Salleh Ben Joned: Truth, Beauty, Amok and Belonging
Author: Anna Salleh
Publisher: Maya Press
Salleh Ben Joned: Truth, Beauty, Amok and Belonging shines a spotlight, for the first time, via his poems, prose and relationships, on the world view of one of the beloved Malaysian poets and public intellectuals, written by his daughter Anna Salleh. Salleh Ben Joned has been described in many ways—maverick poet, bad boy of Malaysian literature, innovator of language, and by some detractors, even anti-Malaysian. He always had a strong sense of the absurd as he playfully challenged taboos on race, religion, language and identity—with brutal honesty. In both English and Malay, he celebrated the mystical, the sensual, the earthy beauty—and terror—of life itself. From Hobart to Kuala Lumpur, he pushed beyond conformist boundaries and paid the price. Words were always so much more than a meal ticket for Salleh Ben Joned. They were his life. He was an explorer of ideas, a critical thinker, and was utterly in love with books and writing. When his brain fired with inspiration, he would make deep connections and reach with urgency for the nearest 555 notebook—or paper napkin—to jot down thoughts for his next poem or essay. My father’s love affair with words extended to the art of handwriting and calligraphy, and to dramatic performance—both as a poet and as an actor. Salleh certainly had a way with words, too, prodding the comfortable posturing of powerful elites with brutal honesty and playful humour. He drew on all the streams of his being—from his village childhood to his deep knowledge of world literature—to express a Malay identity that was life-affirming, inclusive, sensual and fun. He rejected fake piety and materialism and saw God in both the sacred and the profane, producing unique provocations on everything from race and religion to language and postcolonial nation-building. In the service of his arguments, Salleh invented new words—such as Bumigeois—and questioned our understanding of well-worn ones—like khalwat. While he was most active from the 1970s to the 90s, his work continues to ignite creativity and curiosity among generations of people today in Malaysia and beyond.
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