A POEM written during a bout of homesickness clinched Somali Khadijah Osman the grand prize at the Malaysian Universities Poetry Writing Competition (MUPWC) 2017.

Jerry Can Stories, penned by the INTI International University Mass Communication degree student who is majoring in journalism, beat more than 1,400 entries to come out tops. Her two other submissions, Skeleton Feed (Somalia) and Grass Smoke, also took the Highly Commended Award at the inaugural competition that saw 629 students from 106 universities, university colleges and colleges participating.

“Each of the poems were personal to me — I wrote from the heart and it is wonderful to be appreciated like this,” said Khadijah who has been studying at INTI since June last year.

Born in Uganda, Somali by nationality and put to school in Uganda and Kenya, Jerry Can Stories encapsulated her growing up years.

“I grew up in Uganda and Kenya where there is a mix of urban and rural settings. Not everywhere was developed with infrastructure. That poem is about the life of an average girl growing up in Uganda. She tries to fit in with other girls which I too experienced where issues of fitting in with older kids and outside influence were rife. Men exploit girls from villages who were not afraid to go places.

“The poem tells of a myriad of different experiences. It talks about what life is in those places and how people are really happy to be there. The beauty they see usually aren’t seen by people from other places,” she elaborated.

Khadijah said creative writing is a way to practice language and express one’s self.

“Poetry is something some like and others don’t. When you write poetry that is true to yourself, the honesty resonates with everyone. As you write more, you gain the confidence in expressing yourself,” she remarked.

Khadijah is currently compiling her writings in an anthology and she hopes to get it published next year.

University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM) mechanical engineering student Abigail Lim Kah Yan finds writing poetry a beautiful way to voice out opinions and express emotions.

Her poem Harvey, which is about a boy, took second prize at the poetry competition.

“I am a very emotional person and writing poetry is a good outlet for my feelings. I’m studying mechanical engineering because my family believes it is a practical option. Poetry is a hobby and I want to publish a book one day. However, I wouldn’t make a career out of writing,” said Lim who hails from Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Subang Jaya girl Ding Xue Er, who is pursuing a degree in English with a major in creative poetry at UNM, said creative writing helps people to open up emotionally and they gain a different perspective and a bigger picture when they indulge or know more of creative writing.

The third prize winner said she has been writing since 12 starting with novels and at university, poetry and plays.

“My poem Howl was drawn from one of my angsty times. My father passed away 10 days before I started college. I wrote about my emotions then,” she shared, adding that she aims to be a project editor for commissioned fiction work when she graduates and also write novels and poetry.

According to MUPWC chief judge Professor Emeritus Muhammad Haji Salleh, who is also one of the pioneering poets in the country, the submissions for the competition were colourful, comprising many aspects, life situations and backgrounds — both local and international, sharing experiences that are relatable to readers of the poems.

“It is good to discover language because in language there is soul, culture, boundaries that you must cross and this makes for the maturing of students. This is just the beginning for participants who can continue writing about other things.

“I feel literature is at the core of the soul of people. Without literature you might only have buildings and money. Literature gives to the people an insight to culture and history. The past has given us our identity and we need to share this as there is not much sharing at the moment. We hope writers of the chosen poems write more and become poets,” he said.

MUPWC was sponsored by the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) and organised by the School of English, University of Nottingham Malaysia at Semenyih, Selangor.

The ministry’s deputy director-general of higher education department Dr Mohd Nor Azman Hassan, represented the deputy minister Datuk Dr Mary Yap Kain Ching at the event.

It was attended by the prize winners, family members and lovers of poetry from different universities.

In his welcome speech, UNM provost Professor Graham Kendall said University of Nottingham places very high value in the arts.

“The city of Nottingham in the UK is a UNESCO City of Literature. It celebrates the power of words. So, it is only befitting that the university has organised the poetry writing competition here.”

Meanwhile, Mohd Nor Azman said creative writing in English needs to be highlighted as it is a component which could contribute towards the making of holistic graduates.

“Talent is key in the 4.0 evolution which encompasses balanced graduates. The competition is timely with students from varied background participating. I believe that we are on the right track in moulding multidisciplined and multitalented students,” he said.

In his closing remarks at the prize-giving ceremony, MUPWC organising committee chairman Professor Dr Malachi Edwin Vethamani said: “We are indeed very pleased with the response for this competition and I hope it will become an annual event for MOHE.”

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Mohd Nor Azman Hassan (fourth from left) and Graham Kendall (sixth from left) with the winners of the Malaysian Universities Poetry Writing Competition. Pic BY AIZUDDIN SAAD

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