After 53 years of penning poetry and with 40 books of poems to this name, Dr Lim Swee Tin won recognition for his work when he was bestowed the 2023 National Poet Award recently. National Laureate Zurinah Hassan was the other recipient.
Kelantan-born Lim, 71 on Sept 26, was bitten by the poetry bug in Form Five in Machang but did not get far for lack of guidance. In 1972, after leaving home for the Malayan Teachers College in Penang, he learnt the importance of reading to the process of writing when he began frequenting the Recsam (Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics) library next to MTC. With that literary input, came output.
He rented a room in a quiet house nearby and every night, he would sit on a rock and look out towards George Town and the Penang port. From there, ideas flowed in and he would jot down poems and short stories.
Five decades on, he has added poetry anthologies, novels and essays to his list of 160 published books, which he wrote in between 28 years of teaching Mathematics and Bahasa Malaysia in school and 12 years of Malay literature at Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM).
Lim completed his PhD in Malay Literature at UPM in 2005 and became an associate professor at its Department of Malay Language that same year. He retired in 2012. It is a heartening journey for someone forced to switch to a school nearer home to do Form Six because of financial constraints, then dropping out months later because of the same problem. He served as a substitute teacher for a year before joining MTC.
Lim, winner of the SEA Write Award 2000 and more than 30 literary prizes in Malaysia, will guest at the George Town Literary Festival 2023 in November. Details are pending but he looks forward to reciting his work, giving talks, taking part in discussions, or perhaps conducting a workshop on writing poetry, all of which he does regularly to promote literature.
Married to translator Lee Sai Fa (who writes under the name Selina S F Lee) and a father of three, Lim likes themes centred on nature, humanity, family, civil society, war and good things. He believes in consistent output, being responsible, and working well with the corporate sector to bring poetry to the people.
Not many are into literary writing. Far less still non-Malays who write in Bahasa Malaysia, he says. Aware that books are hard to market, he will readily help sell part of a print run, to push reading.
Langit Rotorua, Lim’s 40th poetry collection, has 70 pieces inspired by the many countries he has visited, among them New Zealand and Cambodia, plucked from his notebooks and diary. Published by Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, it is expected to be in stores in a week or so. A compilation of 12 short stories translated from Bahasa Malaysia to Chinese is scheduled to be released by a Taiwanese publisher later.
This article first appeared on Aug 21, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.