, because of certain attitudes of propriety and   femininity, the really vocal and individual woman poet is a rare person. Zurinah Hassan is a poet who does not shy away from the personal problems in poetry. Unlike traditional poets, her style is direct and she is her own theme. The woman alone, through  Zurinah, has never before been dealt with in such terms or put in her uncompromising reality.
Let us look at a short poem as a start to see how the poet sees herself
Now I am a mad actress on an empty stage
The curtain has fallen 
And the audience have all gone
But I am still acting
uttering my favourite lines
“God, thank you god
O, thank you god
For giving me everything
Except the one I desired most”

I see this poem as a statement of a lonely young woman facing a loveless life- a topic that is shied away from in Malaysia, and discussed done so only very indirectly. Zurinah includes no self  pity or sentiments for effects. On the contrary it is stated in the staccato sounds of the brutal absurdity of her existence, she allows herself to judge objectively. This she does by comparing herself to a mad actress who acts out a life on an empty stage without an audience. In a very intense moments of absurdity. Absurdity in this form is very novel to Malaysia and in its freshness strikes hard at  the old world-views.
Like Latiff Mohidin and Baha Zain, Zurinah Hassan too illustrated these aspects of this new individualism that perhaps come from a university education, a changed environment, new personal and moral values.  Zurinah as a contemporary woman finds that she must hear her own inner voice and a poet must record it as truthfully as possible. Even though times have changed, to be this truthful is to be a courageous woman, both intellectually and morally. She needs freedom in order to be this courageous.
While the air is for one moment light
 at another moment heavy
Space is for one moment laden
And another moment empty

A bird in the mud lifts its trapped wings
Trying to be free.
The poem is called “Dalam Mencari kebebasan (To Be Free). It parallels the predicament of a woman to be herself in a society that is not ready for her.
 Zurinah Hassan has made a significant contribution to Malay literary development. She brings meaning to the Malay language, breathes life into her words. Her use of language is captivating, poetic and harmonious. Some of her poems  I’ve  noticed are  cynical, satires about men based on her experience.

One of her poems in particular had large impact on Usman . He remembers that it was a message to children which read, “Do not forget there is always god. For you will need him one day particularly when you are born a woman. I will always remember  that poignant line. It reveals the problem and sufferings of a woman trying to survive   in a man’s world” 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Interviewers, including students and reporters often asked these questions:
·         Why do you write poetry more than other genre?   
·         What do you write about, or what are the themes of your writing.
My answer to the first question is, I began with poetry because my introduction to literature and writing was through poetry. As a child I sang children songs (lagu kanak-kanak) or traditional nursery rhymes while playing with friends.  When we have radio in the house, I spent hours listening especially to songs. I picked up the lyrics which in those days were usually beautiful and meaningful. Some tunes used beautiful and romantic pantuns. I came to learn and appreciate the beauty of words and encountered the poetic value in my language. I roamed the gardens, the seas and mountains described in the songs, and picked up beautiful expressions which kindled my imaginations. My love for poetry was nurtured and I began to write.
Looking back my themes can be summarized as below
·         From 1967 to about 1972   I wrote mostly about social issues especially  poverty among farmers and fishermen.
·         From 1972 to 1980 was my restless years, searching for myself and the meanings of live.   
·         In the eighties my marriage and Islamic awareness calmed me down. I found meaning in family relationship.
·         In the nineties, the situations of the Malays disturbed me most.
·         By 2010 I found myself coming back to society and the reality of live.

In the first phase, from 1967 to about 1972,  I wrote mostly about social issues especially  poverty among farmers and fishermen. As a young enthusiast I read anything I could find on poetry and on what was happening in the local literary scene. Articles by my favourite poets, Usman Awang and Kassim Ahmad inspired me. They advocated writers as voice of society  .  Most of the early poems are published in my first personal anthology, Sesayup Jalan (USM Press 1974). One of them was about about a fishing village, Tanjung Dawai

This evening at Tanjung Dawai
Admiring your scenery

But who owns your beach
No, no you certainly
You only have a boat and a net
To cast your life in the open sea.  

