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This report is taken from PN Review 149, Volume 29 Number 3, January - February 2003.

Letter from Kuala Lumpur Vona Groarke

'You haven't got a business card?' The tone is incredulous. It's Kuala Lumpur and I'm the Irish representative at the ninth World Poetry Reading, subtitled Poetry in Our Lives Today. In fact, there are several readings, which is probably just as well, given that there are over forty participants coming from countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Nepal, Slovenia, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kazakhstan, South Korea and of course, Malaysia. It's an ambitious project undertaken by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, an organisation charged with the invigoration and nurture of the post-colonial Bahasa Malayam language. They conduct research, write dictionaries, encourage debate and keep the language up to speed with business and technology terms. They publish books. Quite a lot of them are poetry books. The government underwrites this work: poets are guaranteed royalties of 10-12% on 3,000 of their books, even if they only publish 1,000. I like the sound of this, but unfortunately, I can't seem to match this marvellous fact with similarly positive details about any actual sales.

My Malayam is limited, but I'm reassured that English will be the language of the festival. I wonder if, like the Irish, they'll have a begrudging regard for the language conferred on them by their colonisers. Not a bit of it. They seem proud of their ability to speak English and view it as a way of facilitating economic interchange with the west. They fear that since independence, they have lost some fluency. ...


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