Angela Stretch reviews Parang by Omar Musa

Parang CoverParang

by Omar Musa

Blast! Publishing, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-646-59463-7




It takes time to have a heart, to suffer, to feel the weight of things. The heart is alive precisely through its capacity for fellow-feeling.

Like the posthumous soul in Malaysian thought, memory disperses as if it is no longer attached to something tangible.  To keep the soul from disintegrating Omar Musa consistently evokes it, bringing it back into direct contact with the living world. In this second collection Musa negotiates the heart of Malay traditions and rituals comprising of family, people, objects and interactions.  It provides the living with structured occasions to refresh memories of the dead through symbolic communication, historical knowledge that transmit moral principles, gleaming rectification in order to strengthen relationships.

Dream specifications for Musa’s amorous relations: a prospect of limitless power whose miraculous condescension or grace it is to single out for special tenderness the minute grain of sand or crystal it anyway contains.  The contrasts between infinite ocean and finite pebble, between the fluidity of the saline medium and the attendant still of its denizens, between grandiose nominatives and familiarities, between absolute freedom and absolute dependency, such are the polarisations between the preservation of family memories and echoes of grand monumentality and unadorned ordinariness.  

The book begins with an evocation of terrible alienation, a nomadship only terminated by self-destruction: a lost soul surviving precariously in a memory.  

I stopped to bathe
and time tipped over the lip of a jug.
Just then I heard the echo of an ancestor,
wild and wise as a hart

The young man responds. Musa conceives of himself becoming a sort of teller, a people’s poet.  The same drive toward simplification and abstraction can be found in the book’s title. Parang, a self-made dagger with many uses as whetted in The Parang and the Keris.[ii]

But this commonplace parang?
I know how to use it –
to clear a lane through jungle,
to tap rubber from a tree
or with swish calligraphic
take a head

Expressing stubbornness and tenacity that unfolds various meanings, Parang is almost a tale of a young man’s mortal frailty. The simple contact of intimate associations of those primary family members in a journey to Kuala Lumpar quietly affirms a bond stretching via memory beyond a grave.

The site of Musa’s discoveries through writing his own fragmented memoir, are chaptered in three presences; Parang, family and identity; Lost Planet, immigration and Dark Streets, environmentalism.

The nature of these voices are quickly revealed in stages of basic affective positions, inner attitudes towards life, “disembodied’ utterances that precipitate out of his contemplated experience.  The movement of feeling and imaginative personifications exist in the reflection of our complex and difficult times, saturated with human and artistic experiences. In Amsterdam:

A couple parted
to cross the road.
As they stepped off the curb,
their hands unfastened
and the asphalt
leapt open between them
like a grin
or a grave.


ANGELA STRETCH is a language artist whose work has been exhibited and published nationally, and internationally.  She is the coordinator of the Sydney Poetry program at the Brett Whiteley Studio and is on the National Advisory Board for Australian PoetryLtd.  She is the co-director of Talking Through Your Arts, and writes an arts column of the same name for Alternative Media.