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Showing posts from October, 2016

Art Censorship (Again) in Singapore

"Artist cuts himself, takes blood oath, after his performance piece was cut from Singapore Biennale"

Religious sensitivities be damned if religious sensitivities do not, or will not, understand the intent and context of a work of art. I wonder, however, if more is at work than what is stated by the authorities. Could it be that the real concern is not religious, but political sensitivities? That Chandrasekaran's performance piece about the harsh lives of Indian convict workers in 19th-century Singapore will provoke powerful resonances and raise important questions in the present day about the way we treat our guest workers, most of whom come from the Indian continent?

It's interesting that the reporter mentions that Chandrasekaran had spent 6 years abroad in Australia before returning to Singapore and responding in this defiant manner to the act of art vandalism by the authorities. Apparently, the audience at his Q&A, "most of whom were from the local arts c…

An Open Letter to NBDCS and My Fellow Shortlisted Authors

My book Steep Tea was not submitted for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize because of a mistake made by my publisher. Not knowing the mistake, I had reasonably expected my book to be shortlisted in the English poetry category, and so was prepared to withdraw it from consideration in protest against Singapore’s anti-sodomy law. Now that the heat around this year’s prize has cooled down, I wish to address some of the larger issues around a state-sponsored literary prize by publishing my planned letter of withdrawal. My hope is that the letter will contribute to the debate about the role of a writer when confronted with legalized injustice.


An Open Letter to NBDCS and My Fellow Shortlisted Authors 

 I wish to withdraw my book Steep Tea from consideration for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize in protest against Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore, which criminalizes sex between mutually consenting adult men. My action is not directed against the National Book Development Council…

Third Annual IAAC Literary Festival

On Gopika Jadeja's invitation, I attended the third IAAC Literary festival yesterday. The 3-day festival, organized by the Indo-American Arts Council, was attended mainly by South Asian Americans. It was a fascinating glimpse into the relationship between them and Indians from India. The Americans were intensely interested in social and political developments in India. They were also captivated by celebrity culture, that of Bollywood and of nationalist politics. The panels on the the first biography of film legend Shashi Kapoor and on the secret diary of Kasturba Gandhi were very well attended.

I particularly enjoyed the panel "This Unquiet Land," also the title of the debut work of non-fiction by award-winning broadcast journalist Barkha Dutt. She has reported on a wide range of issues, famously on the disputed region of Kashmir. She was impressively sharp and articulate, and was well-matched by the nimble acuity of her interlocutor Suketu Mehta, the New York-based auth…

Queer Southeast Asia

An important project, a queer Southeast Asia lit journal. Thank you, Bry Hos and Cy Rai, for including me in the inaugural issue, together with Nuril Basri, John H. McGlynn, Khairani Barokka, Lawrence Ypil, Alwynn C. Javier, Paul Dominic B. Olinares, Gino Dizon, Jeffrey Pascual Yap, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Leon Wing, Danton Remoto, Nimruz De Castro, and Wilfredo Pascual. The journal is now on-line for your reading pleasure.

Dusie's issue of Asian Anglophone poetry

Proud to be included in this rich and varied anthology of Asian Anglophone poetry, edited by the very fine poet Cindy Arrieu-King. I first heard Cindy read at the Asian American Writers' Workshop literary festival called Page Turner, and I was immediately drawn to the delicate and resilient layering of stories and images in her poetry.

She took an earlier iteration of my on-going project "Does Grass Sweat: Translations of an Insignificant Japanese Poet." In this iteration, dated January 10, 2016, I appended commentary to the haiku translations. You may have read the haiku on Facebook, and so may be interested in reading the commentary. There is also a translator's preface that conveys the earliest inspiration for the work. The project is still evolving, so I'd be happy to hear what you think.

2nd Singapore Literature Festival in NYC (Sep 28 - Oct 1)

2nd Singapore Lit Fest ended on a high note on Saturday, with scholarly and passionate talks about Sonny Liew's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. I hope the panel is the first of many, many to come because the graphic novel rewards close analysis and open discussion. A favorite moment was when two panelists, Ying Sze Pek and Matt Humphreys, disagreed with one another. Is the depiction of Lim Chin Siong and Lee Kuan Yew as hero and villian an instance of the novel's oversimplification of complex people, or is it part of the novel's sentimentalist structure? Is it, in other words, a fault or a a strength? Another favorite moment in the festival is less of a clash and more of a clarification, when Alfian Sa'at asks Jason Koo whether he means "mean as fuck" or "mean ASS fuck" in a discussion about the depiction of race and sexuality in literature. Ha, ha, literature is full of double entendres. Then there was that awkward moment in the "Fictionali…