Saturday, February 28, 2015

Manuscript Bootcamp

I was one of three poets (with Ng Yi-Sheng and Grace Chia) roped in to offer comments on the first manuscripts of 6 new Singapore poets.The session was part of a manuscript bootcamp organized by the indefatigable Joshua Ip. It was a pleasure to engage with the work of Amanda Chong, Daryl Lim, David Wong, Jennifer Anne Champion, Samuel Lee, and Tse Hao Guang, and to have an open and collegial discussion about poetry. The poets will receive much feedback from different people over the weekend, some of it conflicting, some of it confusing, but at the end of the day, we must be our own toughest critics, if we are going to write the kind of poetry that will stand the test of time. Thanks, Josh, for organizing this working group. Thanks too to Sarah for opening your home to us.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Free My Library

The National Book Development Council of Singapore has been energetically promoting last year’s winners and shortlistees of the Singapore Literature Prize. They have organized public panels and school events at which writers could speak of their work. By their initiative and effort, they are helping to advance the cause of local literature among the audience most of us writers would love most to reach.

When I agreed to participate in one such event on my visit to Singapore, I did not know that the panel would take place in the National Library. Many of you will remember that the National Library disgraced itself last year by removing three children’s books from the shelves and threatening to pulp them because they depict non-traditional (i.e. queer) families. Public furor, including a read-in, caused them to backtrack on their decision, whereupon they returned the books, not to the children’s, but to the adult section of the lending library. With a few other dissenting voices, I rejected this compromise, and I still do. The children’s books belong to the children’s section of the library. To shelf them elsewhere is to stigmatize the families depicted in the books. So with regret, I decided not to participate in the panel, even though the National Library is only providing the venue. I gave my reasons in the email below:

Dear XXX and XXX,
Thanks very much for organizing the panel. I agreed to participate, not knowing the event will be held in conjunction with the National Library. Since the National Library removed the children's books And Tango Makes Three and White Swan Express from its children's section last year, and then made the cowardly compromise of returning the books but shelving them in the adult section, I have decided not to participate in any National Library event. I do not wish to help promote its image as a champion of literature when it is nothing of the sort. My sincere apologies for missing what looks to be a stimulating discussion.

Best regards,
Jee Leong

I am posting this in order to stand with those who still object to the literary segregation practiced by the National Library of Singapore. Our memory is long, and writing and documentation extend it further. I am posting this now because it is the Lunar New Year, a time for families to get together, make restitution for wrongs done, and practice forgiveness and reconciliation. I call on the National Library to make things right by returning And Tango Makes Three and White Swan Express to where they belong, in the hands of children.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Amazon Author

Roxanne Hoffman of Poets Wear Prada Press took a chance on me and published my very first book Payday Loans. I'm happy to learn from her this morning that the book has sold the most number of copies in the month of January on Amazon.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Book Log

I'm flying to Singapore tomorrow, so have no time to do more than log in the books read.

Vikram Chandra's Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty started slowly but increased in interest as I read on. The chapters on Indian aesthetics are particularly interesting, the chapters on computer history less so.

Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North: I don't see what's the fuss about this book. It was awarded the Man Booker Prize, but it seemed a rather conventional POW book to me. I may be influenced by having just reading Roberto Bolano's astounding 2666.

Another prize-winner, Jean Echenoz's I'm Gone won the Prix Goncourt. It's very ironic, very cool, very French. I don't like it much. I much prefer Michel Houellebecq, who has been described as a poisoned cherry.

Saturday, February 07, 2015


we'll see one another again
when spring comes with its flowers
before you leave for Lahore

Friday, February 06, 2015

Thursday, February 05, 2015


when will my body
throw off this spell of cold?
more snow last night

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Monday, February 02, 2015