Vital Possessions is a collection of poems, haikus, monologues and photographs by award winning Singaporean poet and photographer Marc Nair. The content reflects the tussle between city life and nature.
Marc Nair takes us on a journey through ASEAN countries — Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and of course Singapore. He finds nature pushing its way through the crevices of city life. In one of his haikus, accompanied by a photograph of a worn out wall with grass growing out of the gaps, he writes,
“Nature never fails
to push against the grain
of forgotten cities.”
When I see the picture and read the lines, what springs to my mind is the St Paul’s church in Malacca, built in 1521, a forgotten church of a bygone era. The monument has vegetation growing out of crevices, which many old buildings would have. However, a sense unique hopefulness is brought to the fore by Marc Nair’s brevity of words to create a picture perfect perspective.
Born in 1977, Alfian Sa’at is an accomplished and versatile Singaporean writer who has published across all three genres of prose, poetry, and drama, winning awards in each genre, including the Singapore Literature Prize, Golden Point Award and Singapore Young Artist Award. His three poetry collections, One Fierce Hour (Landmark Books, 1998), A History of Amnesia (Ethos Books, 2001) and The Invisible Manuscript (Math Paper Press, 2012) were mainly composed during his undergraduate days in Singapore, and he has since published several plays, translations and two short story collections, Corridor: 12 Short Stories (SNP, 1999; Ethos Books, 2015) and Malay Sketches (Ethos Books 2012; Gaudy Boy 2018). Alfian is the Resident Playwright at Wild Rice, a theatre company in Singapore headed by artistic director Ivan Heng.
As part of an ongoing collaborative project entitled Anglophone City Poetics and the Asian Experience, Alfian talks to Tammy Ho and Jason Lee about his first poetic journeys, his relationship with the city-state he calls home, and his reactions to globalization and the cultural imaginary of the Asian city.
Tammy Ho & Jason Lee: You are perhaps more renowned as a playwright these days, but can you tell us what inspired you to write your first poems?
Alfian: I think I was exposed to poetry through an anthology we used in my secondary school (Raffles Institution) called Touched with Fire. It was my first introduction to poets such as Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, and, if I’m not mistaken, also Sylvia Plath and Philip Larkin. I think these poets left quite a significant impression and I started hunting for their collections in the school library. I was at that age when I took on melancholy as adolescent affectation, and I remember committing Larkin’s ‘Faith Healing’ to memory.
I probably started dabbling in poetry when I joined the Creative Arts Programme, which was a residential programme for students who displayed some aptitude in creative writing. This was when I was 15 years old. We spent one week staying at a hostel at the National University of Singapore. Every day, the other students would publish some of their writings in the daily newsletter. This was one of my earliest exposures to a writing community of peers.
Tammy & Jason: Can you list some important moments in your early experiences as a poet?
Alfian: I recall quite distinctly one moment in the canteen, when we were having our lunch. This was usually some rice with a side of meat and vegetables. Just the day before, one of the students had claimed to have found weevils in the rice, and all the complaints about how bad the food was took this rather nightmarish turn. On that day, the newsletter featured many poems, limericks, doodles about weevils.
So I went up to the lady who served us the rice (in styrofoam containers), to top up my drink. She seemed very pleased with the fact that I was returning ‘for seconds’ and asked me what school I was from. I told her, and her response was that I should eat more, since I was ‘so clever’ and used ‘my brain a lot’.
It was that gap, between the woman’s unguarded, even effusive interaction with me, and the fact that she was a target of parody, that made me return to my hostel room to write one of my first poems. I felt all these things that had to do with class and privilege and guilelessness and betrayal and it was something that I could only process through poetry.
I was thankful for the presence of my mother, husband, son and friends (Jessica Yeo, Kisato, He Shu Xin, Teresa, Katherine Seow, Rusyinni Rusanto, Thomas Tee, Rachel Tee, Jonathan Tee, Evangeline Neo, Winston Chan Boon Hock, and Sherrley Seah) who witnessed the publication of this book. I am also grateful to those who came for the launch to give their kind blessings and support and to Perine Seah who was my moderator as well.
