Now in its third year, our exchange program with the Bali Emerging Writers’ Festival sees two Australian writers go to Bali and two Indonesian writers come to Melbourne for our Festival. There are many lessons to be learnt, relationships to forge and cultural ties to be strengthened. Australian writer, Omar Sakr (Sydney) will be travelling to Bali in late-April and we asked him a few questions about his writing and what he’s looking forward to.
Name: Omar Jevdat Sakr
What would you say you write about in a broad sense?
This is an impossible question to answer; it implies a constancy I’ve yet to find. Each new work is about something different – in that sense, writing is always an act of discovery. Typically I don’t know what I’m writing about until I’ve finished writing it; it’s like reading in the dark, only to have the light switched on at the end. This is why every writer harps on endlessly about the value of editing, by the way – because without it, we’d only ever have gibberish to show for our efforts. On a practical level, I predominantly write short fiction and poetry, alongside articles and creative non-fiction.
What are you most looking forward to in your exchange at the Bali Emerging Writers’ Festival?
Being surprised. This won’t be difficult as I’ve never been to Indonesia and have no idea what to expect. On a serious note, I’m most looking forward to meeting my Indonesian counterparts, the young writers and poets and artists struggling to be heard in this madcap industry. I want to hear their songs, their voices; I want to know their pain, their joys, their love; I want to find the common ground between us. As any lover of travel knows, the best thing about going to a new country is meeting the people, so that’s what I’m most looking forward to.
What have you been reading lately?
I just finished reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which is an extraordinary novel I’m still reeling from. I’ve moved on to another of her books, the Dispossessed. I tend to flit from book to book like an addled butterfly, so I’m also making my way through Nabokov’s Lolita, Philip Levine’s beautiful collection of poetry What Work Is, and the Alan Moore comic Swamp Thing.
What have you found thought provoking lately?
I could spend all day answering this question, given my obsession with news, politics and pop culture, but I’ll keep it short: last night, the International Space Station was visible in the night sky above Sydney for six minutes. I stood outside my house in Ashfield with my housemate and a friend, our necks craned upward, fixated on the stars. It took us several minutes to determine which way was north-west (thank you Google Maps, both for destroying our capability to orient ourselves without you, and for orienting us anyway) but once we had, we waited, and it was not in vain.
There, in the sky, a bright dot – indistinguishable from the other stars – began to arc in the dark. We cried out, and pointed, and cars drove by us ignorant of the man-made space station currently blazing a trail above them with incredible speed. The moon was full, a luminous white, and the three of us sat on the low brick wall outside my house and watched it go. I would say we did so for about three minutes before our phones came out, and pictures and videos were taken, and questions asked about whether the ISS had a Twitter account (it does) and if we should tweet at it (we did).
So to answer the question, I am thinking about the way technology intersects and dominates our lives; I am thinking about space, how far we’ve gone and how far we’ve yet to go; I am thinking about the astronauts in that station, for those six minutes last night at 8.22pm, and what they saw when they looked down as we looked up; I am thinking about my own smallness, my humbling limitations; I am thinking about how unbelievably lucky I am, how thankful I got to share that moment, or indeed any moment, with friends, with the world wide web of us. I imagine I’ll be thinking about all these things for a very long time to come.
What are you looking forward to learning about in Indonesia?
Everything! For a country so close to us, and for an education as broad as mine has been, I know embarrassingly little. I think this can be said about a lot of Australians (although I hope I’m wrong, I hope everyone knows more than me), so I’m very much looking forward to having my ignorance erased, to finding out everything I can about this large and incredibly diverse neighbour of ours. I’m especially interested in learning about their politics, how we influence them and they us (if at all in either respect), and the way in which asylum seekers and refugees are seen on a local level there.
What will you be listening to on the plane / in yr hotel room / while walking the streets?
On the plane, I will be watching movies with the laser-focus of the terrified; I will be doing my very best, that is, to sink so deeply into a fictional reality that I forget where I am at that moment and how very afraid I am.
In my hotel room, I will be listening, as ever, to my inner anxieties telling me what an incredible opportunity this is and not to screw it up; to my iPod drowning it out with a random selection of music; to the sound of the city outside.
While walking on the streets, I will be listening to the everyday music of the people; to the chatter of a language foreign to me, natural to them; to tourists loudly talking in whichever language is theirs, or perhaps some broken other; to the whisper and roar of cars and trucks, horns blaring or not; to the birds. Every city has its own unique soundtrack in which all of these things mix together, and I can’t wait to hear this one.
Omar J. Sakr is an Arab Australian poet whose poetry has appeared in Meanjin, Overland, Cordite Poetry Review, and Carve Magazine. His poetry has also been translated into Arabic and published in Al Arabi newspaper. He is the Fiction Editor for Verity La, and has been shortlisted for the Story Wine Prize as well as the Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets.
BEWF x EWF is supported by the Commonwealth through the Australia-Indonesia Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.