The Full Interview

The Straits Times published a story about Steep Tea making the list of Best Books of 2015 in the Financial Times. The Singapore paper included only part of the email interview with me. The full interview below. Read it and you will understand ST's selectivity.

How does it feel to be one of the four poetry works named by the FT as best of 2015? 

Amazed. Humbled. Grateful that someone likes the book so much. We just celebrated Thanksgiving here in the US. I'm so thankful for the encouragement given by Maria Crawford, the FT editor who selected Steep Tea.

Looking back, what were some challenges you faced in writing Steep Tea? 

I couldn't have written Steep Tea without moving to the US to come out as a poet and a gay man. The poems in the book reflect the experience of finding my rightful place in New York and a useful perspective on Singapore. The poems were written over the course of 12 years, as both place and perspective come slowly. You might say that I had to steep myself in hot water before brewing this cup of tea.

You've taken an active role in promoting Singaporean poetry abroad. Why do you do so? 

We have many terrific Singapore writers, and so it is only natural that I want to share their work with others. By running the biennial Singapore Literature Festival in New York and the arts website Singapore Poetry, I hope to bring together my two homes--Singapore and the United States--in better understanding and appreciation.

What has the response to such poetry been like, from non-Singaporeans? 

They respond warmly to its deeply felt humanity and its finely crafted wit. They know Singapore from the mass media as an economic success, an authoritarian state, and a heartless people. They are surprised and delighted to learn from its writers that another Singapore exists: creative, free-wheeling, and compassionate.

What are your hopes for the Singapore literary scene? 

Singaporeans should embrace our own writers. We must learn to cherish our own artists. This involves reading, viewing, hearing, and discussing their works until they become an integral part of us. It also involves giving writers and artists the means, the freedom, and the courage to challenge us, with unpalatable truths and unusual beauties. They are our eyes and ears, they are our conscience.

What are you working on at the moment, and what other works can readers expect from you in the coming year ahead? 

I'm working on a book of haiku, tentatively titled Does grass sweat. I have a book of essays now under consideration by a Singaporean publisher. The essays examine in a personal mode writers from the UK, the USA, and Singapore. Taken as whole, the essays compose a portrait of a life lived in reading and writing.


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