Grief, Impermanence and Longing: On Malachi Edwin Vethamani’s ‘Love and Loss’

Grief, Impermanence and Longing: On Malachi Edwin Vethamani’s ‘Love and Loss’

A new Malaysian poetry collection explores the meaning of love in the 21st century

MY earliest encounter with Prof Malachi Edwin Vethamani was during my first year as an English literature student at University Malaya. I had spent years consuming great classical English texts but failed to learn or read anything that came out of the Malay Archipelago.

Over the past decade, there has been a growing movement within English faculties to decolonise the Western canon, and in my attempt to be a more serious student, I resolved to reading as many Malaysian literary texts as I could find. The first book that made the list was Malchin Testament: Malaysian Poems which compiles over 60 years of Malaysian poetry. Edited by Prof Vethamani, the anthology remains a vital document and introduction to the local literary landscape.

Over the years I have been following Prof Vethamani’s work, there seems to be two apparent dichotomies that exists of his persona: the first is his role as a teacher, editor, and critic (he has been conferred the honour Emeritus Professor). In his capacity as an editor, he has successfully spotlighted the works of many emerging young poets and is credited with drawing resurging interest to writers like the late K.S. Maniam.

The second is the figure as a poet. Love and Loss wades into the latter and offers a closer lens of the private, intensely personal imaginings of its author. It is a collection of over 65 poems selected from his earlier volumes Complicated Lives (2016) and Life Happens (2017), as well as some that were previously left unpublished.

“It is a comprehensive map of 21st century love and its losses and failures,” writes Wong Phui Nam in the introduction to the volume. A central theme that runs through these poems is that of grief, experienced through the collapse and destruction of relationships.

In ‘Promises Lost in the Shadows’ the poet contends with possibilities of a future now forfeited:

A life deferred
is a life unlived

the postponed lunches
the cancelled journeys

The guarantees reneged on
the wishes set adrift

your love once promised
now lost in the shadows

The reader feels the poet’s vulnerability in searing memories, tinged with melancholia. If the poems feel like an exercise in despair, they are at the same time gentle and tender. In one of the most evocative texts in the collection, ‘If You Need Me,’ the poet calls attention to the incongruence and harmony that exists between former lovers.

In times of anger
Think of me.
I’ll be the gentle breeze
to calm you.
In times of loneliness
think of me.
I’ll be the companion
to hear your voice.

In times of joy
There will be others
To share it with you.
Then you won’t need me.

Carefully rendered, the verses are tightly controlled, achieving new heights as poems of anguished confession. These poems offer a path to examine modern relationships and a glimpse into the human condition. It is an exploration and questioning of the meaning of love and the toll it takes on the body and spirit when it disintegrates.

Love and Loss is simple enough to access, but as Wong elucidates in the introduction “below the simplicity of the language, there is a deeper significance, and it will elude the casual reader. This is in fact the language of someone who has found completion as an integrated self.”

Published by Maya Press, the book is on sale on Shopee, MPH Petaling Jaya and Gerakbudaya Bookstores. It will be available in all major bookstores soon.

source – The Vibes

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