Book Review by Kaiyi Tan

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Title: Sightlines

Author: Marc Nair

Photographer: Tsen-Waye Tay

Publisher: Math Press, 2019

I must first confess that I did not like Sightlines when I first read it. As I absorbed this book of poems with photography by Marc Nair and Tsen-Waye Tay, I couldn’t help but feel that a certain song-like lyricism was missing. Usually, my first instinct is to judge verses based solely on the quality of sound alone. Meaning can be secondary, as long as the words form a particular harmony. Knowing that Marc Nair is an established poet in Singapore with a huge reputation for spoken word, I was slightly disappointed.

But on my second reading, something very simple happened.

I followed the recommendation in Mr. Nair’s introduction: I read the poems with the images in mind. And suddenly, like Blake’s experience of seeing a world in a grain of sand, the entire book changed for me. Mr. Nair’s words, together with the stark and beautiful photography of Ms. Tay, emerged as mini-narratives of their own.

Reviewed By Mitali Chakravarty

 

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Title: Vital Possessions

Author: Marc Nair

Publisher: Ethos books, Singapore

 

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.

Reviewed by Paresh Tiwari

Rochelle Potkar

Title: Paper Asylum
Author:
Rochelle Potkar
Publisher: Copper Coin (2018)
Pages: 103
Price: INR 295/-

 

Among the many sub-genres of poetry, haibun might be the hardest to categorise. Is it in essence poetry or prose? Or a tapestry woven from the two threads by a skilled practitioner? Is it distilled from personal experience or a product of the fanciful flight in a fabulist world created by the poet?

Haibun, despite being a 500-year-old form, assiduously escapes the narrow confines of a definition. Yet, the critical elements of this form – sincerity, brevity, suspension of cleverness, living the moment, and experiencing the world afresh (to name but a few) – are universal. They lay the foundation for works which stop being a collection of words, images, memories, or feelings and invite the reader to embrace the poetry and own it.

Rochelle Potkar’s full-length prose poetry collection, Paper Asylum, is humanity turned inside out, flesh, bones and soul, painted skilfully on every page. Her poetry deftly navigates a plethora of complicated subjects and themes – love and lust in their myriad shades, longing, pain, loss, gears of society, growing up in a world that makes little sense, and the multifarious joy at finding and being found in the bargain. These poems are explorers journeying through the self and its projection on the universe beyond.

Potkar’s prose poems (most of which could be categorised as haibun) strengthens my belief that one of the qualities of good poetry is its ability to surprise. Much like life itself. In that sense, I propose that poetry and life are one and the same. Paper Asylum brims with life, in all its visceral, raw, urgent, messy glory.

Sample this:

He missed her after the breakup. Although he was the one who had broken off. He didn’t know what came into him when he got too close to women. When he poured everything into her like an ocean into a jug of wet earth.

 He felt deeply wronged.

                                                                                                                                           fish catch –

                                                                                                                                 the boat swinging

                                                                                                                                           in surrender

– “About Turn”

 

Anyone who has ever had a breakup would instantly recognise the truth in those lines. The hunger of loneliness and the need are not only palpable but instantly identifiable.

By Zafar Anjum

Hiroshi Kato
Hiroshi Kato

Haiku is a globally popular literary form. The earliest westerner known to have written haiku was Hendrik Doeff (1764–1837). He was the Dutch commissioner in the Dejima trading post in Nagasaki, during the first years of the 19th century. However, haiku entered the English language through Ezra Pound in 1913. Since then, it has become a global phenomenon in poetry, transcending barriers of geography and language.

30 years ago, as a kid growing up in India, I would often come across haiku written even in my mother tongue, Urdu. Interestingly, it was Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore who contributed a great deal in introducing haiku to India. In the early 20th century, he composed haiku in Bengali and also translated some from Japanese.

Clearly, this quintessential Japanese form of poetry has had a great influence on global literature. In Singapore too, where poetry is a very popular form, we find a Japanese haiku poet Hiroshi Kato who is devoted to the genre and actively promotes it in this part of the world.

Meeting Hiroshi Kato

It was a rainy afternoon in November when I met this tall and lanky Japanese poet and art dealer in his gallery, Kato Art Duo (http://katoartduo.com/) in the Raffles Hotel Arcade. He had just moved into that office space and the décor of the room was still incomplete. A pile of cartoons was lying in a corner of the room. Large picture frames wrapped in newspapers stood by the wall.

Haiku“Haiku,” edited by haiku practitioner David Cobb, and “Haiku Love,” edited by Japanese language scholar Alan Cummings, are both fun books. Originally published by the British Museum, they are sumptuously illustrated withnihonga (Japanese-style painting) and ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) from the museum’s collections, each haiku presented with the original given in an elegant Japanese calligraphic font. The format makes both publications look like picture books with captions in verse.

Take these two pieces in “Haiku”: