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Where Are the Writers?

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The Singapore government's proposed anti-fake news law has been heavily criticized by local and international media and rights groups for investing too much arbitrary power in government ministers to decide what is fact or otherwise. Most recently, a group of 59 academics, with expertise, experience, or interest in Singapore and Asia generally, have joined in the chorus of criticism by issuing a joint public statement and sending letters to the Education Minister and Singapore University Leaders.

Other professional groups with a stake in free speech and democratic process should do likewise. Unfortunately, the Law Society of Singapore has been gagged by a 1986 law from commenting on legislative proposals unless they are invited to do so by the government. Singapore's creative writers are not so proscribed. Individual writers have spoken up but they could make a far bigger impact if they would speak together, as the …

A Poet Laureate of Singapore?

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We're proud to announce that Gaudy Boy's Poetry Book Prize co-winner The Experiment of the Tropics by Lawrence Lacambra Ypil has been selected by The Millions as 1 of 6 must-read poetry books for April 2019. Congratulations, Larry, on this wonderful honor! At the book's New York launch last week, Larry shared that much of the book, which meditates on archival photographs of the Philippines under American occupation, was written in Clementi hawker center in Singapore. That, we fondly imagine, must have enhanced the book's delicious tropical lyricism.

April is National Poetry Month in the USA and Canada. Introduced in 1996, the annual celebration of poetry organized by the Academy of American Poets has the laudable aim of increasing awareness and appreciation of poetry in the USA. It was inspired by the success of Black History Month, held in February, and Women's History Month, held in March, but it wo…

Gaudy Boy Matters

A whirlwind of events these past two weeks. First, AWP at Portland, Oregon, (March 28-30), where I tabled for Gaudy Boy, and all three of our authors—Alfian Sa'at, Lawrence Ypil, and Jenifer Park—signed books, and read at an off-site event. Alfian also participated in panel titled "Innovations in Southeast Asia" with Gina Apostol and Laurel Fantauzzo, moderated by Larry Ypil. I read at Literaoke at Chopsticks Karaoke Lounge and Bar, and that was quite fun.

Then the New York launch of Larry and Jenifer's books at the Asian American Writers' Workshop on Thursday, April 4. The launch went really well. The house was full and the books—15 copies per author—were sold out. Larry and Jenifer read very well and were full of thoughtful and memorable reflections during the Q&A. As Judy Luo remarked, our poets have personalities!

And then the Second Saturdays gathering on April 6, hosted by C and M at their Harlem home. About 35 people came. Potluck, mingling, drinking, …

Worse Than 1984

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The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act tabled in Singapore's Parliament on Monday threatens to restrict free speech in the country even further. It effectively gives any Minister the power to decide what is fact and to demand corrections or removals of statements that he deems to be against the public interest. If passed, the Act will not just create a Ministry of Truth, so ironically named in George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, but will turn all agents of the Singapore government into Ministries of Truth.

The best commentary that I have read on the bill so far is written by media professor Cherian George. Here I will just highlight one provision of the bill that indicates its wide-ranging scope: its extra-territoriality. Section 7.1 states that "A person must not do any act in or outside Singapore [my emphasis] in order to communicate in Singapore a statement knowing or having re…

Spiritual Affiliations

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I turned 49 yesterday in New York. 16 years ago, I arrived in the city to begin graduate studies in writing poetry. Stepping into the stupendous Great Hall of Grand Central Station to take the Metro-North train to Sarah Lawrence College, I thought, as many did before me, I'm finally here. On the train, I spoke to the first New Yorker I didn't have to. He turned out to be an elderly jeweler whose family fled the war in Europe.

New York is a city of refuge for many people, including artists. Here you find, at last, your own people, who are related to you, not by blood, but by spirit. On the morning of my birthday, I wrote a poem about a young gay Singaporean who came here to study fashion and found himself, before graduation, marrying a man 21 years older than him, and, upon graduation, adopting two teenage children. During our interview for the poem, it was obvious that he was still amazed at what he had done.

Becaus…

Ants Among Elephants

The subtitle—An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India—provides a sober summary of the content of this memoir, but it deliberately underplays the harrowing stories told in lucid prose by the author Sujatha Gidla. The national tale is one of class-initiated and state-supported oppression of the lower castes and, in helpless response, the divisions in the Communist Party of India when it abandoned armed revolution to enter electoral politics. The family tale traces the transformation of an uncle into a famous poet and leader of a left-wing guerilla movement. The other hero of the story is a heroine, the author's mother, who comes into her own as a mother and teacher in the later part of the story. A wonderful aspect of this memoir is that it never lets you forget the impact of social upheavals on women. The author is, however, not concerned with hagiography. The different members of the family, including their circle of friends, are here depicted with warts and all.

I'…

Lovejets

I have a poem, "Gaudy Boy," written after Singapore's late poet Arthur Yap, in this anthology commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of Walt Whitman and the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Besides Whitman, many poetic forebears, including Cavafy, Rimbaud, Thom Gunn, Justin Chin, James Baldwin, Garcia Lorca, Tim Dlugos, Allen Ginsberg, and Yukio Mishama, are celebrated by a good range of contemporary gay male poets. Big thanks to editor Raymond Luczak for including my poem and for putting together this celebration of the vitality of the gay male poetic tradition. You can get hold of the anthology here.