Showing posts from July, 2019

A Special Kind of Loneliness

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Congratulations to Chris Huntington on receiving Honorable Mention for his lovely poem "Lorca (6)" in the 2019 Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry, awarded by Sing Lit Station! Chris's poem was first published in SP Blog as third-prize co-winner in the 4th Singapore Poetry Contest. Read "Lorca (6)" and the other winners of the Hawker Prize here.

As the editor of SP Blog, I was interviewed by Sing Lit Station on Chris's poem, Singapore, and the work of Singapore Unbound. Asked about my judge's comment on "Lorca (6)" about the "essential loneliness" that pertains to Singapore, I had the chance to expand on the thought:

"I've always thought that a writer's first reader is himself. He writes to himself to hear himself speak, to assuage his loneliness, to fill the blank air with sound. Singapore cannot assuage this existential loneliness; no …

A Quiet Life

My introduction to Kenzaburō Ōe, and it is a mighty one. It begins so slowly, okay, so quietly, and then mounts and mounts in layered complexity as almost clinically it focuses on one and then another character in a very small social grouping comprising a family (K-san the father who is a novelist, the mother, the brain-damaged older son Eeyore, the daughter, and the younger son); their friends, the Shigetos; and the members of the local swim club. The parents' departure for America, ostensibly for the father to take up a writing residency but really for him to deal with his depression, provides the pretext for Ma-chan the daughter's keeping of a diary, which will inform the parents of all that is happening back home. The diary-as-home will eventually become the novel AQuietLife. Ma-chan appears at first quite simple; she elicits sympathy for her horror at remaining single and unloved because she will have to look after her disabled brother after her parents die. Even at the b…


Written by Ian Rosales Casocot and Shakira Andrea Sison, this anthology of "literary smut," as its subtitle has it, is superior erotica. Both authors are seasoned writers and award winners, but we all know how easy it is to write badly about sex. Casocot avoids the pitfall deftly by experimenting in literary form. "Road Trip" is told backwards, from climax to set-up. "Tell Him" is written mostly through dialogue. "The Thank You Girl" is all foreplay--so, so tantalizing. The highlight of his section is surely his much-anthologized story "The Boys From Rizal Street," which acquires its sexiness through sameness and difference. The form of these stories serves the sex but it is also true that the sex inspires the form.

Alternative Literary Eco-system

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On July 12, filmmaker Jason Soo and poet Ally Chua received their Singapore Unbound Fellowship awards from award-winning filmmaker Tan Pin Pin at UltraSuperNew in Singapore. The award enabled Jason to travel to Thailand to interview the exiled aging members of the Communist Party of Malaya, a project for which he would never have received funding from the government. Ally, who will be coming to NYC this year, will experience the freedom and trust that a true writer deserves since she does not have to complete any reports at the end of her stay. Having selected her, we believe in her talent, promise, and determination. She will be free to grow and follow her writerly instincts.

As I explained at the event, Singapore Unbound has developed a literary ecosystem that provides an alternative to the one run by the state. Our biennial literary festival and monthly readings offer a showcase for excellent writing. The fellowship…

The Southern Ridges

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Yesterday I ran to the top of Mount Faber without stopping on my fourth try. Fourth try! I'm really out of shape. At 106 meters (348 ft), Mount Faber is one of the higher hills in Singapore. It is part of the Southern Ridges, a trek through nature established and maintained lovingly by National Parks Board.

From Mount Faber, you could run, or walk, to Telok Blangah Green and then to HortPark, a one-stop gardening resource center. There in the orderly park you could run into Ralph Waldo Emerson, or at least his words. He tells us still that "The earth laughs in flowers." As is characteristic of the American philosopher and writer, the words are unforgettable. Flowers appeal to our eyes and nose. They can even be touched and eaten. But heard? As bursts of laughter from the earth? So they are.

I have the good fortune to meet many flowers of Singap…

The Spirit of Writing, The Spirit of Independence

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Is there really a spirit of writing here, in Dumaguete, the sea-facing capital of the province of Negros Oriental, in the Philippines? My guide, fiction writer and heritage activist Ian Rosales Casocot, thinks so. He teaches creative writing at the oldest writing workshop in the country. He has seen many writers, new and established, discover that spirit in their time here. Yesterday I broke my dry spell in Asia and revised a poem that I had shelved.

Silliman University, where Ian teaches, is the oldest private American university in Asia. It is a living part of the country's colonial history. As Ian wrote in his blog, when the victorious Americans took over from the Spanish, they imposed English on the country to transmit their values. Ian remembers having to speak English only in grade school. To enforce the rule, the students were made to play a "game" called Badge. Whoever forgot himself and spoke Bi…