Anak Sastra is an online magazine that provides a platform for Southeast Asian writers to publish their work in English. It is also a place for “expats, tourists, and regional connoisseurs” to share their experiences in the area. And while I came in with little to no knowledge of Southeast Asia, I still took away important insights.
My favorite piece is actually the longest in the issue, taking up almost half of the pages: Christelle Davis’s “Today is a Good Day to Make a Weapon.” It’s clear that music is an important part of telling this story as references are made throughout to past and current popular songs. And sound clearly plays an important role in the narrator’s appreciation of their time living on Nusa Penida, an island southeast of Indonesia’s island Bali:
Each instrument has a twin, tuned slightly higher or lower and each instrument only plays part of the pattern, so that the tune is only possible by interlocking those notes. Everything vibrates. It is earsplittingly loud. Then suddenly soft and almost peaceful. There is no melodic hook to grasp, nothing progressive to follow, instead it is cycles of fast beats that abruptly change at the bang of the gong. After days of the whining, drawn out screeching this is like a balm.
Gillian Craig demonstrates in her contributing poems that she is a master of the turn of the last line. Her “Butterflies” is powerful, the impact coming in the end: “they could not dance where fear emulsifies. / There are so many brutal reasons why / on killing fields, the butterflies don’t fly.” Again, in “The Odd Couple,” she tugs at your emotion just as the poem comes to a close.
Kim Nbuyen’s poems, all titled after years, signify a desire for a better or easier life:
Farther and farther
away we drift,
into the night,
toward the “land of opportunity”,
where “money grows on trees”.
And everyone has
a house, a television, a car
and always enough to eat.