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Italian Travels

We were in Italy for GH's 60th birthday for two weeks, from August 3-17. Venice was definitely the highlight of the trip: the magical canals and floating palazzi; the modern museum Punto Della Dogana restored from an old custom house by Tadao Ando; the moving works of Arte Povera artist Jannis Kounellis on show at the Prada Foundation; the dramatic works of Tintoretto decorating the Scuola Grande di San Rocco; the first-time visit to the Biennale. Unplanned were pleasant meetings with Filipino servers at one Italian restaurant and a Bangladeshi server at another,  beyond San Marco Square. Our hotel Pensione Accademia was perfect.

Florence was too crowded with tourists. Returning 29 years after my first undergrad visit, I explored the Basilica di Santa Croce (E. M. Forster!), with its tombs and memorials for Michelangelo, Dante, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini, and its perfect chapter house designed by Brunelleschi. The Bargello Museum was less impressive than I had thought. The…

The Christian

New poem, "The Christian," published in Eunoia Review. Thanks, Caleb Goh, for trusting me with your story. And thanks, Ian Chung, for publishing it.

Please Listen to Preetipls

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An advertisement created to encourage e-payment in Singapore featured a Chinese actor in brownface, dressed up variously as an Indian man with a curly wig and a Malay woman in a headscarf. It was widely, and rightly, condemned as racist. Mediacorp, the agency responsible for the advertisement, gave a half-hearted apology and withdrew it. When comedian Preeti Nair, known as Preetipls, and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair, released a rap video criticizing the advertisement, however, they were judged by the Law Minister to have crossed a line in attacking the dominant Chinese majority in Singapore and the artistes were subjected to a police investigation.

The state's action is not only heavy-handed but also unfair, because it is patently clear from the video that the duo are not attacking Chinese Singaporeans per se, but Chinese racists for their racism. Although the refrain goes, "Chinese people always out he…

A Special Kind of Loneliness

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Congratulations to Chris Huntington on receiving Honorable Mention for his lovely poem "Lorca (6)" in the 2019 Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry, awarded by Sing Lit Station! Chris's poem was first published in SP Blog as third-prize co-winner in the 4th Singapore Poetry Contest. Read "Lorca (6)" and the other winners of the Hawker Prize here.

As the editor of SP Blog, I was interviewed by Sing Lit Station on Chris's poem, Singapore, and the work of Singapore Unbound. Asked about my judge's comment on "Lorca (6)" about the "essential loneliness" that pertains to Singapore, I had the chance to expand on the thought:

"I've always thought that a writer's first reader is himself. He writes to himself to hear himself speak, to assuage his loneliness, to fill the blank air with sound. Singapore cannot assuage this existential loneliness; no …

A Quiet Life

My introduction to Kenzaburō Ōe, and it is a mighty one. It begins so slowly, okay, so quietly, and then mounts and mounts in layered complexity as almost clinically it focuses on one and then another character in a very small social grouping comprising a family (K-san the father who is a novelist, the mother, the brain-damaged older son Eeyore, the daughter, and the younger son); their friends, the Shigetos; and the members of the local swim club. The parents' departure for America, ostensibly for the father to take up a writing residency but really for him to deal with his depression, provides the pretext for Ma-chan the daughter's keeping of a diary, which will inform the parents of all that is happening back home. The diary-as-home will eventually become the novel AQuietLife. Ma-chan appears at first quite simple; she elicits sympathy for her horror at remaining single and unloved because she will have to look after her disabled brother after her parents die. Even at the b…

DON'T TELL ANYONE

Written by Ian Rosales Casocot and Shakira Andrea Sison, this anthology of "literary smut," as its subtitle has it, is superior erotica. Both authors are seasoned writers and award winners, but we all know how easy it is to write badly about sex. Casocot avoids the pitfall deftly by experimenting in literary form. "Road Trip" is told backwards, from climax to set-up. "Tell Him" is written mostly through dialogue. "The Thank You Girl" is all foreplay--so, so tantalizing. The highlight of his section is surely his much-anthologized story "The Boys From Rizal Street," which acquires its sexiness through sameness and difference. The form of these stories serves the sex but it is also true that the sex inspires the form.

Alternative Literary Eco-system

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On July 12, filmmaker Jason Soo and poet Ally Chua received their Singapore Unbound Fellowship awards from award-winning filmmaker Tan Pin Pin at UltraSuperNew in Singapore. The award enabled Jason to travel to Thailand to interview the exiled aging members of the Communist Party of Malaya, a project for which he would never have received funding from the government. Ally, who will be coming to NYC this year, will experience the freedom and trust that a true writer deserves since she does not have to complete any reports at the end of her stay. Having selected her, we believe in her talent, promise, and determination. She will be free to grow and follow her writerly instincts.

As I explained at the event, Singapore Unbound has developed a literary ecosystem that provides an alternative to the one run by the state. Our biennial literary festival and monthly readings offer a showcase for excellent writing. The fellowship…