5 Malaysian Poets You Should Know About

5 Malaysian Poets You Should Know About

There’s no better time to be a fan of literature than now, as the love for these art pieces is at an all-time high here in Malaysia. This kind of admiration leads to several fanbases, festivals and adaptations dedicated to poets and other kinds of writers.

This being said, it’s worth highlighting the Malaysian poets that have made their mark in history as being considered one of the best in the industry. These poets have either been making a lot of noise lately or have helped pave the way for many writers to come.

If you want to learn more about Malaysian literature, join us here as we take a look at some of the best Malaysian poets. We’ve also listed some of their most well-known contributions to literature to help give you a deeper understanding of their impact on the industry–let’s begin!

Dr Usman Awang

Dr Usman Awang
Photo from: Dr. Usman Awang Facebook page

When it comes to talking about great Malaysian poets, you always have to include the late Dr Usman Uwang in the conversation. Dr Uwang lived a colourful life, to say the least, as he was also a known writer and reporter on top of being an amazing poet.

Focusing on his work as a poet, he has written around 200 poems throughout his lifetime, which is such an impressive feat. His works mostly centred around themes such as compassion, peace, friendship and also life as a Malaysian.

Speaking of life as a Malaysian, he lived a simple one. starting from when he was born to a poor family in Johor until the end of his life in 2001. It’s also worth noting that he lived through World War II, and took on several roles in his younger years such as being a policeman and a farmer.

Fortunately, he decided to pursue being a poet, as he would soon be awarded the National Laureate later in his life in 1983.

To forever commemorate Dr Usman and his contributions to society, two public schools were named after him in his hometown, Johor.

Best works:

  • Scattered Bones
  • Suara Rasa : Voice From Within
  • Salam Benua: Greetings to the Continent
  • Sahabatku (My Friend)
  • Jiwa Hamba (Elevated Soul)

Abdul Samad Said

Abdul Samad Said
Photo from: Wikimedia

A. Abdul Samad Said is one of the greatest living poets in Malaysia today. His contributions to the industry throughout his life led him to attain every achievement a writer or a poet may want in their career.

For starters, he was awarded the National Laureate back in 1985, which basically cements him as one of the greatest contributors to Malay literature. On top of that, he was also awarded the 1976 Pejuang Sastera and the 1979 Southeast Asia Write Award–pretty impressive, right?

To this day, his works are seen, most notably in secondary schools in Malaysia where his poem, The Dead Crow, is being studied. 

Best works:

  • The Morning Post
  • Salina
  • Cinta Fansuri
  • Ballad of the Lost Map
  • Bersih: The Voices of Rhyme & Reason

Wong Phui Nam

Wong Phui Nam
Photo from: The Star Malaysia

Wong Phui Nam is the prime example that you don’t need an award to be considered great. Once you read his works, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. He’s known for releasing collections of his poetry, which are sort of like anthologies if you’re comparing them to movies.

These collections of beautiful art pieces are widely praised by fans and critics alike, as they describe them as soothing. Some people also say that the poet’s way of writing is much like a musician’s way of creating music, especially when tackling lamentations.

Even though he started writing early on, it wouldn’t be until 2015 when he was awarded the Golden Point Award by the National Arts Council.

Best works:

  • The Hidden Papyrus of Hen-taui
  • Remembering Grandma and Other Rumours
  • How the Hills Are Distant
  • An Acre of Day’s Glass: Collected Poems
  • Against the Wilderness

Cecil Rajendra

Cecil Rajendra
Photo from: Malaysian Bar Facebook page

When you want to talk about historic poets, Cecil Rajendra is one of the best examples we can give. Not only was he a nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature back in 2005, but he’s also the first-ever winner of the Malaysian Lifetime Humanitarian Award.

Moving on to his works as a poet, you may have heard of him through his published literature called “The Animal and Insect Act”. This innovative poem was directed towards Malaysian laws regarding freedom of expression.

It was proven to be a massive hit, as it was read and viewed by over 3 million people on the internet. Rajendra was always known for these kinds of works, which makes sense as he’s also a lawyer.

He has also seen international success as his collection of poems has been circulated to over 50 different countries.

Best works:

  • No Bed of Roses: The Rose Chan Story
  • By Trial and Terror
  • Papa Moose’s Nursery Rhymes
  • Hour of assassins & other poems
  • Shrapnel, Silence and Sand

Bernice Chauly

Bernice Chauly
Photo from: Bernice Chauly

Bernice Chauly is one of the greatest living poets of this generation for two main reasons. Of course, the first one is her countless contributions to Malay literature, which were massive hits, around the late 2000s to the early 2010s and even until today.

The second reason why we consider her one of the all-time greats is her continuous goal of organizing literary events in the nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. This keeps the art alive, as it allows more people to discover literature or even hone the skills of those who’re trying to start.

Aside from being an amazing poet, Chauly is also a photographer, educator, filmmaker and actor. Now that’s what you call a stacked resume!

Lastly, thanks to her contributions to Malay literature, she’s been granted numerous awards such as Honorary Fellow in Writing and Reader’s Choice Awards.

Best works:

  • Going There and Coming Back
  • The Book of Sins
  • Lost in KL
  • Growing Up With Ghosts
  • Onkalo