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Showing posts from December, 2015

New Year Letter to Lovers of a Better Singapore

New Year Letter to Lovers of a Better Singapore 

I’d wish you a happy new year if last year had not been so bitter. We had high hopes that Singapore would become a freer, fairer, and kinder society after the death of Lee Kuan Yew. We had high hopes that the 50th year of our independence would herald a new phase of social, political, and artistic maturity. For only the second time in my forty-five years, I was able to vote. With Lee Kuan Yew gone, the PAP did not enjoy a walkover in Radin Mas constituency, but faced two challengers. On Election Day, I made my way in the rain to the Singapore Consulate in New York. I knew the PAP would win Radin Mas, but I had to make my voice heard and my vote count. Like many of you, I had high hopes that the general election would prove a watershed in the history of our country. We had high hopes that, despite the gerrymandering, vote-buying tactics, state control of mass media, and creeping influence of Christian fundamentalism on government, the pe…

Vision and Touch

I read Rachel Urquhart's The Visionist over Christmas, an appropriate time for reading about the mysteries of faith, sin, and redemption. The Shaker settlement and the outside World of mid-19th century Massachusetts are both meticulously and convincingly brought to life. The novel is narrated through three points of view. Sister Charity of the City of Hope and Simon Pryor from the World both speak in the first person, as they struggle to understand the throes of events around them. Sister Charity, the self-deceiving innocent, bears much of the novel's psychological burden whereas Simon Pryor, the fire investigator, bears much of the narrative burden. The stroke of genius here is to narrate Polly Kimball's point of view through the third person. Polly, the outsider who becomes the insider on false pretenses, is thus seen with sympathetic detachment. The third-person becomes a delicate method of apprehending her trauma and her victory without inhabiting them.

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TLS October 3…

Justin Chin (1969 - 2015)

I never met Justin Chin, and now it’s too late. He died on Christmas Eve after his family took him off life support. Two people wrote me separately to ask if I knew Justin Chin. Why ask me? Because we both moved from Singapore to the States, and we both are poets and gay. Born in Malaysia, Justin Chin grew up in Singapore. He was just one year older than I am. He probably went to Anglo-Chinese School. I’m guessing from the comment on an obituary left by Singaporean actor and comedian Hossan Leong. Hossan Leong was a classmate of Justin Chin’s since six, and Hossan Leong studied at ACS and ACJC.

After ACS, Justin Chin went to the University of Hawaii before transferring to San Francisco State University. In the 90’s he made a name for himself on the San Francisco poetry scene, writing and performing work that was full of “humor and raw vulnerability,” as the POETRY Foundation website describes it. The website also calls him “fiercely political.” Justin Chin published many books, of poe…

Haiku

How warm-looking
the graying bristles on the man
selling Christmas trees

The American Diary of a Japanese Girl

It is imperfectly written but it has the charm, as Charles Simic said of his earlier poetry, of awkwardness. The introduction written by Laura E. Franey outlines the collaborative process between Yone Noguchi and his editors in writing the book, the diary's critique of turn-of-the-century Japonisme, and Morning Glory's performance of authenticity and identity. The Afterword by Edward Marx surveys the book's reception and afterlife in the USA and Japan. It suggests usefully the different genres in which the diary may be placed: women's confessional diaries popular in the late 19th century in Europe and the USA; Japanese diary literature, or nikki bungaku, whose roots reach all the way back to The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon; the New Japanese Novel; Asian American literature; American trickster tales; and queer literature. The notes to the text are full and enlightening.

My favorite bits:

"Japan teaches nothing but simplicity. Simplicity is the philosophy of art.&qu…

Honor and Haiku

An American honor! Steep Tea makes the "2015 Poetry Books We Love" list from Split This Rock, joining such terrific poets as Marilyn Nelson, Nicholas Wong, and Timothy Yu.


