Poetry is something that is quite gray—it is rather subjective to someone’s taste. Some may enjoy deciphering the actual meaning the poet wishes to convey through the means of words. While others may find it too “flowery” for their liking and stick to the more direct form of writing instead.
This is what Charissa Ong, a graphic designer from Subang Jaya, thought before she picked up her first poetry book and was immediately entranced by how relatable the words used and how it was able to pick up her actual feelings and place it on a large platter for her to see.
From writing on her blog, to gaining popularity on Instagram, to now self-publishing her own book all at the young age of 24, it’s intriguing to think it all started from a break-up.
Her tale has a beginning many may feel familiar with. Her poetry endeavour all started due to a heartbreak she experienced from a failed relationship. Unsure on how to cope, she created a personal blog 2 years ago and used it as her medium to express the emotions she was facing.
She then began a challenge for herself whereby every week, she would choose a different genre and write something revolving around it. This carried on for 2 to 3 months and soon, after writing short stories for an amount of time, she decided to take a break and try out poetry. Little did she know that she’d eventually turn around and make poetry her main form of writing and have short stories be her break.
Prior to that, Charissa admitted she had never really dabbled herself in the art of poetry but after discovering Lang Leav, a best-selling poet, she realised how well the words resonated with her feelings at that current time and she found herself drawn. So she took inspiration and began forming poetry of her own.
Wanting to spread her poetry out more, she decided to go with her Instagram platform. She started by typing out her poetry on a typewriter to give it a unique aesthetic and the first ever poem she had written was actually dedicated to the same person who had actually sparked her interest in poetry, albeit on a sad note.
“I actually went out and bought my own typewriter to continue posting my poems on Instagram and I really enjoy doing it. I feel as though it gives my poetry a sincere and eccentric feel compared to me just posting the poem with a stock image,” said Charissa to Vulcan Post.
When she began posting more often, she started to realise she was gaining a following. People all around the world began messaging her personally about their problems and how her poetry made her feel relatable, like she was taking the words out of their mouths. The themes they shared with her varied, from suicidal thoughts to divorce cases to child custody, Charissa turned these into her muse and allowed her to further her creativity with her poetry.
“This is what I had hoped to achieve from posting my poetry on social media. This way of communication helps open up barriers across the globe and I’m very fortunate and humbled that people from different countries come to me and thank me for helping them, even just by a little,” shared Charissa.
When asked if she had one fan she particularly remembers, she says there’s one who comes all the way from Hawaii who has calligraphed her poetry a number of times. Having done it for 2 years, he claimed that he does it to de-stress and when he discovered her poetry, he decided to combine them both because it was his way of relaxing. Grateful, she dedicated a poem to him that sparked her favourite fanart.
Her poetry moved a lot of people that she was even invited to collaborate with local YouTubers, TheSaladShow and other Malaysian talents to bring together a video for ProjectLiber8 that focused on the issue of sex trafficking and how it is still happening rampantly while Millennials remain unaware of the seriousness behind it.
Their video made it into the top 3 videos presented during the event.
After she received a huge number of positive responses, she decided to take the next step and publish her poetry. She knew it wasn’t going to be easy but she hadn’t expected it to be so difficult as well.
Although she did receive support from her loved ones and fans, there were also many who claimed she was too young to publish and she didn’t have the proper educational background to qualify her worth to even think about publishing her work.
“I had actually considered taking a creative writing course to try and sharpen my skills but in the end, I decided that there was no need for me to do so. You don’t need a course for something you’re passionate about. I believe that you don’t need professional certifications to write so I just went on with my plan and published my poetry book, despite what others may say,” said Charissa.
After receiving advice from local publishers she had consulted, they told her if she was planning on making more books in the future, the best way was to go about starting her own publishing company. Her mother helped her with the process and in January of 2016, Penwings Publishing was created.
“It was a long process and very tiring but I’m happy to say I’m now a proud owner of my own publishing company. I hope with this, I can cultivate a reading habit in Malaysia and help to expose local talent as I know we have many locals out there who have ambitions on publishing their work but may not know how it can be done,” said Charissa.
After a total of 6 months and investing RM10,000 of her own funds for the entire publication process, she debuted her first poetry book titled ‘Midnight Monologues’, named after how she enjoyed conversing with herself during the late hours of the day. Since its launch in major bookstores such as Popular and MPH on the 15th of July, her book has now been included in the list of “MPH’s Top 10 Bestsellers Local Authors”.
Charissa describes her book as a collection of all her favourite and best poems and short stories. She split it into 3 chapters, which is Lost, Found then Hope. The entire book is to help people cope through the different stages they face and they can flip to any of these categories to find something they can relate to.
She carefully arranged her writing so that her readers could find something according to their mood. That is what she believes is the unique point of her book.
Despite her current career in the graphic design industry, she hopes to one day be able to focus on growing her publishing company and make writing her sole career.
“I knew I’ve always wanted to publish a book one day but I never expected it to be one about poetry. However, I’m glad with how it turned out and I can’t wait to see what else I can come up with in the future.”
Midnight Monologues can be purchased at all major bookstores including MPH and Popular.
Feature Image Credit: Charissa Ong