Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Set Honor in One Eye and Death i' th' Other

Saw the Donmar Julius Caesar at St. Ann's Warehouse last night. I liked the concept very much. The play-within-a-play was set in a women's prison. Two levels of meaning ran simultaneously through the play. Shakespeare's Roman world of ambition and betrayal. Also, the modern prison system, with its goal of reform and lust for spectacle. The women were Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, Portia, Calpurnia and so on, but they were also tough broads, rightly or wrongly incarcerated.

In that criminal world, Harriet Walter playing Brutus seemed to come from a different sphere, or from a different play. Her noble poise and her classical training fitted awkwardly with the rest of the cast. Jenny Jules as Cassius took some warming to, but was the most sympathetic figure by the end of the play. I loved the originality of having Mark Anthony (Cush Jumbo) sprawling on the floor, surrounded by a gun-toting mob as he started on his famous funeral oration, but the speech quickly became predictable as he mastered completely the will of the Roman crowd. Clare Dunne was a sensitive yet courageous Portia. Jade Anouka, as Calpurnia, allowed her character's tenderness to show through her haughty bearing.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Three Meta-meta Questions

TLS September 27, 2013

from Kevin Mulligan's review of A. W. Moore’s The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics:

Moore asks three central meta-metaphysical questions. There is the Transcendence Question: can we make sense of “transcendent” things? Then there is the Novelty Question: can we make sense of things in radically new ways? Finally there is the Creativity Question: can we be creative in our sense-making, perhaps in a way that admits of no distinction between being right or wrong, or are we limited to looking for the sense that things already make? Moore’s own view of metaphysics is that it is a “fundamentally creative exercise.” This is partly explained by distinguishing between “propositional” and “non-propositional” knowledge and understanding. Propositional knowledge is knowledge of truths or facts; non-propositional knowledge includes practical knowledge, and the kind of understanding provided by art which shows things it does not say. Metaphysics, he also thinks, should put normative philosophy first: “the most important and the most exciting” way in which metaphysics is able to make a difference to us is by “providing us with radically new concepts by which to live.” He holds that metaphysics is at its best when it employs a mode of expression which is closer to that of art than that of theory. As for necessary connections or truths philosophers have often sought to identify, Moore is attracted by a view he attributes to Wittgenstein: “For something to be a necessity is for our stating it to be an enunciation of one of our grammatical rules.” This deflationary account of necessity is just one of the many part of Wittgenstein’s view of philosophy that Moore finds compelling, and which serve as an object of comparison in many of his chapters.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

After three weeks of fussing with WordPress, getting stuff together and asking people for permissions, today I launched Singapore Poetry, an e-gallery of all things poetic about Singapore, including poetry! Three people are following the website, after the first day. I am designing an email newsletter using MailChimp to reach out to my sign-up list.

The inaugural page of SP consists of 12 posts:

(1) Singapore Writers Festival
(2) Featured Image: Jason Wee's "Vanishing Distance 5"
(3) Featured Poem: Alvin Pang's "What It Means To Be Landless"
(4) Tan Pin Pin's new documentary To Singapore, with Love, about political exiles
(5) DesignTaxi
(6) Joshua Ip's new book of poems Making Love with Scrabble Tiles
(7) Loh Kah Seng's history book Squatters into Citizens
(8) Singapore's Favorite Poem: a student nominates Cyril Wong's "A Kind of Hush"
(9) new books from Math Paper Press
(10) a newish on-line paper, The Independent, Singapore
(11) Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, and
(12) a science article about how poetry is like music for the mind.

There are three threads so far. One called Featured Image, the other called Featured Poem, and the last called Singapore's Favorite Poem.

Here's what I wrote on the Welcome page:

Dear Reader,

Thank you for visiting Singapore Poetry. I’m a Singapore poet living in New York, and this website is about poetry by Singaporeans, and all things poetic about Singapore.

When I tell people that I grew up in Singapore, they usually start talking about how clean it is, or how good the street food tastes, or they ask me if bubble gum is really banned in the country. Yes, the pavements in Singapore are so clean that you can eat off them. Yes, the food courts and hawker centers are a paradise for the gourmand. No, you can chew as much bubble gum as you like; you just can’t import it. 

