Maverick Malaysian poet and writer Salleh Ben Joned dead at 79

He was experiencing breathing difficulties on Oct 27 at his home and was warded at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre.
He was experiencing breathing difficulties on Oct 27 at his home and was warded at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre.PHOTO: SALLEHBENJONED/FACEBOOK

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Salleh Ben Joned, a witty, fearless and charismatic poet and writer that some have called the "bad boy of Malaysian literature" has died aged 79.

"It is with great sadness that the family of beloved Salleh Ben Joned informs of his passing this morning (Thursday, Oct 29 at 1.21am) from heart failure. He was experiencing breathing difficulties on Tuesday at his home in Subang Jaya and was warded at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre," read a family statement on Salleh's Facebook page.

Often regarded as a non-conformist in the arts, culture and literary scene here, Salleh, was renowned both for his bilingual poetry and prose.

He was born in Melaka on July 4,1941, and in 1963, the young Salleh was awarded a Colombo Plan scholarship to study English literature in Australia. He ended up spending 10 years in Australia, first in Adelaide and then in Tasmania.

At the University of Tasmania, Salleh became a student of the late James McAuley, one of Australia's major poets.

After completing his Bachelor's degree with honours, Salleh came back to Kuala Lumpur in 1973 and joined the English Department of the Universiti Malaya which he quit in 1983 to become a freelance writer.

His first collection of poetry, both in Malay and English, Sajak-Sajak Salleh/Poems Sacred And Profane was published in 1987.

In a 2003 interview in The Star, Salleh addressed his "maverick" tag head on.

"To be quite frank, I've been called that, often. I have not publicly said, 'No, I'm not.' It's certainly how I am perceived by some people and I think there's some truth to it," he said.

In the same interview, he emphasised that poetry was his main form of expression.

"I've dabbled in other forms of writing, like the play, Amuk Mat Solo. I consider myself a poet first. But essays are more readily accessible. Poetry has a more limited readership," he added.

As I Please, a collection of his work in the New Straits Times came out in 1994, and his second collection of newspaper articles Nothing Is Sacred was published in 2003.

His book of poetry Adam's Dream was released during the Kuala Lumpur Literary Festival in 2007.