A Conversation With… Nurfatehah Shamsul on Poetry

A Conversation With… is a series where B:Read interviews readers in Brunei, asking them questions pertaining to genres they enjoy reading and looking into their reading pattern.  We hope this series will provide Bruneians an opportunity to look into other genres that they have never read before or give non-readers an opportunity to look into something that might spark their curiosity while reading the interview.

Launching this series is Nurfatehah Shamsul, a 17-year-old student who will begin the next phase of her life as a Food Marketing and Business Economics undergraduate at the University of Reading, UK in October 2012.

We asked Fate about her love for poetry.


You seem to enjoy poetry a lot judging by your postings on the B:Read Bookswap Facebook page to your own personal writings on your Tumblr. What is it about poetry that you seem to connect with as a format?

Poetry has given me an alternative way of expressing myself, what with having written only prose all my life. It forced me to just get to the point but be vague enough to let the reader interpret my work as they want. My thinking on poetry is that it should always give the reader something to think about, and giving people something to ponder on is what I love to do. Reading is a two-way relationship between the author and the reader; the author gives the foundation of thinking and the readers give the author a sense of fulfillment by having him/her know that they have read the work.

I agree with your point about the relationship between writer and reader, which is why poetry in Literature classes were something I abhorred. Teachers have the tendency to believe they are right when it comes to analysis. From my personal experience, my Lit teacher was insistent that The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock is about a man who cannot express their love to someone, while I viewed it as a man who is disenchanted with love because of class division. Gah! That was extremely frustrating!

How did you dealt with learning poetry in classes?

I wouldn’t even be able to tell you any of what material we studied in my English Lit classes, other than the two works of prose we had to study. And that is only because I still have the books. Ha.

Malay poetry was dealt with ignorance of their existences. Haha. I skipped the poetry section every year — even my O Levels. In English Lit class, since poetry was essential, I conquered it mechanically and with as  little emotion as I could. I had my teachers (I had two, which made it a little confusing sometimes) list the how-to’s of analysis, from 1 until 5. “The structure of the poem overall shows this…” Or some variation of that was usually what I wrote. Most of the time I asked my friend, and she would sprout off all these possibilities, and I would just  pick one and go with that. That was for my course work, which I got an A in. For my written exam, I tried (and failed) to memorise the troublesome requisite 20 poems outside of the book of poems that we were allowed to bring in. I got a U for the written exam.

What’s interesting about this is that despite the amount of–I guess dislike is a safe word–you still manage to find some love of poetry outside of academia. It’s really easy to hate something that you are forced to stick with because of exam obligations and continue to hate it for the rest of your life, which is why I think a lot of people don’t read because it’s a constant reminder of school.

What was the main factor that attracted you to continually read poetry regardless of your weak academic results?

Actually, what got me started on really looking to read more poetry was a poem I came across while on Tumblr (and later found was cross-posted to a poetry Livejournal page) called I’m a Girl Who Writes Poetry. I found it beautiful and the imagery left me intrigued. I wanted to see more works from other people “who write poetry”. As much as the poems themselves, the author’s notes that sometimes accompanies the poems really gets me to have a sneak peek at what their headspaces might look like. I regret that I didn’t also save the author’s name, but I saved the poem:

I’m a Girl Who Writes Poetry

for a girl who writes poetry
throwing herself on paper
melting souls through ink
with fingertips and nail polished
with chipped ends.

who runs through fields that
glisten with not rippling grasses
but faded salty oceans of
tears of spilled ink
not mascara.

who waits for the person who
finds her in words and
isn’t after ruining lipgloss
but to see her lips closed and
fingers moving.

who sits in silence and
observes nature, be it
breeze that rustles leaves or
the chatter of people she does
not comprehend.

who comes closest to life
when she sets sail to home
and her white clothes are dyed red
as her heart pumps and
bleeds in regret.

who knocks over jars of
black emotions and hurried tears
while she writes poems as she
searches for the love that
will fill her pen.

who writes until she can stare
at her filled notebooks
seeing margins that cry her
silent and lost thoughts and the
best of her work.

Did this exposure to something you found on an Internet led to you opening up more to published and prestigious poets?

Yes, definitely. I checked out mostly Sylvia Plath’s work (partly because I had just finished The Bell Jar) in the beginning, and then moved to [Charles] Bukowski and [Edgar Allan] Poe. Along the road from Bukowski to Poe, I found Carol Ann Duffy’s work. It’s safe to say she has been my favourite since then. It was when I looked over at her poems that I’ve saved that I realised what a hopeless romantic I am, despite my beat friends’ insistently telling me how cold I am to people’s advances. Hahaha.

With that, do you have a favourite poem?

I have several, but I guess my favourite of favourites would be Carol Ann Duffy’s “Miles Away”, which I have put up on my wall:

I want you and you are not  here. I pause

in this garden, breathing the colour thought is

before language into the air. Even your name

is a pale ghost and, though I exhale it again

and again, it will not stay with me. Tonight

I make you up, imagine you, your movements clearer

than the words I have you say you said before.


Wherever you are now, inside my head you fix me

with a look, standing here whilst cool late light

dissolves into the earth. I have got your mouth wrong,

but still it smiles. I hold you closer, miles away,

inventing love, until the calls of nightjars

interrupt and turn what was to come, was certain

into memory. The stars are filming us for no one.

I think William Butler Yeats’ poem “He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven” deserves a mention too. I first heard it in a TEDtalk with Sir Ken Robinson about starting an educational revolution. He tells about how we are treading on our children’s dreams, so we should tread softly. I really came to think of the poem as like that.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet;

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams

Lovely, absolutely lovely. Lastly, what do you hope to see in Brunei in relation to reading?

The obvious one would be to see an increase in readers, wouldn’t it? My endgame hope is for there to be more Bruneian writers. And for there to be writers, there needs to be readers. I’d like there to be more, or better, incentives for people to try reading and/or writing. From what I’ve experienced, buying books locally are more expensive in comparison to when you buy overseas, though the why’s are, of course, understandable. Also, I wish the local libraries had wide, up-to-date collections, because then borrowing would be a great money-saver for those who are just starting to try out reading as an activity. I’m glad schools have started to view reading as an important part of learning, though still the range of books students are told to borrow is limited due to censorship and the like. In the end, all I’d like to see is an increase in people embracing reading as a positive thing and actively searching for books to read rather than having books assigned to them.


If you’d like to take part in A Conversation With… e-mail us at breadbn [at] gmail

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