Interview with Poetry Writing Competition Winners 2020
by Nur Farhana Binti Fadzil
Seven questions answered by the winners of Poetry Writing Competition in conjunction with the ASPer’s English Week, themed In the Arena of Battle amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
Diversifying the discussions about poetry writing and inspirations that come with it. In this interview, I spoke to the first prize and second prize winners, Zulaikha Binti Zakaria (AS10763) and Charissa Violet a/p Sivakumar (AS11457) about their winning entries (19 Lines and Signs of Battles, respectively) and what inspired them to share their stories through poetry.
Congratulations to both of you on winning the Poetry Writing Competition! Could you tell us a little bit about your poem?
Zulaikha: Thank you so much for this recognition and opportunity. In my poem, 19 Lines, I tried to capture the sacrifices that our frontline workers make for us and their hardships in combatting COVID-19 virus in nineteen lines. Paragraph 1, Line 4 “With 3-ply mask, blue gloves all day long” portrays the dedication of our healthcare workers in taking care of the patients; while Paragraph 2, Line 5 “Concerned questions replied with lies and hate” shows the obstacles that our police officers face when they are on duty.
Charissa: Thank you! As for my poem, Signs of Battles, I decided to show the battles that people are facing in their everyday lives. To put it simply, Paragraph 1 represents the battles of war; Paragraph 2 represents fighting in general, be it in competitive sports or gang wars; Paragraph 3 showcases the battle of bullying, abuse, and depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); Paragraph 4 represents the effects of poverty; while Paragraph 5 shows the battles our doctors and nurses are facing due to this pandemic.
How did you feel when you learned about the competition?
Zulaikha: I was very excited when my lecturer, Madam Ikhlas, announced it in my class. Before 19 Lines, the last poem I wrote was when I was waiting for my SPM result. I’ve started poetry writing as a hobby since I was 10. I used to write poems in Malay and actively participate in many pantun competitions. When I was 16, I started to learn and write poems in English and publish them in my Wattpad account. So when I learned about this competition, I thought that this would be a good practice for me to polish my writing skills.
Charissa: During my high school years, it was compulsory for us to join a writing competition organised by Sunway every year which allowed me to participate in the event at an international level. Although I did not win, it was a good experience. So when I learned about this competition, I was interested (to jump at the opportunity). I thought that it would be another fun experience to test my language skills.
What does being first or second in a competition feel like? Do you think that winning this competition will lead to more creative entries from you in the future?
Zulaikha: (Winning first prize tells me that) my concept and setting which are related to the current global issues (fit the requirements). I believe that the imagery, rhymes, and alliteration that were used could also (be one of the winning factors that) elevated the quality of my poem. So I was really grateful for this achievement. It also means that I need to work harder and continue learning and creating more creative pieces in the future. In fact, I am planning to write my next poems based on real-life scenarios that are currently happening like the Black Lives Matter movement and suicide attempts among youth to spread awareness to the readers in a way that can touch their hearts.
Charissa: It felt amazing (to be the second prize winner). It was unexpected as it was my first time writing a poem, especially for a competition so I did not expect to win. I normally write novels when I have free time at home. By joining this competition, there may be a chance that I would enter more creative writing competitions in the future as it would allow me to broaden my horizons and try different literary genres.
What inspired you to write your poem?
Zulaikha: For me, (it was) the look on my family members’ faces when they watched the news on the decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases every day. (When I saw their reactions,) I felt relieved to know that their worries about this pandemic have started to fade from time to time. I was also inspired to write 19 Lines as to express my gratitude towards the frontliners even though I did not mention all of them (in my poem). There is no doubt their jobs are one of the hardest jobs especially during this crisis. If I was one of them—with a strong support system, a clear vision, and great teamwork—I knew I would be able to contribute to the country like them.
Charissa: In Signs of Battles, Paragraph 1 was inspired by the poem I learnt in high school, Charge of the Light Brigade. Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4 were actually inspired by the backstories of two characters from one of my favourite Japanese animations, One Piece. An unexpected inspiration, I know. The characters’ names are Luffy and Sanji. Although constantly bruised, Luffy is a fighter who always tries to protect his friends and family. Meanwhile, bullied by his brothers and abused as a child, Sanji suffers from PTSD—which inspired the line “Scars littering the mind”. Their backstories played a huge role in this poem because I knew that these are what is happening in our real life as well. Lastly, Paragraph 5 which was inspired by our doctors and nurses who are battling against the COVID-19 virus. Knowing how much they have sacrificed to keep this country and everyone safe from the pandemic is definitely an inspiration.
What was your artistic process like?
Zulaikha: It took me two days to come up with this poem. I wanted to bring my readers into my vision by using three imagery elements: colours, numbers and smell. For example, “2-way road, grey petrol smokes” in Paragraph 2, Line 4 which emphasizes the setting on what type of road it was, the color and the smell of the smoke. Another key was rhyming as to create a nice flow. While writing 19 Lines, I listened to relaxing soundtracks like Stella’s Theme by William Joseph because it helped me focus. I preferred having the right choice of music to listen to during my writing process to help create the right mood and express my emotions and creativity. If I want to write about a tragic war, I will listen to any instrumental song or soundtrack that will help me visualize the setting, like Ramin Djawadi’s The Night King.
Charissa: I managed to complete my poem in three days. Same like Zulaikha, music also helped me in my writing process. The song that I listened to on repeat when I wrote Signs of Battles was by Hamilton the musical, Wait for It. There were some lines in the song which really moved me and actually aided the process: “Life doesn't discriminate, Between the sinners and the saints, It takes and it takes and it takes, And we keep living anyway, We rise and we fall and we break, And we make our mistakes”. It touched me how hard life can be, yet humans remain strong. This shows that despite whatever (challenges) life throws at us, we still rise and move on with our lives.
With the current global unprecedented crisis that transpires with COVID-19 and the Movement Control Order (MCO), how was it for you to write in such a setting?
Zulaikha: It was easier for me to come up with the poem while in quarantine. I was able to spend most of my writing process surrounded with all of my drawings and arts in my bedroom. I saw it (this unfortunate event of COVID-19) as a new experience for me to learn to adapt to the new norms. Staying at home also means that I have more quality time with my family while being able to commit writing this piece. For me, this situation definitely helped, especially with my time management.
Charissa: It was quite comfortable (for me to write) as I was at home. However, I do not think that this pandemic is a blessing in disguise. Although being at home gave me a lot of comfort, I believe that I would have been able to write even if I was at my dorm. This whole event with COVID-19 is very sad. Since I am separated from my father and twin sister who are still in Singapore due to the MCO, it reminds me of the battles the frontliners have to face, not only (fighting) against the virus, but also the distance (of being) away from their loved ones—which was incorporated in my poem.
Finally, what advice would you give to future participants in this competition?
Zulaikha: Use this opportunity to share your thoughts, experiences or emotions with others (readers). We’ll never know when our words could give a huge impact to someone or inspire them to start writing.
Charissa: Take the leap even if you are not sure of your talents. It will be good to gain experiences from competitions like this when you are starting out to write or even if you are a seasoned writer. Inspiration (to write) can come from anywhere—even from an anime. So, just enjoy creating your own art. See things from a different perspective, be creative and give your piece a twist as and when required.
Date of Input: 17/06/2020 | Updated: 17/06/2020 | hasniah
Universiti Putra Malaysia
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