The second phase from 1972 to 1980 was my restless years. I was searching for myself and the meanings of live.   I was looking West to T.S.Elliot and later, the absurd writers especially Samuel Backett and was very much disturbed by the notion that life is a never ending wait. This was when I wrote AT THE BUS STAND depicting life as the wait  for the bus to a destination that you have not decided

At the bus stand
Smokes from moving cars
Has landed in my eyes
 At this bus stand
A long shadow
Is lying
On the dust

And I waited on
The buses have gone
I am still at the station
Making no decision
On my destination.

My marriage in 1979 brought in the third stage in the eighties, concurrent with Islamic awareness that calmed me down. I found meaning in family relationship and prayers. During this time there were many poems talking about love, family and keeping harmonious relationship with Allah and His creation. An example is a poem entittled Certainty

You may not be the best man
But for a woman like me
I am not sure there is anyone better

Do not ask if I am happy
I too will not question your emotion
For when one tries to be too certain
one ends up with more suspicion
The more we analyse and discuss
There is more to learn,
The nineties could be taken as the fourth stage . I was disturbed and worried about the future of the  Malays. Politicians and everyone else were talking about how the Malays  are losing  ground in their own inherited land. This time I look through the pages of history, legends and folk tales and felt very sad  that  we   have made mistakes along the way. I wrote poetry about the misdeed and lust of Malay rulers, that had weakened the empire of Melaka long before the attacks from outside.
One such story was the heartless killing of the Bendahara (Prime Minister) of Melaka and all members of his family by the Sultan.

I did not resist when they come with the keris
To take my life
If it is Your Majesty’s wish
After all it is my own saying
That the Malays never disobey their king

But I do regret
That your majesty should forget
As every tree has its root
Everything has its beginning
The start and their origin
Demang Lebar Daun installing Sang Sapurba
As  the first king
They come to a treaty, an agreement
A king is not a king
without his men

Since then Demang came second
A Bendahara in status and rank
He even became the king’s father-in-law.
In the state  protocol
Sang Sapurba is above all
But in  family relation
Demang in a higher position

From there
To Singapore and Melaka
Bendahara were addressed  by their tittles
Seri Maharaja, Paduka Raja
Seri Wak Raja
Meaning king’s father, guardian of the ruler
For it is true bendahara arrre pillars
The strength of the nations
The king heads the country
The bendahara in authority
The king wwears his crown
The bendahara guards his ground.t

The sharp keris of his majesty
Pierced through the bendahara’s body
Tha madness of  the action  
Has wounded a nation.

A king is but a servant
To the rules that make him a king.  

Crossing the millennium I found myself coming back to society and the social problems .There are so much ills around us that I felt guilty to be indulged in aesthetic .
One such poem is

As promised before election
Lorries of cements, pebbles and sand
Trampled our land

As promised before election
So began the construction
For days and months
Then a mosque with magnificent dome
sparkles in the sun

And come the big occasion.
We stood in procession
From the foot of the hill
To the edge of the mosque
With flowers and posters
The whole village was there together
to welcome a minister

Beating of kompangs and speeches
Delivering  massages full of  praises
For the new mosque
Speaking of loyalty to god
Loyalty to His messenger
Loyalty to the government in reign
And this loyalty need not be changed

The  minarets  stand tall  to the cloud
The call to prayer clear and loud
But my grandma and friends
Never come near the mosque again
Grandma said often
The new mosque is magnificent
The floor is raised on higher ground
The steps and tiles arrangement
Boost of their creativity all around

But we are already old
Our feet wobbles on sparkling marble
They don’t build this mosque for us to pray
But for a show off
and more of a display.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

THE PRINCESS OF MOUNT LEDANG  was the first person to say no to a Sultan. This is the exertion of a woman’s right showing that even a woman can choose to disagree. :

Let Mount Ledang stand tall, a reminder to all
Of a flower that survived and remained free
Untouched by the royal fancy
Even a woman can choose to disagree
Even a king has his turn
to admit being beaten.