Until they meet me, even the well-traveled, well-read cosmopolitans that many New Yorkers are do not know of any Singapore writers. They may have read Derek Walcott, but they have not heard of Edwin Thumboo. They do not know that there is a continuous tradition of Singapore poetry written since Singapore became independent of the British in 1965.

What’s more, the tradition is very much alive and kicking in this still-new century. Small independent presses have grown up alongside the established outfits. Bookstores like Books Actually and Select Books champion local literature. The annual Singapore Writers Festival showcases Singaporean as well as international authors. Singapore writers travel all over the world to read at literary festivals.

These are the exciting developments that I hope to bring to your notice. If you love good literature, this website is for you. If you love Singapore, or are intrigued by it, having visited, lived or worked in the country, or know someone who has visited, lived or worked in the country, this website is also for you. 

Though the spotlight is on Singapore poetry, this website will also showcase all things poetic about Singapore. By poetic, I don’t just mean beautiful or lyrical; I also mean some quality that cannot be measured in economic terms, but is pursued for its own sake. These other forms of poetry may be found in the performing and fine arts, music, film, design, landscape, people and, yes, food. Singapore Poetry is especially interested in news of doings, happenings, and beings that travel off the beaten track, fly under the radar, and break new ground. Things not already supported by government agencies or public institutions.

So, send me news of all things poetic about Singapore. Or comment on what interests you about the website. Follow Singapore Poetry via email or Word Press. Forward what you like to family and friends. Tell me what your favorite Singapore poem is. In the old word association game, you hear a word and say the first word that comes to mind. Next time someone says Singapore to you, say Poetry.


Jee Leong Koh

Monday, October 14, 2013

Macedonia Brook State Park

Saturday was a glorious day for hiking. P and J rented a zipcar and drove us to Macedonia Brook State Park, near Kent and the village of Macedonia in Connecticut. We took the Blue Trail, which crossed Cobble Mountain and gave us beautiful views of the Catskills and Taconics. Halfway through the trail, we changed to the Green Trail, and walked back to the car along the eponymous brook. There was a bit of rock scrambling in the first half of the hike, but the second half was a leisurely walk on an old pebbled road, under the cathedral ceiling of pines. Yellow leaves floated down in front of us in slow motion. Our feet crunched the dry leaves below.

Then, to celebrate, we made our way to Millbrook Vineyards and Winery for wine-tasting. The winery was in the Hudson Valley region, but it was not too difficult to drive there from Macedonia. We walked about the vineyards--Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, and the vineyard specialty, Tocai Friulano--and picnicked by the small man-made lakes on the estate. The tasting was worth doing, although I would recommend the more expensive Reserve tasting for the discerning wine-drinker.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

New Edition of "Payday Loans"

The cover for the new edition of my first book of poetry, Payday Loans. The design is by by Shellen Teh. It was a real pleasure working with Shellen and with Jocelyn, the editor. They are so professional, and so willing to listen and make adjustments. And of course Kenny Leck makes it all happen. Big thank-you to the Math Paper Press team.

If you magnify the image, you can read my synopsis on the back cover.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Leslie Chamberlain on Roman Jakobson

TLS September 20, 2013

from "Dreams of displaced men" by Leslie Chamberlain:

The flexible way with truth and personal identity that Jakobson learnt seemed to have entered his work both indrectly, in his treatment of encoded meanings in poetry, and indirectly, in his praise for the poetic lie. His essays of the 1920s and 30s celebrated the emotional lie that sustained the hear, and the literary forgery that sustained the nation. Poets, he felt, lived in their personal myth, which was a special kind of truth. . . . In his poetics he cherished the freedom of the word always to mean something else. As he puts it in "What is Poetry" (1933), "Poeticity is present when the word is felt as a word and not as a mere representation of the object being named or an outburst of emotion, when words and their composition, their meaning, their external and inner form, acquire a weight and value of their own instead of referring indifferently to reality". 
If Mayakovsky transcended his misery "in the form of a cycle of transformations undergone by the hero", then Pasternak's lyric prose was "a railway journey during which his excited hero experiences a change of locality . . . ". There Jakobson imagined the vertical axis of imagination and contrasted it with the horizontal, not as evidence of the different ways in which speech can become imparied, but reflecting how, to escape an impossibly shut-down reality, the creative self can still dream; or it can lose itself in displacement. Two fundamental possibilities of continuing self-expression, metaphor and metonym, were open to the soul under pressure.