Kosal Khiev

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

On the morning of 10 November this year at the Singapore Writers' Festival, I listened to a panel which featured a few poets about how their lives have directly inspired them to write the poems that they write. Kosal Khiev was one of them and he made a truly lasting impact on me and his story and works still continue to inspire me up till now; just imagining what he has gone through and hearing it through his poems, especially when they are in spoken form is amazing. 

To be entirely honest, I admit I was initially drawn in to his voice and style of spoken word during the panel - unlike the other poets who weren't spoken word artists and basically just recited their poems from their books, the way he performed his poem absolutely caught me by surprise and  left me in awe. It had so much emotion, he wasn't reading his poem from anywhere (well, I guess it's expected since he does spoken word, but comparatively, it was so impressive), and it just sounded so good. This may sound slightly frivolous, but it was as if he was rapping naturally and well, he reminded me a lot of my favourite artiste of all time, George Watsky, of whom I admire for his spoken word poetry and (more so) rap music.

I was actually late for the panel, so I didn't really catch a lot about his background except that he spent 14 years of his life in prison in America and upon release, was exiled to Cambodia. He was charged when he was only sixteen which to me, was rather shocking because I am sixteen and I can't fathom the idea of getting into such trouble and having to deal with prison life at such a young age. 

Through the panel, I learnt that he dealt with his various emotions like anger and frustration by writing poetry instead of venting them out through violence and that, to me, is incredible. I mean, it must take a great deal of courage to translate something that causes you pain and anguish into words meant for sharing. 

He performed "Moments In Between The Nights" during the session, and it really struck me because of the context he provided - being stuck somewhere in prison not really knowing what was happening in his life and what was going to happen and just thinking about it in the middle of the night. I think a lot of us are guilty of having crazy thoughts in the middle of the nights but can you imagine having such thoughts in his shoes? It must be so intense, and he translated them into words. I found him performing this same piece at a TEDx talk here: 

Feel free to watch the whole talk, but anyway "Moments In Between The Nights" is from 6:15 to 10:05

Afterwards, I headed to the Festival Pavilion where the panellists were going to have book-signing sessions and I was really interested to buy his book of poems "Finding Home", except that he had limited copies and it wasn't readily available in the festival's bookstore itself - I had to purchase it directly from him there and then and to be honest, I wasn't that sure if I was going to get it because I didn't have a lot of cash on me that day. However, I was really inspired and blown away by his spoken word (at that time, I didn't really know that much about his life yet) and encouraged by Sarah, I went forward and spoke to him. I expressed interest to buy the book and learnt that it was priced at $20. It was really awkward but I kind of hesitated and he offered to take any amount I was willing to give, even as low as a dollar. Crazy, I know but again he reminded me of George Watsky because Watsky offers his music at any amount you're willing to offer because he really just wanted to share his art. That aside, yes, I purchased his book. Not at a dollar, not at twenty but somewhere in the middle and I'd like to thank him for allowing me to own a copy. 
He addressed it to me as well :') It reads "Love, Light, Life" 

The book itself showcases his poems on paper and most of them are full of emotion and really reflects the struggles he faced. However, I personally very much preferred watching and hearing him perform the poems rather than reading them off the book because it was difficult to read them in his voice nor provide my own voice to the poems and interpret them in my own way because honestly I have never experienced a fraction of what he's been through. 

I was glad to find out that he has several videos on Youtube on him performing some of his poems so whenever I read any of his poems, I'll have the audio of him in the background. He has inspired me so much with his humility, perseverance and talent. I think it's amazing how some people are able to stand up from the obstacles in their lives, do something about it and even make good in the process. It takes a great deal of courage and determination, something I'm not sure I posses. Do check out some of his stuff here at http://spokenkosal.com/ and hopefully his works draw you in as much as it did to me. 

Also, just a thought: Is it true that the best writers are those who've been through a lot of struggles and tough times in life? Is it possible to practice empathy so well to craft an entirely fictional tale that's believable? I don't know, just wanted to stimulate my own thought processes near the end of this post :-) 

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