Friday, January 27, 2017

Haiku


The round clock
above the pump house
ducks sleeping


That's it, folks. The last one. Thanks for following and liking the haiku. We move to Harlem today.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Haiku


High winds
the reservoir gathers a sea
the night a black hut

*

Hanging from a nail
in the wall of the study
an Olympic gymnast


*

Two more. We move on Friday.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Haiku

Last five haiku before we move away from Central Park:

Number written
on the FedEx door tag—
a strong headwind

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March on Washington

Guardian headline: "Over 20 countries see protests on the first day of Trump's presidency." Where were you, Singapore? Hungary, Ghana, South Africa, India, Thailand, Korea held protests. Where were you, Singapore? I look in vain for your pictures. If you can't protest and march freely in your own country, you are living in a police state. The largest march ever held in Washington (more than 500 000) and not a single arrest made, giving the lie to the security and unrest argument. The unity among marchers was incredible. When the women chanted, "My body, my choice," the men replied in unison, "Her body, her choice." When my students shouted, "Show me what democracy looks like," we responded, looking around us at the tremendous diversity of people, including babies in prams and a disabled woman on crutches, "This is what democracy looks like."

I posted the above on Facebook and the result was a rather lively discussion thread about forms of political protest and about the women's movement. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Politics in Singapore poetry?

Whatever happened to politics in Singapore's English-language poetry? An enlightening essay by the inimitable Gwee Li Sui, who discusses poems by Gilbert Koh, Felix Cheong, Boey Kim Cheng, Cyril Wong, Grace Chia, Aaron Lee, Yeow Kai Chai, and me. Here's the spoiler: politics has never gone away. Essay published as part of a Singapore issue, by Zurich University of the Arts.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Numbers Game

This summary in Today newspaper is symptomatic of what's wrong with the current direction of Singapore arts: it's all about numbers, institutions, infrastructure, international recognition, markets, and nothing about the artists and their work. Even when naysayers such as Khairuddin Hori and I are quoted, our words are taken to support the same themes. I am not "agreeing" with Joshua Ip, but saying something very different instead. Even increasing arts appreciation among Singaporeans is couched in terms of attendance numbers. Nothing is mentioned about how a certain segment of Singaporeans has worked to censor the arts, and so betrays how backwards we are still in terms of our understanding of art. None of this is a surprise, but it is very sad. All the investments of money, time, and energy in the arts only go to creating a spirit that is anti-art. This must have a corrupting effect on art-making in Singapore. As artists, we must resist this corruption, and hope that our work will not be too distorted by the necessary resistance. If you are an artist/writer working in Singapore, how would you summarize your past year? What progress in your work, or even breakthrough, did you experience? What setbacks? Where are you drawing strength and encouragement?

Saturday, January 07, 2017

No to MOE

I've just turned down a request to include a poem of mine in an anthology of Singapore poetry to be used in Singapore schools. I admire the work of the publisher and the editors involved, but the project is initiated (and presumably funded) by the Ministry of Education, and I refuse to allow the state to represent my work in its books while discriminating against my queer person and community through its maintenance of the anti-sodomy law. I ask only to be treated equally as any other Singaporean, that's all. To publish my work and deny me my rights is not equality.

My decision is consistent with my refusal to allow my books to be considered for the state-funded Singapore Literature Prize. I also see it as consistent with my refusal to apply for state funding for my books, projects, and the Singapore Lit Fest in NYC, as a form of protest against state censorship of the arts. Freedom for the arts and equality for all.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Keith Wiltshire

Keith Wiltshire, a wonderful English teacher to me and my RJC classmates, died yesterday morning, January 3. Grace, his daughter, wrote, "He was at home and Pauline and I were with him which is what he would have wanted. He had lived for two years after his stroke and we are very grateful to all our wonderful NHS staff and all the carers who looked after him." Keith had enjoyed being read to in the last year or so. A few days before he died, Grace read to him three of his favorite Matthew Arnold poems, "Growing Old," "Dover Beach," and "The Last Word." If you'd like to write to the family, send me a private message.

I will always remember Keith for being an inspiring teacher and human being. His literary and moral passions were both tremendous, and, together with my history teacher Rodney Cole, he was my entire education at junior college. Confronted by our intellectual lethargy and moral turpitude, he would strive to provoke us into thinking and acting. I still remember how he would constantly inveigh against the uselessness of mathematics as a subject of study, an opinion I was secretly pleased to endorse, until a classmate (was it Malini?) stood up to him in defense of math, and then he broke into a smile and said, "Finally, someone contradicted me!" He did not want our agreement, but our growth, in having the courage of our convictions.

Years after he was let go by the Ministry Of Education for criticizing Singapore's educational system, he wrote to his students regularly from his home in Bristol. I visited him once with two classmates, and we had a salad from the vegetables grown in his garden, and a walking tour of the city, accompanied by his commentary. He switched from Labor to the Green Party and marched in protests on behalf of the environment. To thank him for his letters, and much else besides, I wrote a poem for him. Among its many infelicities is an omission of the girls in that junior-college class: I couldn't fit them into the meter. But the poem may give a sense of what I owe to this best of representatives of Great Britain.

The Far Ships 
for Keith Wiltshire, my teacher 

Your yearly letters make me smile.
Hammered on an old processor,
they slash with slanted lines of bile
the madness of all car-owners,

the British stock of nuclear shells,
how Singapore Immigration stopped
you at the airport, bade farewell
to future visits, and then dropped

you on the next flight home, without
giving a reason. Youth protection?
Your letters sound so free of doubts,
the years a seamless flight connection.

You are as constant as your letters.
With equal passion, you taught us boys
Shakespeare: how not to heed our betters
as Hamlet heeds the ghostly voice,

and why, in Pride and Prejudice,
prejudice is the mate of pride.
You read us Larkin’s poem “Next Please”
and the far ships came alongside

and then sailed on, leaving no goods,
giving no reason. Wide awake,
we saw from where we sat or stood
waters that neither breed nor break.

Do you remember those good years
as good? I do, with thankfulness,
for though your letters do not bear
good news of the wide world, they bless.