There are many poems befitting the feminist voices as analyzed by Dr. Suzana Muhammad (Universiti Sains Malaysia) in her paper “The Development of Woman Identity: Feminist Approaches to Selected Poems of Zurinah Hassan.” One such poem is the “Message of the Princess of Mount Ledang to Sultan Mahmud.” The Princess of Mount Ledang was a mythical character, unearthly, magical, mysterious, and of course described as exceptionally beautiful. She dwelt at Mount Ledang in the southern area of Peninsular Malaysia visible from the palace of the Malacca Sultan. As the story goes, the sultan was looking for a queen after the demise of his consort. This time around, the sultan was determined to marry someone or something different from an ordinary human princess as he wanted to be different and far above anyone else. That was how he got the idea of asking for the hand of the Princess of Mount Ledang.
The Sultan sent his men up the mountain to ask for her hand in marriage, causing much hardship and unnecessary death to his subjects. It was a hazardous journey, and even Hang Tuah, the famous Malay warrior, failed to reach the top. Only Tun Mamat succeeded to the summit and entered the garden of the Princess. But he could not see the Princess, and only conveyed the sultan’s proposal through Dang Raya Rani who was the princess’s chief lady in waiting. The beautiful princess sent her famous message to the Sultan through Tun Mamat.
       The Message From Princess Of Mount Ledang to Sultan Mahmud

       Tun Mamat
       Convey this message to the Sultan
       Bring these as my dowry
       If he wishes to marry me.

       Build me a bridge of gold and another of silver
       Bring me germs and mosquitoes seven trays of their hearts
       Vessels full of tears and juice of young beetle nuts
       From the king and his prince a bowl each of their blood.

       I knew from the start
       That he is willing to construct the bridge of misery
       Let the people carry the trays of agony
       And bear the burden of heavy vessels of tears
       Rack their life with flame of his own desire
       Provided he could escape the fire.

       Tun Mamat,
       These conditions only show my rejection
       As his queen I refuse to be
       Seeing my life a murky reflection
       I am not Tun Fatimah
       With the skill to forgive cruelty
       I am not Tun Kudu
       Who could be forced to agree
       It’s enough with Hang Li Po
       Wrapped up as a gift, a legacy
       Or Tun Teja who tripped and fell
       The lover she followed was only a shadow.

       Let Mount Ledang stand tall, a reminder to all
       Of a flower that survived and remained free
       Untouched by the royal fancy
       Even a woman can choose to disagree
       Even a king has his turn
to admit being beaten.

This proposal is an episode in the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals). The story may not have been historically true. The princess may not  exist. But the writer of the Sejarah Melayu  constructed the story as a medium to criticize the Sultan for his unjust rule of the country and his cruelty especially to women, treating them as if they have no heart and soul. The Princess of Mount Ledang proposed these conditions of the dowry as a way of refusing to marry him. As for the Sultan, this was the first time anyone said no to him. The princess was the first woman to succeed in showing the Sultan that he too must accept rejection. The important point in “Message of the Princess of Mount Ledang to Sultan Mahmud” is the exertion of a woman’s right to decide and take control of herself and her life. That the princess was able to speak her mind showed that women have freedom of expression. As I put in my poem:
Let Mount Ledang stand tall, a reminder to all
Of a flower that survived and remained free
Untouched by the royal fancy
Even a woman can choose to disagree
Even a king has his turn
to admit being beaten.

Besides the “Princess of Mount Ledang,” there are more legendary figures in the Malay Annals, one of which is Princess Hang Li Po.

