Showing posts from March, 2019

Spiritual Affiliations

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I turned 49 yesterday in New York. 16 years ago, I arrived in the city to begin graduate studies in writing poetry. Stepping into the stupendous Great Hall of Grand Central Station to take the Metro-North train to Sarah Lawrence College, I thought, as many did before me, I'm finally here. On the train, I spoke to the first New Yorker I didn't have to. He turned out to be an elderly jeweler whose family fled the war in Europe.

New York is a city of refuge for many people, including artists. Here you find, at last, your own people, who are related to you, not by blood, but by spirit. On the morning of my birthday, I wrote a poem about a young gay Singaporean who came here to study fashion and found himself, before graduation, marrying a man 21 years older than him, and, upon graduation, adopting two teenage children. During our interview for the poem, it was obvious that he was still amazed at what he had done.


Ants Among Elephants

The subtitle—An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India—provides a sober summary of the content of this memoir, but it deliberately underplays the harrowing stories told in lucid prose by the author Sujatha Gidla. The national tale is one of class-initiated and state-supported oppression of the lower castes and, in helpless response, the divisions in the Communist Party of India when it abandoned armed revolution to enter electoral politics. The family tale traces the transformation of an uncle into a famous poet and leader of a left-wing guerilla movement. The other hero of the story is a heroine, the author's mother, who comes into her own as a mother and teacher in the later part of the story. A wonderful aspect of this memoir is that it never lets you forget the impact of social upheavals on women. The author is, however, not concerned with hagiography. The different members of the family, including their circle of friends, are here depicted with warts and all.



I have a poem, "Gaudy Boy," written after Singapore's late poet Arthur Yap, in this anthology commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of Walt Whitman and the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Besides Whitman, many poetic forebears, including Cavafy, Rimbaud, Thom Gunn, Justin Chin, James Baldwin, Garcia Lorca, Tim Dlugos, Allen Ginsberg, and Yukio Mishama, are celebrated by a good range of contemporary gay male poets. Big thanks to editor Raymond Luczak for including my poem and for putting together this celebration of the vitality of the gay male poetic tradition. You can get hold of the anthology here.

Building on Sand

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To expand its surface area, Singapore has become the world's largest importer of sand for its land reclamation projects. A documentary video made by environmental activists shows how sand dredging in Cambodia to meet Singapore's insatiable demand for land has destroyed coastal ecosystems and the livelihood of Cambodians who depend on harvesting shrimp and shellfish from the mangroves.

When the video was posted on Facebook yesterday, it attracted a range of comments. One Singaporean dismissed the video by writing, "Willing buyer and willing seller. The solution is for Cambodia not to sell anymore [sic] sand to anyone." The remark springs from a purely transactional view of the world and ignores the harm that Singapore is complicit with. Under pressure from activists, the Cambodian government has banned the sale of sand to Singapore, but activists suspect that illegal smuggling is still carrying on.

Another …

A Crackle of Flames, A Circle of Rainbow

A Selected Poems, spanning 1967-1977, by the foremost Singaporean Malay poet Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, A Crackle of Flames, A Circle of Rainbow (Ethos Books) is worth the read. The poems are from two collections, the first bearing the same title, the second titled When the Butterfly Breaks its Wings. This is a fighting book of poems, passionate and plainspoken, often lambasting the New Malays for not fighting for their own dignity, culture, and history, but giving it all up instead to serve Chinese dominance in Singapore. Yet the high rhetoric often ends with a lyrical, and sometimes mysterious, image. For instance, "Poetry of Song" begins unsparingly:

if what i say hurts you
then that is what I intend
because i like to tell stories
exposing harlotry as it is
right before our very eyes...

and ends with:

the tears of the wretched
who have lost everything
at dawn on the blue petals of pomegranate
the call to prayers reverberates
love and longing overlap
and the moon falls on the…

Banding for Good?

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On Tuesday, Singapore's Ministry of Education announced that it will scrap streaming in secondary schools in 2024 and replace it with subject-based banding. Singapore Unbound supports the abolition of streaming, which has undermined and stigmatized students by labeling them as Express, Normal (Academic), and Normal (Technical). The belated change to subject-based banding, or tracking as it is called in the USA, is an improvement, but it does not go very far in addressing the inequities in the educational system.

Subject-based banding will, in fact, reinforce the false idea that the current system is based on meritocracy. Even with the change, schools will still be measuring student performance based on different student starting points and unequal access to resources (families, schools, and communities). There is no acknowledgement of prevailing social and economic injustices in society, as piercingly de…

Why I Am Half in Love with Jolovan Wham

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Because like most Singaporeans l have been inducted into the cult of personality. I have been indoctrinated, I mean taught, from young the history of Great Men, so I petition Parliament to preserve the shrine of Jolovan's HDB apartment, even if it's against his wishes, after he joins our Lord.

Because he is super tech savvy, as a Singaporean should be. The cops confirm it after they arrested him for holding an indoor Skype meeting with a democracy activist from Hong Kong, another tech-savvy city. The courts confirm it by convicting him of public disorder and sentencing him to 16 days in prison. See how powerful techies are!

Because every national day I am brainwashed by songs on radio, TV, and in shopping malls telling me charity begins and stays at home, and Jolovan Wham is a labor activist belonging to HOME.

Because I won't give up my Chinese privilege and two Chinese men make more privilege than one, …