Time to embrace vibrant and youthful literary arts talent, says Malaysian poet

Sheena will be performing 'Sri' at the festival, a spoken word piece she wrote and performed in the musical 'Pulau Sri' in 2021. Photo: Handout

When she was growing up and devouring books, spoken word artist/poet Sheena Baharudin wished there had been such an event like the Kuala Lumpur Youth Literary Arts Festival (KLYLAF), which opens today.

The inaugural festival, happening at the Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre (PJPAC), KuAsh Theatre in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI), Merdekarya in Petaling Jaya and Zoom virtual sessions from June 24-26, is a platform for young people to inspire young people, while creating opportunities and exchanges for individuals passionate about theatre plays, poetry and storytelling.

As a child, the Terengganu-born Sheena assumed that an person needed to achieve a specific level of success in order to be heard and seen, that to be invited to arts and literary events is one of the known markers that “you’ve made it”.“It is important to highlight the importance of having and making space to nurture and be nurtured. So yes, if I had the opportunity back then to access a festival like this, I would have jumped on it immediately,” says Sheena, 39.

The KLYLAF, co-organised by the Malaysian Institute for Debate & Public Speaking and MY Poetry School, is a homegrown literary arts festival for young and emerging writers of the stage. It aims to promote literary arts education, platform young and emerging writers, and build youth writing communities

“It is important as it platforms emerging talents and creates opportunities for collaboration, performance and building a sense of community, especially for those who have no or little access to the mainstream scene” she adds.

Sheena says when she decided to perform her poems, a quick online sleuthing led her to a number of events and venues in the Klang Valley.

“These were all physical, much smaller events. There were no festivals dedicated to the youth like what KLYLAF aspires to do,” she notes.

Sheena, who is a published poet, writer and educator, is an active voice in the local publishing scene. She is the author of the poetry collections Rhymes For Mending Hearts (2013) and All The Bodies We’ve Embraced (2017).

“Poetry balances the emotional and the logical... there is an intensive thought process that comes into place when writing and consuming poetry, and I’ve been hooked on it since,” she shares about her love for poetry since her childhood.

For the KLYLAF festival, Sheena will also be performing Sri at the Nero Event Space in PJPAC (June 24, 8pm.) She wrote the spoken word piece and performed it for Langkawi-based arts group Suatukala’s musical theatre show Pulau Sri in 2021, a contemporary retelling of the Mahsuri legend.

“The poem itself is set during Mahsuri’s trial and represents her decision to ultimately speak out against the injustice committed to her. To speak her truth.”

She will also be collaborating with Abdul Shakir, a multidisciplinary multimedia digital artist and one of the co-founders of Filamen, a digital arts collective.

Sheena is also a panelist at the virtual Beyond Publishing: How Do Poets And Playwrights Get Their Work Seen And Heard session (June 26) along with other creative producers, namely Tung Jit Yang, Charissa Ong and Azam Rais.

Apart from an array of exhibitions and mentorship programmes, she is also looking forward to the newcomer storytellers set to appear at the Open Mic session at Merdekarya on June 25 and the KLYLAF Poetry Slam on June 26th (3pm-6pm) at Kuash Theatre in TTDI, where young poets and spoken word artists will get their moment to shine.

Outside helping to pull this new and youthful festival together, Sheena is working on her third collection of poems and a feature length spoken word performance featuring collaborative works with actors, musicians, dancers and multimedia digital artists.

In addition, arts lovers can also listen to Sheena’s voice in Radio Teater Nasional’s new audio adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth called Dato’ Seri, where she plays Datin Sri DiKajang, the local version of the infamous Lady Macbeth.

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