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Gray day
another salon lights up
for coloring nails

Haiku

Night is day
and day night
streetlamp rainbow

Haiku and Kessler

The moon tonight
tosses its horns
at the trumpet’s lion


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Last night heard William Fung, the video artist and scholar, gave the Kessler lecture at CLAGS. He showed snippets of Re-Orientation, which features 7 of the original 12 interviewees in the groundbreaking video Orientation made in the early 80's. 30 years later, the participants have visibly aged and, less visibly but more vitally, diverged in their paths as LGBT work becomes professionalized and LGBT workers more accepted in big corporations. Fung reflected cogently on how his own work has changed under the pressures of neo-liberalism and corporatism. He made me think about my own arts organizing, in particular, the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Lit Fest in NYC. What is the point? How best to do it? At the very least, I've decided to drop the name of festival chair in favor of festival organizer.

Haiku

Family needles
on these Christmas trees
cut from Canada

Haiku

Young men in polyester shorts
running past the low chin-up bar

Translations of an insignificant Japanese poet

For those of you who have been reading my haiku, I must now reveal that they are not my own works, but translations of Japanese originals. Six of these English translations have now been re-translated into Chinese by Zhou Decheng, and published in the Chinese-language Poetry Monthly. The story of my English translations is as follows:

In February 2011, when I moved into my Upper West Side apartment, not far from 80 Riverside Drive, where Yone Noguchi boarded for a time, I found a sheaf of haiku in the bedroom closet, almost as if it had been left for me. To my surprise, the poet made numerous references to people and places that I knew from living in New York City. I was thus compelled to translate the poems from the Japanese. As I worked on these exhilarating, enigmatic pieces, I found myself searching out the street corner, the tree, and even the bird that had so enraptured our poet. In this manner I traced the route taken through Central Park—entering at 86th Street on the west sid…

To be less established

This Middle Ground article provides a useful summary of events and views about censorship and arts funding in Singapore, for those coming into the discussion mid-way.

From the discussion so far, I've read stated either directly or indirectly that I could stop asking NAC for funding because I am already an "established" artist, whatever that means. The implication is that less established artists cannot afford to stop asking NAC for funding. I just want to point out (at the risk of sounding as if I'm tooting my horn) that I did not apply for NAC funding even when I was trying to establish myself. I quit as VP of a secondary school in Singapore to move to New York City to study creative writing. I was rejected by four different graduate programs before I was accepted by one that did not offer any financial aid or teaching assistantship. I spent all my savings on the program before I received a financial gift in my second year from the college for my work.

After graduat…

Haiku

He took his wet pants off
the competitive swimmer

Haiku

Hands uplifted
a virgin waits in stone robe
late December



Looking
for the wood
and the trees

To my fellow Singaporean artists and arts lovers

It appears that after NAC CEO Kathy Lai wrote to the Straits Times to defend state censorship of the arts, NAC Chairman Chan Heng Chee defended the same in her speech as guest of honor at the Singapore International Film Festival. Her speech is an insult to the festival, which has prided itself on its support for freedom of expression by taking a principled stance against showing any film censored by the state. Chan’s speech also raises in an acute form the question of artists applying for and accepting state funding. In short, she claimed that the state has the right and the obligation to decide on what to fund, based on other considerations besides the artistic merit of the application. In response to the argument that the public purse belongs to the public and not the government, she countered that the public would prefer to spend more money on welfare subsidies and education, and less on the arts. This last point is meretricious: it is not a question of either-or. One may as well …

Chelsea Gallery Hop

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We went to see the Andy Goldsworthy show at Galerie Lelong, but knew we would make other discoveries along the way. The motorized sculptures of animals and lamps by the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (1925 - 199) were a lot of fun to see. Shown at Gladstone Gallery, they were made of junkyard scraps and dime-store finds; the old motors, often decommissioned from 78rpm phonographs, produced unpredictable motions when you stepped on a switch on the floor. At Marlborough Chelsea, the black-and-white photos of Richard Kern in the viewing room were compelling takes on his friends living in druggy squalor in New York City. Taken in the 80's, the photos showed acts of sadomasochism and non-acts of ennui. There was one very different, rather sweet, "Brian with TV, 1981"





Over at Luhring Augustine, the British artist Rachel Whiteread was showing new sculptures made from casting windows and doors in colored resin. The pieces are then mounted on concrete casts of bricks, so the promise …

Haiku

gingko leaves—
dropped
stamp album

Haiku

Deep fall shadows
in the dark pool of water
gingko fins