Fibro Takes Flight by Angelina Bong (2021) – A Review

Our second review in the Island to Island Initiative comes from Kuching in the state of Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Borneo, the largest island in Asia, includes land governed by Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia and is around 9 times the size of Tasmania. The state of Sarawak, Malaysia is 124,450 square kilometres compared to Tasmania, which is around half the size at approximately 68,401 square km. Sarawak’s population is almost five times that of Tasmania – around 2.45 million compared to approximately 570,000.

Source: Google Maps

The very talented poetess and artist is Angelina Bong. In this debut poetry collection, Fibro Takes Flight, she delves into her past, present and future, exploring and sharing with the wider world her day-to-day experiences of living with fibromyalgia, which she was diagnosed with in 2012. Her book was self-published with support from penjana and mycreative. Fibro Takes Flight is 98 pages long with a perfect bound spine, has 61 poems, including two translations. The striking cover art and the hand-drawn images inside the book were also created by Angelina. You can learn more about Angelina and her poetry and art here.

The first poem in the collection, Fibro Unleashed, is accompanied by drawings of a scorpion, ants and a spider on the body.

Fibro Unleashed

Ants in my bones
Scorpions underneath my skin
Spiders down my spine

Here, Angelina is describing what it feels like to live with fibromyalgia. This long term condition is also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). The main symptom is pain all over the body in addition to sensitivity, muscle stiffness, trouble sleeping, fatigue, brain fog and digestive problems. Despite all of these debilitating symptoms, Angelina has carved out for herself a very full, eventful and successful creative and personal life. She joyfully performs her poetry and shares her bright and uplifting artwork around the globe.

We have chosen 3 other poems from this wonderful collection. The second poem is titled, Not According To Plan – we will share the first 3 stanzas. We love this one as it refers to ikigai 生き甲斐, a Japanese term that roughly translates to purpose in life, and other references to Japanese culture – like the obi knot as a metaphor for fibro, and her love of Asian cuisine. But for Angelina, rather than be able to enjoy such simple pleasures in life, she battles with her fibro symptoms instead and rethinks some of her choices in this querying poem.

Not According To Plan

I want to believe 
there is ikigai in my fibro,
like the intricate obi knot that 
the old Japanese lady tied
with her nimble hands.

I try to meditate.
Imagine zen trickling into
my onsen space but the soles of my feet
are inflamed with volcano lava.

I am more fatigued that two days ago.
Sugar overdose?
Why did I eat the hash brown again.
Should I have seaweed miso soup instead?
Should I have ignored the char kueh
my fairy godmother cooked?
Should I have ignored sweeping clean
the leftover kolo mee bowls?


After reading Angelina’s collection, we think you will also agree that fibro has indeed become her ikigai 生き甲斐 and her life and this world is all the more rich for it. Isn’t it amazing and inspiring when people who endure so much suffering can reach outside of themselves and become so much more than just their illness or circumstances? If you would like to learn more about ikigai 生き甲斐, King River Press penned a short article on the topic a couple of months back.

The third poem we have chosen from Fibro Takes Flight is Seoul where Angelina very humbly describes her thoughts and feelings during her 2018 Writing-Art in Residency at Toji Cultural Foundation in Wonju South Korea. As Angelina shifts scenes from the Secret Garden to Bukchon Village, then finally to Namsan Tower and The Land of Oz, she ponders the lives of those who once lived there, exploring the vulnerable side of being human and her own place in the world.

Bukchon Hanok Village – Image by Richard Mortel – Flickr & Wikimedia Commons

A small girl
in a huge city,
just like how my words
are tiny compared to the writers 
around me. Soaked in rain, I climb
the straw carpet stretched far ahead
of me in the Secret Garden; did the kings
walk around with poetic smiles in their heads?

Hopping from one hanok
to another in Bukchon Village, tourists
flock like birds migrating, I fill my shopping bag
with socks and snail creams; did the royal
princess ever enjoy the streets?

Love bridge with padlock
promises, Namsan Tower shines
in emerald green, as if searching for Dorothy
with her red shoes. My ballet flats are black
with dull golden plates. They carry a young
girl with an invisible old lady within
her. Will this city of lights miss me?

The final poem reaching out from the page to be shared is the title poem, Fibro Takes Flight. For those who know Angelina personally or through social media, there is no disputing her love of Van Gogh, not just his paintings but his life story which inspired her to paint. We hope you enjoy this love letter written as much for Van Gogh as it is for Angelina and her acceptance, graceful giving in to, living bravely and fully with fibro.

Three Sunflowers by Van Gogh – Source unknown – Wikimedia Commons
Fibro Takes Flight

I dream of sunflowers
on my grave, petals stretched
to the rising sun but slightly yielded
and in every direction
like Van Gogh had painted,
their seeds ripe enough
to fly everywhere
as my bones lie
to return to sender

I dream less now
as fighting fibro
makes me a sunflower
flying to where the wind 
does not even sail

We would recommend Fibro Takes Flight to all poetry and art lovers and especially those who may believe great things are not possible unless all the stars are aligned. Angelina’s positivity, enthusiasm and success is testimony that anything is possible if you put your passion, heart and soul into it. You can follow Angelina’s journey on Instagram and Twitter @swakgel and Facebook Angelina Bong Art and Poetry. Her book is available to purchase through selected Malaysian booksellers, Kinokuniya Malaysia, on Amazon and her website: Angelina Bong dot com.