PETALING JAYA - Well-spoken, articulate and with a talent for poetry recitation, it is hard to imagine that Azam Rais Rosli (pic) was once a stutterer.
Azam emerged champion of the Poetry Slam competition at the two-day Lit Up Asia Pacific Festival 2018 in Singapore, edging out 17 competitors from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The 28-year-old, who runs his own marketing business, said he turned to poetry when he was young to overcome his stutter and his fear of speaking.
"As a kid, it was hard to make friends because I couldn't speak.
"So I was seen as a shy person.
"When I was stuttering, I felt I could not speak my thoughts, so many of them had to be channelled into writing," he said.
When he was about 10, he started writing poetry on school exercise books and only sharing it with his older sister.
"I've also tried to woo some girls with the poems, but maybe the poems weren't good enough yet," he said.
Azam yearned to recite his own poetry, especially after having witnessed shows where poetry was performed in front of a live audience.
"It was the connection between the poets and the audience that I envied the most. It seemed like the audience was hanging on every word spoken by the poet," said Azam.
Getting involved in school public speaking contests, drama productions and debates, Azam slowly overcame his fear of speaking and moved his poetry from the page to the stage.
"To perform poetry in front of a crowd and to have a connection with the audience is the spirit of a poetry slam.
"Poetry is better appreciated when it is performed live. There's a connection with the audience when you perform poetry, and there's always a message, a social cause, I try to highlight," he said, adding he speaks on issues such as sexual harassment or prostitution.
Azam, who also manages the Poet X podcast on Facebook, said the arts scene in Malaysia is doing well but more platforms should be provided by corporations and government for local talents to make their voices heard.
"We need a national presence, something that ties everyone together. Currently, we don't have an avenue for a national poetry festival," he said.
"When I came for the poetry slam (in Singapore), I expected it to be competitive. But we were united and became good friends, we had a feeling of solidarity," said Azam, who has a Bachelor of Commerce from Australia National University.