The Voyage of Princess Hang Li Po (Original title: pelayaran Hang Li Po)

The beautiful Princess Hang Li Po
In the voyage to Melaka
Crying in agony
So young and so tender
To be torn from her mother
Like a shoot from its root
She’d rather die
Drowned by the ocean
Than to lose the loving touch of her parents
Is this her fate her destiny
To be delivered as a gift,
Wrapped as a commodity
Shipped to Melaka
As a bride and a donation
That would strengthen the nation
Her mother, Her Majesty, The Maharani
Had spoken in tears
My beloved Li Po, please be brave
This fact we have to face
You and me what we are born to be
As queens and princesses
We do not own ourselves
Marriage for us is not a personal decision
It is a state arrangement, a political mission.

Do not cry for your father
He is a man, and a king
He loves you as a daughter
But his kingdom is everything
He laughs and cries for the nation
The kingdom demands his attention
First the reign over his land
Family happiness comes second.

Yes Li Po
Look what history has written
Of empires and nations
Built and strengthened
At the sacrifice and tears of women
While many brought to the end
By misdeed and greed of men.

Princess Hang Li Po was the princess of China betrothed to the Sultan of Melaka as the show of support and protection from the much feared Empire of China to the newly founded nation of Melaka. The Princess was taken away at a tender age when she still wanted to stay home and be cuddled by her mother. I imagined Hang Li Po’s tears dropping into the ocean for the people she loved. Her mother must have also cried in agony, but they both were women facing patriarchal oppression. As a mother I was very much disturbed and saddened by this mother-daughter separation. It would be heart-breaking for any mother to have her daughter taken away and sent to a place so distant. Given the condition of travel at that time, there was no guarantee of seeing each other again. Hang Li Po was being treated as a commodity shipped to Melaka. Marriage for queens and princesses is not a personal decision but a political mission. Her father, as a man and a king, thought and talked less about family happiness but more about nation building. Hang Li Po was not the only one sacrificed for the sake of the Malacca Sultanate. There have been others, like Tun Teja who ran away for the love of Hang Tuah only to find out that she was to be bestowed to the king. Another known character in the Malay Annals was Tun Kudu, a queen who was divorced by her husband and told to marry a statesman  in exchange for stability. Melaka was built on the sorrow and tears of women, but it eventually fell due to the greed and misdeed of men, as has been the case with so many other nations.
I have written poems about women in the legends, but actually I was talking about the present situation. What happened to them is happening to many women in our time, though in different ways. Even today, there are marriages for reasons other than love. There are marriages of convenience, marriages for family honour, business arrangements, social commitments, and more often to save a woman and her family from the social stigma. There is a high and often unaffordable price of living up to one’s identity and carving one’s own destiny. This is what I said in a poem entitled “Marriage”:
-one woman’s opinion

Marriage is the difficulty
Of changing routines and priorities
That make you less yourself
And a woman has to be less her self
In order to be more a woman.

Marriage to a woman
Is a protection
For her who dares not live
On her own identity
It is too costly and too risky.

Marriage is a priority for many women and societies, and the traditional upbringing instilled in women the anxiety of remaining single. Even up to the present time some young girls sacrifice advancement in career for a marriage prospect much to the loss of their nations. In a poem “Salam Perempuan Dari Penjara,” (A Woman’s Greeting From Prison), [S1]  I looked at a woman’s journey through life as a procession which no one dares to divert from. It is a procession where everyone walked to a fixed destiny:
She and her sisters
in a procession to their day
while within this wall
they have not lived at all
As I have mentioned earlier, there are women who marry for the sake of freeing themselves from social stigma. As for choosing their life partners, the elders told their girls not to be choosy and told their boys to choose their bride properly. This depressing situation gave rise to a poem “Satu Catatan Singkat” (A Short Conversation):
       A man is free to limit his choice
       A woman limits her choice to free herself.  

To be born a woman, there is not much that you can do but pray to God for his protection and guidance. As I wrote in “Nyanyian Menidurkan Halini” (A Lullaby to Halini), in which I told a girl to be strong:

Don’t cry anymore
You must learn to value your tears
Don’t let it fall
on any wrong shoulders.

May you grow up Halini
With courage and confidence
Put your trust in God
You will really need him
Because you are born a woman.

 [S1]Please specify if these numbers indicate verses or pages.