Singapore at 50 and Haiku

"Singapore at 50: Reflections on the Local, Global and Postcolonial," organized by Jini Kim Watson of NYU, was a thoughtful and stimulating presentation of work by academics from Singapore, the US and Canada. Joanne Leow, from the University of Toronto, read Singapore's Gardens by the Bay together with Kevin Kwan's novel Crazy Rich Asians and highlighted the uses of excess. E.K. Tan, from Stony Brook University, argued for a more complicated and expanded notion of Sinophone literature by looking at two poems written in a hybrid of Chinese and English. From Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, C. J. Wan-Ling Wee looked at the distinct character of the 1980's for Singaporean cultural productions, created during a fruitful gap after the state began to focus on high culture but before it produced its Renaissance City report and poured huge amounts of money into the arts. Cheryl Narumi Naruse, also from NTU, examined the transnational mobility of Singaporeans and its creation of a new coming-of-career genre of writing.

I was the odd duck of the evening, very pleased to be included, and warmly welcomed. Before I read "Attribution," "Recognition," and "Talking to Koon Meng Who Called Himself Christopher" from Steep Tea, I gave this somewhat tongue-in-cheek preamble:

None Can Tell: On Poetry and Plagiarism  

I’m here as an imposter. I’m not a scholar, I’m a poet. I’m here to practice fraud on you. I’m here to say, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” and confuse the two on earth. I make copies of copies, and so should be thrown out on my ear from the philosophers’ club. Thank you for not throwing me out. Thank you for welcoming me into your midst. Perhaps you are not followers of Plato but of Aristotle. You see poetry, and aesthetics in general, as a species of knowledge. Well, in that case, we are still diametrically opposite: poetry, to me, is a species of ignorance. A poet does not know many things; a post-colonial poet does not know many special things, things peculiar to his historical condition, to the long shadow of Western imperialism, in my case. I’m convicted on both counts, by Aristotle of ignorance, by Plato of plagiarism. Perhaps you are not a philosopher at all. Like me, you have wandered into this place by mistake. You just wish to be entertained, before the break for wine and cheese. If so, you are just the person to whom I will read.


Cheep cheep
the small plagiarist bird
rips off its head


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