The idea of this book was born in 2013 when my son was three years old. Around this time, he began to lose interest in brushing his teeth. It was a great challenge to engage his interest in doing so and many questions flashed in my mind. What if people don’t brush their teeth? What if the teeth are gone? With these, the characters of cavity monsters began to appear in my head. Visual events and story situations flooded my imagination and I shared the story with my son. The story convinced him to take action, to resume the good habit of brushing his teeth. Now he expects more such stories from me. It is a challenge to create series of bedtime stories for him and I have to come up with new ones every day.
Title: B-Sides and Backslides: 1986-2018 Author: Felix Cheong Publisher: Math Paper Press by Books Actually Pages: 95 ISBN 978-981-11-7304-2
B-Sides and Backslides is the award-winning Singaporean poet Felix Cheong’s collection panning the development of his poetry from 1986 to 2018. In the foreword, the poet writes, ‘These are pieces which… could not find their place in my published volumes.’ The title alludes to ‘the flipsides’ of his poetry. He compares them to the B-Sides of Beatles’ albums, which often had songs that were really interesting but not top of the charts. They remain an interesting part of a creative process. However, he claims that he has not ‘blackslid even if it might appear so,’ and in that spirit, his poetry touches our lives with its humour and variety.
The book is divided into different periods of his development as a poet. In “Juvenalia”, the section tracing his development as a poet for the first nine years, he says, ‘In various voices and versions, I have been trying to rewrite Prufrock the past thirty years…’ However, through the course of his poetry we can see how he transcends the torpor of the procrastinating Prufrock (“Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, T. S. Eliot, 1910) and the angst generated by Hollow Men (T. S. Eliot, 1925) to become a caricaturist of Singapore life, politics and culture. In “We are the Salarymen”, with an epigraph of the first two lines of Hollow Men, he concludes,
We maybe the hollow men,
but the least we own
is our honesty to know
we have the means to fill
and fulfil this emptiness,
stuffed fool and full of yourself,
little more than moans and bones
on a high horse galloping
with the weight of a lost world.
1. Good, Clean Copy – How good editing can make you a great writer
1 OCTOBER 2018 (Mon) | 9:30AM – 5:30PM
Truman Capote famously said: “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” In fact, many great writers refer to the editing stage as “where the real work happens.” The fine art of editing really can make good writing great and time and time again proves the old adage that less really is more. This workshop looks at distilling and crystallizing your writing to make it shorter, sharper and – most importantly – better. The workshop will include practical exercises and will teach you a number of tried and tested editing techniques. As Dr Seuss says: “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
Suitable for: Writers of any experience level, from both fiction and non-fiction, who want to develop a disciplined approach to their work and gain an understanding of the importance and effectiveness of good editing.
Trainer: Simon Clews – Simon is in great demand as a writing coach and has delivered training around the world, including in Singapore, Canada, the UK, Thailand and Hong Kong. Prior to that he ran the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for fourteen years, as well as a slew of other literary events, including Writers at Como, Writers at the Convent, Stories Alive and Crime & Justice.
2. The New Self-Publishing – How the entrepreneurial writer can challenge publishing’s status quo
2 OCTOBER 2018 (Tue) | 9:30AM – 5:30PM
There has never been a better time to be a writer; the power balance is shifting away from the traditional gatekeepers, the commercial publishers, and back into the hands of the writers. The traditional publishing process is fast becoming known as ‘legacy publishing’ and the canny writer is reinventing themselves as an entrepreneur with a significant digital presence. As part of this revolution, self-publishing has been reborn and is now a force to be reckoned with. Done properly, the new self-publishing allows the writer to carefully cultivate their audience and deliver a book to them that is a hotly anticipated product, rather than just being a small cog in the machine of the very speculative process that is traditional publishing. But it’s crucial to get this right. This workshop will look at taking advantage of this publishing revolution and avoiding any pitfalls that might come your way.
Suitable for: Writers of any experience level, from both fiction and non-fiction, who are new to self-publishing and who have a specific publishing project in mind.
Trainer:Simon Clews – Simon is in great demand as a writing coach and has delivered training around the world, including in Singapore, Canada, the UK, Thailand and Hong Kong. Prior to that he ran the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for fourteen years, as well as a slew of other literary events, including Writers at Como, Writers at the Convent, Stories Alive and Crime & Justice.