Showing posts from December, 2013

Pure, Explicit, Invincible

Read three novels while visiting GH's family for Christmas. The first was a recommendation by his father, who is an avid reader. Calico Joe, published in 2012,is touted as John Grisham's first baseball novel. In my teens I used to tear through Grisham's legal thrillers, absorbed in the arcane world of courtroom drama. Baseball is just as arcane to me, but my ignorance was no barrier to enjoying this fast-paced novel. A boy is torn between his baseball idol and his baseball father, who play against each other in one fateful match. Grisham is a good storyteller, who knows how to put a story through its paces. What annoyed me was the times when he tried for some deeper meaning, and sounded pretentious instead. It's pretty obvious that the story is about the all-American hero and his evil twin. There is no need to hammer home the dualistic point. The characterization is not very complex, but the father comes off as the most interesting character because he was the most inj…

A Bibliography of Our Own

The first annotated and comprehensive bibliography of the entire body of “Singapore Literature in English." A magnificent achievement! Congrats to Prof Koh Tai Ann and her team!

Image from NTU webpage

John Berger's "Selected Essays"

It is astonishing to me how consistent John Berger was in over 30 years of art criticism. His judgment of an artist could become more developed and refined, more elaborated, but the underlying sense of the artist's purpose and value remained the same. This consistency of seeing came from a coherent philosophy of art criticism. As Berger puts it in his "Introduction" to Permanent Red, which is also aptly the introductory essay of this Selected Essays edited by Geoff Dyer, the art critic must first answer the question: What can art serve here and now? For Berger, the answer that drove his looking was another question: Does this work help or encourage men to know and claim their social rights?

Berger was not looking for Socialist propaganda, but saw his answer/question as the logic of his historical situation. In the second half of the twentieth century, the most important historical movements were the fights for national independence, civil rights, gender equality, and pea…

Poem: "Top Ten Books of 2013"

Top Ten Books of 2013

10. Magritte at the MoMA, The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938

9. From the open-air market in Nice, fresh figs, goat cheese, baguette

8. The young astrophysicist in the hotel shower

7. The Seven Samurai

6. Splash Bar closing. Any reference to dancing in my writing is in part a reference to the dance floor at Splash.

5. Your excitement inside Cité radieuse in Marseilles

4. After reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, I saw an old man walk by with his grandson

3. The Talipot Palm flowering for the first and last time before it dies

2. Massage oil 

1. The garage mechanic in Tara Bergin’s This Is Yarrow and his black hands—“everywhere they touch will be evidence of him.”

Poem: "Gift Set"

Gift Set

Elsa, I’ve just received the package of bones you sent!
I’ve always wanted the complete set
to check if his throat cancer left a mark.

What fun to hold a familiar funny bone and hear
it speak of a painted scroll,
I know the stupid bird can never eat the stupid peach 

and another, smooth pebble, never seen before,
a pig is a very compact arrangement,
and wonder where it fits.

The bone for his friend Keith
keeps its silence about a word—

Alex Au, the blogger
facing charges of holding the courts in contempt,
guessed the word is gay,
Cyril (remember him?) reckons it goodness,
I fancy you

and so the linguist speaks eternally.

Ha, ha! Arthur Yap, I have your bones all in one place,
as others do who cherish completeness
far from home, above the ground, and unquiet.

Thank you.

Poem: "An Argument Against An Objective Materialist Universe"

An Argument Against An Objective Materialist Universe

The wallpaper has a pattern of eyes,
life-sized, brown, with double eyelids.
I spin but cannot catch any one blinking.

When I change in the morning
to get ready for work,
they appraise me from all angles.

In the evening, after work,
when I’m masturbating in bed,
I swear a tear glistens at the corner of every eye.

Just before I fall asleep,
they look like the eyes of my boyfriend
who is away in Brazil.

I can’t get them to stop looking at me.
I can’t stop looking at them.
It’s the same way even if I write,

the wallpaper has a pattern of eggs. 

We have no wallpaper in our bedroom.
You’ll have to take my word for it.

Poem: "The Murderous Sky"

The Murderous Sky

after Magritte 

The sky has been raining dead birds all morning.
They strike the ground so hard that they bounce
up to the waist and disappear into the blue air,
not without leaving a blot of blood, a bull’s eye.
I try to avoid stepping on the red shots but there
are so many that it’s impossible not to cross
a firing line. Other people don’t seem to care,
not the schoolgirl thumbing her phone, not the
short pizza delivery man hurtling by on his bike.
In the distance, however, a woman is steering
her black stroller as if she is avoiding puddles.
A young man on a bench looks up from his book.

Poem: "The Ideology of Aggressive Interior Attack"

The Ideology of Aggressive Interior Attack

The fire will climb from the 59th, that’s
how old I am, to the 86th floor observatory.
The fire engines are on their way.
One firefighter will lose his life trying
to rescue a woman in a bathroom.
He is 34, Irish and divorced. Sees his two daughters
on alternate weekends. About to be promoted.
I have read tomorrow’s papers by mistake.
The woman’s safe. The cause of the fire unknown.

Poem: "Getting Dressed"

Getting Dressed

After I pull down my pullover,
 the front collar of my t-shirt is too high. 
It is in fact the back collar.
I have my t-shirt on back to front.

Pulling off my pullover, I realize
my mistake is in fact a mistake,
I have my t-shirt on right.

The shirt must have ridden up
inside the pullover.

I pull my pullover over my head
and the knitted arms over my arms.
The front collar is riding high again.
I pull at it but it won’t go down

because it is the back collar.

I pull off my pullover again.
In fact I check the mirror.
I am wearing the t-shirt right.
The front collar is in front,
showing the collar of flesh below the neck,
except when it is the back.

Poem: "Who Wants To Know The Answer?"

Who Wants To Know The Answer?

I’m reading John Berger on Magritte. On the radio, a young man has a question about his Toyota Corolla Hatchback.
You’re from Eugene? the auto expert asks. Eugene, Oregon.
There’s a liquid leaking from his dashboard. Is it greasy? the auto expert asks. Yes, it’s greasy.
A phone shrills in the studio. Why isn’t anyone attending to it?
That’s a problem, the auto expert says, when you’re out on a date.
Yeah, it’s a real problem. It was leaking all over the floor, all over my good shoes. I tried soaking it up with newspapers, but it was hopeless, it was leaking so much.
The phone shrills and shrills.
Oh, it’s not in the studio but nagging behind me, in the kitchen of the house where I’m staying, a wallphone hooked up above the microwave.
Should I answer it? It’s not for me. It’s an unexpected call. Nobody’s home. Would John Berger answer it?
The phone shrills on. Finally, the auto expert, for he is the expert, picks it up and asks in a voice falsely gruff, hello, …

Love, from the Beginning to the End

This year's thanksgiving was a time with family, friends and movies. We watched three movies with R and S, and then another movie when we got home last night. The Big Wedding (2013), directed by Justin Zackman who also co-wrote the screenplay, suffered from a lack of direction. The best thing, and the cutest thing, in it was Ben Barnes, who played the Columbian son adopted by white parents. When his religious biological mother came for his wedding, the family bent over backwards to hide the fact that dad and mum were divorced. It was a flimsy premise for a film, and it showed.

Bahz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby (2013) more than made up for the disappointment. I loved the excess of it, the garish house, the lavish parties, the rap music, the over-the-top art direction. I was not looking for a faithful rendition of a great novel into film. I was looking for, from Luhrmann the director of Romeo and Juliet, and of Moulin Rouge, a re-envisioning of the world, and he gave us one, tart…