Artist Leia Hassan displays vulnerability in her debut poetry book 'SMOKE: A Public Diary'

The book is an attempt to help readers understand her complex train of thoughts.

Multi-disciplinary artist Leia Hassan and her first book of poems, SMOKE: A Public Diary (Photo: Leia Hassan)

Leia Hassan studied engineering and mathematics in London. Now, however, she is exploring her artistic side through writing, illustrating and sewing. Besides exercising, she finds happiness in the arts, crafts, pop culture and, most of all, family.

Leia struggles a lot with communicating her thoughts and feelings, which makes it difficult for people to understand her. SMOKE: A Public Diary, her first book of poems, which launched on Oct 14, is an attempt to help readers understand her complex train of thoughts, which she has bottled up for years.

Options: What do you mean by public diary? Why did you choose this title and what does it mean to you?
SMOKE: A Public Diary is my diary. I want to share certain experiences with people, but I struggle with being open and vulnerable about how I feel. I hope people will understand me better through this book. I chose the title ‘SMOKE’ because it’s the title of the oldest piece in my book.

What is the book about and when did you begin writing? How many poems are there all in? 
The book is essentially about me and the people in my life — my experiences and thoughts;  my feelings and dreams. I don’t know when exactly I started writing but I wrote a lot between 2014 and 2016. I wanted to release this book then, but many of the pieces lost meaning to me, so they didn’t make the cut. Over the years, I wrote a few more pieces here and there, and the newest piece was added at the beginning of this year. There are altogether 57 pieces.



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What was the inspiration behind your writing?
Every piece is either something I went through, felt or thought.

Are most of the poems personal? Did you hesitate to share old hurts and pains as that would make you vulnerable?
Every piece is personal. I did have doubts about letting everything out, but I believe I am a difficult person to understand, and this book is my way of communicating my thoughts and feelings. Yes, I suppose sharing so much does put me in a vulnerable position, but I now see vulnerability as being more linked to courage and strength than to weakness. I have also come to realise it is through vulnerability that I can connect with, and be relatable to my readers.

There are lot of doodles in your book. What is the importance of artwork in your writing?
The illustrations explain the pieces and vice versa. This book is as much about my illustrations as it is about my writing. It’s just another way I can share with people the things that are in my head.

Why do you think now is the best time to share your book with the world? 
Because it’s time for me to let go of my past. I went through a very hard time at the beginning of this year. It made me realise just how much I was still clinging on to the past, and I got tired of it. I let my past define me for the longest time, and it’s time to change that. I feel nervous, but even more excited. This is a major milestone in my life.

Why did you choose to work with RAI Arts?
Because they are up and coming, like me! RAI Arts is an art collective run by my sister and her husband. They pushed me to publish the book. My sister Lara is my favourite writer, so being able to work with her on my book makes it even more special for me. She self-published a poetry book in 2016 called Across Dreamlands. She is my favourite writer because she writes in a way I wish I could. She’s very clever with words.



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What’s the significance of the date Oct 14?
That was not the original date I picked for the launch. We were planning to release the book several months earlier, but had to postpone that because of Covid and the multiple lockdowns we had. But, yes, there’s a reason why I have chosen this date, it may seem a bit silly to the world, but it’s significant to me!

When I was 12, I started becoming obsessed with the band The All-American Rejects, or, more specifically, its frontman Tyson Ritter. Oct 14, 2003, was the date I decided I was going to love him forever! [laughs] Since then, he has been one of the biggest influences in my creative pursuits.

When I first thought of publishing the book, I wanted to call it Glitter Boy, after Tyson. Launching my book on this date is a homage to that.

Do you have plans to venture into other genres in the future?
Not for now. I want to focus on sewing and my side business, selling handmade trinkets and such.

Where will this book be available for purchase?
From RAI Arts, through its Instagram or Facebook, and on Shopee. We’re also talking to some independent bookshops and will update the latest information on our social media platforms.

Purchase her book (RM35) here.

This article first appeared on Oct 11, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.


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