Singapore National Poetry Festival to Celebrate Poetic Diversity in SG50 Year

The inaugural Singapore National Poetry Festival (NPF) is set to celebrate the island’s poetry in all its four official languages through readings and reflections by both established and emerging poets from July 24 to 26 at LASALLE College of the Arts at 1 McNally St, Singapore 187940.

The first platform of its kind in recent years to celebrate the whole range of Singapore poetry, the NPF is mainly organised by poets writing in the four different languages — Eric Tinsay Valles, K. Kanagalatha, Azhar Ibrahim, Tan Chee Lay — with the support of Cultural Medallion winner Edwin Thumboo, educators Michelle Loh, Khoo Lilin, Ian Chung, Kevin Hing, Zachary Tan and student volunteers. NPF will also hold readings and other events at the National Library, Gardens by the Bay, the Grassroots Bookshop and the Gan Heritage Centre.

Performers for the opening night include poets Thumboo, Joshua Ip, Azhar Ibrahim, K. Kanagalatha, Wong Yoon Wah and Tan Jui Piow. The NPF will also showcase performances by winners and commended entries from the Singapore National Poetry Competition, which was open to students and the general public. The NPF features also keynote addresses, workshops and a symposium on nationhood in poetry.

Eric Valles, a poet and director of the NPF, says that the festival represents a “coming of age for poetry in all the official languages of Singapore.” Whereas similar festivals explore the breadth of literary writing, NPF focuses on a genre that more Singaporeans choose as a preferred mode of expression. Indeed, more books of poetry are published than of any other literary genre in Singapore. “The poetry here is dynamic and taking deep root in the heartland,” says Valles. “A good poet combines an artful form and significant matter in order to speak for a particular time and place.” The various readings at the festival will provide glimpses of the poetic styles and existential concerns of a society that is embracing poetry as part of its history in the making.

Tan Chee Lay, an award-winning, Chinese-language poet and translator, chimes in that poetry deserves a place in the nation’s jubilee celebration. He says, “Let us welcome poetry, which in any language is just as poetic, into Singapore’s jubilee celebration, and remind us that the beauty of words persists, just like our nation’s relentless pursuit of excellence.”

Both Azhar Ibrahim, a traditional Malay-language poet and scholar, as well as K. Kanagalatha K, an award-winning Tamil-language poet and journalist, see NPF as embodying literary and social activist Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s vision of a national literature. Ngugi says, “A nation’s literature, which is a sum total of the products of many individuals in that society is then not only a reflection of that people’s collective reality, collective experience, but also embodies that community’s way of looking at the world and its place in the making of that world.”

The poetry scene in Singapore is certainly thriving with many avenues for poets to share and read each other’s works. There are poetry readings in bars and bookstores. There are even mobile phones apps such as Text in the City for writing and sharing poems. “Soon, with the help of statutory boards, poetry will be ubiquitous in Singapore,” says Valles. The National Library Board, an NPF partner, is displaying Singapore poems on the City Hall MRT platforms during NPF. Commuters and passersby can look forward to humorous, moving and though-provoking poems on life, people and places in Singapore.

Spoken poetry is an exciting new poetic form that is highlighted at this year’s NPF. Spoken poetry has reached out to more citizens with the rise of poetry slams and open mics. Online news portal quotes NPF workshop facilitator Deborah Emmanuel, a writer and performing poet, as saying, “I think spoken word poetry allows emotions to carry through voices. A lot of people grew up thinking poetry is inaccessible, and that it is only available to literature students. But people are now realising that it’s not.”

With various workshops and readings, the upcoming NPF welcomes all who are keen to learn more about poetry. Admission to the festival is free of charge, but registration is required.

NPF counts among its key partners the National Arts Council, the National Parks Board, the National Library Board, Gardens by the Bay, LASALLE College of the Arts, National Junior College and Tanjong Katong Secondary School.