By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Toh Hsien MinLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

To pin something down.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

If I’m honest, Means to an End was a bit of an extended inside joke. But it’s pleasantly surprising to see how many people read how many different things into it.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Restless. It’s like Tiger Woods and his golf stroke. Whenever I feel like I’ve got the hang of a stroke I’ve got to break it.

Who are your favorite authors?

Ooh where does one start?

By Felicia Low-Jimenez, Interviews Editor, Kitaab

Joshua IpJoshua Ip is prodigiously talented and quite likely needs very little sleep given that he has achieved all that he has while juggling a full-time job. He was the Golden Point Award runner-up for Poetry in 2011, the winner for Prose in 2013, and was co-winner of the Singapore Literature Prize for English Poetry in 2014. His winning book, Sonnets from the singlish, was his first published collection. Not satisfied with conquering verse and prose, he is also working on a graphic novel titled Ten Stories Below. However, beyond all his personal accomplishments, Joshua is also the brain behind a slew of literary programmes that are focused on mentoring and grooming the next generation of local poets.

Tell us more about these programmes/initiatives (for lack of a better catch-all word) with names that most Singaporeans can relate to (or feel traumatised by).

  • Burn After Reading (BAR): A workshop for young poets aged 15-21. Selection by an open call and interviews.
  • Image-Symbol Department (ISD)/Ministry of Noise (MON): A workshop for 20-something-ish poets before their first manuscripts. Selected through or attracted by SingPoWriMo.
    • Manuscript Boot camp: An intensive residential program focused on developing first manuscripts for publication
    • Ten Year Series: An imprint for first manuscripts
  • Math Remedial: A workshop for published poets after their 1st-2nd

I’m not sure about “most Singaporeans”, but:

Joshua Ip 1BAR is Sunday school, where you get broad guidance together with kids around the same age. ISD/MON are cell groups/care groups which are more mature and intensive, with focus on peer review and support. Manuscript Boot camp is like an intensive Bible course. Ten Year Series is the process of being ordained. Math Remedial is a club for pastors. Regular poetry reading events are church, and SWF is Christmas season… I think I lost the metaphor halfway through.

But basically there is a kind of hierarchy and progression through these programmes, with intensity varying based on the level of enthusiasm and maturity of the participants. Most are regular monthly workshops, with the onus really on the poets themselves to drive the sessions. The exception is the younger BAR session which has slightly more facilitation. Also, members from higher levels pop down regularly to provide support to the next generation. Even the pinnacle workshop, Math Remedial still gets regular support from senior poets—from Prof Edwin Thumboo to Alvin Pang, and Cyril Wong’s generation all the way to guest residents like Jasmine Cooray.

Alvin Pang
Alvin Pang

“The latest, second edition of The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English features several entries on Singapore poets,” tweeted Singapore poet and literary guru Alvin Pang today.

Besides Pang, Boey Kim Cheng, Edwin Thumboo, Arthur Yap, Yong Shu Hoong, Toh Hsien Min,  Jee Leong Loh and Cyril Wong have been included in the publication.