Friday, June 24, 2016

Complete Headrush

I've been trying to catch up with myself. Classes were over by June 10, but the very next week I taught my first summer poetry writing workshop for high school students, titled brashly The Complete Poet. It was/is open to students from my school and elsewhere, but as it turned out, only two students from my school signed up, both of whom had studied with me. Although the enrollment was tiny, I went ahead with the course. Better to get the ball rolling than to wait at the start line, to mix my metaphors. I'm so glad I did. We had a great time reading a poet a day, writing poems inspired by the poet, and workshopping the poems. First day, we read Kay Ryan's New and Selected called The Best of It. We discussed her use of nature for metaphor and commentary, and her spin on common idioms. Second day, we read Brian Turner's Here Bullet, about his experience fighting as an American soldier in the Iraq war. Here we focused on his use of Arabic as a way of understanding and misunderstanding his stressful environment. We then wrote poems that took a foreign expression as a launchpad. Third day, we read Louise Gluck's Faithful and Virtuous Night for her use of a male persona to talk about family, and her deployment of the prose poem. The students found her long poems a strong inspiration to write their own long poem about family, but through a mask. Fourth Day, we read Gregory Pardlo's Digest. We talked about his mixture of lyrical imagery and pop references. The students imitated one of his poems by beginning and repeating "I was born...." That exercise gave them a template on which they enjoyed improvising. Fifth and last day, we read Tara Bergin's This Is Yarrow, and discussed her use of folklore, song, and hands imagery.

While the workshop was going on, I was frantically preparing for the benefit for the 2nd Singapore Literature Festival in NYC. Fortunately I had the assistance of an excellent team of volunteers. The benefit was held on Thursday, 06/16/16, at the National Opera Center. Cef Kian Lam Kho, the winner of the Julia Child First Book Award for his Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Traditional Techniques of Chinese Cooking, crafted the menu for the occasion. Gina Apostol, a festival author, read from her PEN Open Award-winng novel Gundealers' Daughter. Jakarta-born, California-raised Angky Budiardjono, accompanied by pianist Peiharn Chen, sang a serenade from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Pierrot’s “Tanzlied” from Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt, and, finally, “Love in the Thirties” by American composer William Bolcom. We also held an art auction of works donated by Singaporean artists: Hong-Ling Wee, Jason Wee, Colin Goh, and Melinda Lauw. Ken Chen, the Executive Director of the Asian American Writers' Workshop, was the guest-of-honor. The turnout was excellent and everyone had a good time. I was especially heartened by the presence of many festival benefactors, supporters, and partners.

This week I've been busy confirming the festival program with authors and hosts. At the same time, I am looking forward to events in Singapore. "Singapore Unbound" is the theme of this year's Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.


1. Meet the Poet at Caffe Pralet 
Friday, 8 July, 6:30 pm, Caffe Pralet, 17 Eng Hoon Street, #01-04, Eng Hoon Mansions, Singapore 169767

On this Friday evening, connect with poet Jee Leong Koh and experience culinary delights in a cosy environment -- any blues are sure to subside by the end of this event! Whether you're an aspiring author, corporate executive, or home-maker, you're welcome to join us with colleagues, friends and loved ones to enjoy an informal exchange about "Steep Tea", a unique collection of insights that blend traditional and contemporary poetic styles. During the session, Jee Leong will share his life experience, and how he got to down to writing and publishing the book in the UK. For details and directions: http://www.meetup.com/talentshowcase/events/231924286/

2. Singapore Unbound: Writing, Reading, and Publishing Overseas 
Saturday, 9 July, 7:00 pm, National Gallery, The Glass Room (Level 4 Mezzanine, Supreme Court Wing)
Alfian Sa'at, Ovidia Yu, and Koh Jee Leong

Three prominent Singaporean writers, Alfian Sa'at, Ovidia Yu, and Koh Jee Leong, read from their works and share their experiences with overseas readers, editors, and publishers. Between them, the writers cover multiple genres, including fiction, poetry, drama, essays, crime stories, and children's writing. They will discuss the impact of Singapore literature beyond the boundaries of the country, and how their writing is, in turn, changed by the encounter. They will also speak about the upcoming 2nd Singapore Literature Festival in New York City, to be held from September 28 - 30, 2016, and their hopes for the future of Singaporean writing. This event is organized by & Co, the National Gallery's museum store. https://www.facebook.com/events/129019267522297/

3. Singapore Unbound: The Transgressions Reading 
Wednesday, 20 July, 7:30 pm, Booktique, CityLink Mall
Cyril Wong, Ovidia Yu, Tania De Rozario, and Koh Jee Leong

Forbidden love. Broken promises. Criminal acts. Blasphemy. Cyril Wong, Ovidia Yu, Tania De Rozario, and Koh Jee Leong read their transgressive writings in the heart of sanitized Singapore, and go unpunished. Or punish them, if you're into it. Proudly presented by the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC. https://www.facebook.com/events/1701422790121177/

4. Justin Chin Memorial Reading 
Saturday, 23 July, 7:30 pm, Artistry Cafe, 17 Jalan Pinang

Justin Chin died last December but not before writing some terrific poetry, stories, essays, and performance pieces, and achieving prominence in the San Francisco arts scene. Born in Klang, Malaysia, Justin was educated in Singapore, in ACS and ACJC. His writings will be celebrated at this memorial reading by a line-up of local authors, including Christine Chia, Desmond Kon, Cyril Wong, Yeow Kai Chai, Raksha Mahtani, O Thiam Chin, and Tse Hao Guang, who's co-organizing the event with me.

There is also supposed to be a reading for the writing program at Nanyang Technological University, to be held on Tue, Aug 23, 12:30 pm. Perhaps I will finally meet the reclusive Boey Kim Cheng there.

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