Against cultural conformity
Born in 1942 Muhammad Haji Salleh is one of Malaysia´s leading poets. For more than 30 years, through his poetry, translations and literary criticism and theory, as well as by publishing the magazine Tengara, a journal of Southeast Asian Literature, he has been contributing to the literary and cultural life of Malaysia. Openly rejecting conformity to western cultural patterns, his poems often refer to myths and legends of the Malay oral tradition. Haji Saleh lives with his family near Kuala Lumpur.
Muhammad Haji Salleh is one of Malaysia´s leading poets. Born in 1942 he studied in England and the USA, and since 1978 he has been a professor for Malaysian literature at the National University in Bangi near Kuala Lumpur. He has also made a name for himself as an essayist, cultural critic, translator and publisher of Tengara, a magazine for Southeast Asian literature.A central theme of his poems, written in Malay and English, is the conflict between town and countryside, between Malaysian and western culture. Openly rejecting conformity to western cultural patterns, his poems often refer to myths and legends of the Malay oral tradition, in which the genres are mixed quite differently to in the west. ´In the oral narrative one finds poems, stock phrases, dialogues, verse capping sessions, teasing and so on.´ Haji Salleh feels that these traditions are endangered by globalisation and the influence of the west. Though a poem of his is entitled Quiet Village, its quietness is not idyllic:"the inhabitants are too poor, too desiccated to care to talk...so they sit leaning against their houses´ stiltsfeeling the force of the new, grip... killing them one by one."In his poem a ´singapore sequence´ , a city like Singapore is above all ´people, traffic and concrete´ The humans are just another form of debris: ´the pavement is crowded by indifferent feet´ The poet, translator and professor has difficulties with city life not only in theory but also in practice, as he has explained in comparing life as a visiting professor at Leiden University with life in Kuala Lumpur: ´Here you have everything, in particular important manuscripts and excellent libraries, and the main thing is that everything is just around the corner. In Malaysia the situation is different. If I wish to go to the library, I have to get through traffic-jams, losing two hours on the way there and two hours on the way back. So much time is lost... Above all, here in Leiden there are more Malay manuscripts than in Malaysia, so here I am in just the right place for my studies.´ (www.iias.nl/iiasn/iiasn2/soueasia/europe.txt) For his literary work Muhammad Haji Salleh has received many awards like the honorary title National Writer, the highest one awarded in Malaysia.