Saturday, June 18, 2011

Readings for SPARK and Books Actually

On June 15 met Nick Liu and Jen Crawford at NTU's School of Humanities and Social Sciences theatrette to be video-recorded for SPARK, a soon-to-be-launched online poetry archive. It is the hope that the archive will be to Singapore poetry what Poets.org, for instance, is to the Americans.

Following the format of the series, I read a poem that has influenced me, in my case, Boey Kim Cheng's "Day of No Name," talked about it, and then read a poem of mine that is related to the first. I chose to read "In His Other House." Not only does it refer to Boey's book Days of No Name, but it expresses a vision of an alternative Singapore that is implicit in Boey's writing. The poem is also further and happily linked to Boey as it has been published in Mascara, edited by Boey and Michelle Cahill.

I think I said clearly what I found helpful in Boey's poem, but afterwards I wished I had said something more about the usefulness of living away from Singapore to our way of looking at the country. To prepare for the session, I re-read his Collected Poems, After the Fire, and was struck by his growth and achievement in Days of No Name, which was his third book. There are wonderful poems in it, as strong as any I have read anywhere. The long poem about Gabriele Münter is even stronger than Simon Tay's long poem about Jackson Pollock, the latter having stayed with me all this time since I read it years ago.

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Books Actually, an independent bookstore run by Kenny Leck and Karen Wai, organized a Singapore launch for my book Seven Studies for a Self Portrait on June 16. A number of friends came for the reading: Cyril, Aaron, Hsien Min, Jen, Cheong How and Hui Wen. I met Yew Leong and Leonard Ng.

I read from both ETTE and SSSP, and afterwards held a short Q&A. There were questions about how I put sequences together, and about why I write in traditional poetic forms. There was also a question about how the distance between Singapore and the USA motivates my writing. The discussion then turned to the Singapore Literature Prize, and whether writers should seek to win awards. To the last question, there were both high-minded and practical answers, in other words, healthy differences.

Kenny invited me to make the reading an annual event at the bookstore, an invitation I gladly accept. I want to be engaged with the Singaporean literature scene. Next Thursday, I will attend Babette's Feast, a meeting of local writers at the store. It should be interesting to hear the state of the art.

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