Litprom 2016

It was a busy weekend at Litprom, the Society for the Promotion of African, Asian and Latin American Literature. The 2016 edition of the festival, with the theme ‘New World Literature and the Global South,’ featured 12 authors from Asia, Africa and South America. Together with Amanda Lee Koe from Singapore, we joined a distinguished bevy of writers on a range of panels and discussions.

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Just before the festival, I had the chance to speak at the Metropolitan School Frankfurt to a very endearing and enthusiastic bunch of 9th and 10th Graders about the power and value of poetry. I think my rendition of Dog TV had them thinking about the possibilities of seeing the poetic through the mundane.

Then I had the great pleasure of hanging out with Dirk Huelstrunk, the grandfather of poetry slam in Frankfurt. A true pioneer of slam in the city, nowadays, he trucks in his own cadences, merging sound art through words and loops. The soundscape is emotive, charged with dissonance and urgency and we worked on two pieces, Camera Be and Well Done, which we performed as part of the closing act for the festival. I helmed the rest of the evening, doing favourites such as Made in China and O Holy Torrent as well as newer pieces such as Kenny G. The latter was accompanied with a mash up of Kenny G’s tunes, to much hilarity.

The festival was held over a rainy, windy weekend in Frankfurt. A buzzing business city at best, it empties out during weekends, and the weather seemed to follow, dropping to -5 degrees Celsius in the mornings.

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Sometimes, the best conversations were held over mealtimes. One memorable lunch I had was with Angolan author José Eduardo Agualusa and Brazilian fictionist Luiz Ruffato. We traded stories about ludicrous festival experiences, including one being stuck on a cruise boat floating down the Amazon for a whole week. The audience was a bunch of older women, constantly making ‘literary’ advances, like piranhas circling for the kill.

I had the chance to walk briefly around in the drizzle on the day after the festival, snapping a few photos, and deciding that monochrome best fit the mood of the city.

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Advent

 
Another year, and He has not returned.

The baubles are spun, presents delivered,

the manger dusted, animals arrayed

for one more party, and so we wait, frayed

ends of fairy lights blink on familiar 

trees, what new xmas blessing holds us dear

as we hark the herald on silent nights, 

Bethlehem a soft dance on tongues, a flight

of wise men under starsong. As shepherds

shuffle to angels singing praise, the world

pops bubbly cheer, worrying in another

year, raising pagan prayers to remember

echoes of a kingdom built on promise;  

He will return on a holy night’s kiss. 

 

Smoking Poetry at TedxSingapore 2015

I was honoured to be a speaker at this year’s TedxSingapore. It was the largest ever Tedx held here, with 1,700 participants coming to catch two days of energetic, awe-inspiring speakers. I was amongst hallowed company with luminaries Hans Rosling and Tony Wheeler as well as local heroes like Gwee Li Sui, Randolf Arriola, Crystal Goh and Eugene Soh.

Here’s my contribution; a treatise on why poetry seems to have a problem, and what we can do about it.

https://youtu.be/ANA93BojE3I

Camera Be

camera bewaking

Camera Be

Camera be waking
Camera be watching
Camera be filming
As we are drowning

Camera be loving
All of our living
The joy and the grieving
Camera be scheming

Camera be
All that we see
Camera be
In you and me

Camera be dreaming
Unfocusing sunshine
The dotted blue line
Of security signs

Camera be keeping
Random memories
Are we now frenemies
Camera please tell me

Memory card is full
Format, delete, edit
Memory card for fools
Forget, defeat, omit

Camera bewaking
Camera believing
The lies we are telling
The eye of our failings

Camera be
All that we see
Camera be
In you and me

Number (for Myanmar)

I wrote this poem a while ago, but am posting it up now in honour of Myanmar’s historic 2015 election results.

 

Number

I will stop being a number, and start being.

20102010 was the first World Statistics Day, and I learned that
1.03 billion people are undernourished and 1.15 billion people are overweight.
1.4 billion people don’t have clean drinking water, while 80% of the world
believes God exists; it must be all those who have clean water.

For once, the number crunchers could slice a perfect pie chart
Of how many soldiers it takes to overrun a country and keep
Statistics unknown. But we do know that
Numbers are the natural fall-out from any disaster.
When Cyclone Giri landed in Myanmar right after World Statistics Day
It took out 100,000 homes and affected a quarter of a million people.
UNICEF still needs 2.1 million dollars, but that’s one number people are quick to forget.

I will stop being a number and start being.

32 per cent of the people in Myanmar walk below the poverty line,
Villages take weekly turns to have electricity in their homes one week out of two.
Temples are plated gold with millions from rulers who own the natural gas reserves
and elections are nullified with the third largest standing army in Asia.

Because numbers only quantify, they can never measure the degree
of joy to hear someone say, you are free, or a father faded like
a photograph of a better country, or simply speaking of peace to
the crowd who cannot be counted, whose numbers reach for the right

to stop counting the number of decades a country has been
downtrodden, to change hearts and raise people on their knees,
to build together a bright collection of strange victories,
which is the translation from Burmese for Aung San Suu Kyi.

I will stop being a number, and start being.

Private Citizens

LowResprivatecitizensposter

 

I’m super stoked to be headed to Amsterdam to perform and exhibit poems together with three other amazing artists on 9th and 10th October at A-Lab in Kulter.

I’ll be exhibiting haikus and photographs from a series titled ‘A Rush of Caffeine to the Head’ and performing a spoken word set around the theme of ‘Private Citizens.’

We are also raising funds to pay for things like transport, equipment rental and exhibition costs, so do contribute if you can!

Private Citizens on Indiegogo

Etiquette

This is a homage (or not), to the etiquette that binds us when we communicate. It might be more informative to say, ‘I hope you’ve enjoyed your lunch. I had a sandwich, what did you consume?’ instead of the mundane, I hope this finds you well…

 

Etiquette 

 

Dear reader,

I hope this finds you well.

I hope you’re not sideswiped with a sore throat, or frazzled with flu.

I hope a fever is not bleaching your brain, every sentence broken and out of joint.

 

Dear reader,

I hope this finds you well,

Or maybe not, you might be shot, caught in a bear trap on the rap for bad debt, or straining to take a crap, I don’t care, though politely I must peel a piece of personal trivia to show empathy. Something about your passion project on 3D printed condoms for third world countries, how’s it going? What do you call it? Rubber meets the road?

 

Dear reader,

You aren’t really my dear, any more than a deer in the woods is no closer to a MacDonald’s drive-through, Any more than btw fyi imho rtm could also be a line of spam, or a message from your boss.

We say these things out of etiquette, coded alphabets, a best of slow rock album that has to have Bryan Adams and Scorpion. Our tongues are fine tipped lines of poison. These are the songs we have chosen, to sell you spells in thoughts of hell, silver bells and cockeyed shells. I hope this finds you well, please don’t tell, because you only get one exclamation mark. It could be used for the obligatory congratulatory sub sub point, or to feign interest in a well curated Pinterest.

 

Dear reader,

You told me to please revert, so noted, with thanks.

On my flanks, in my shanks, noted with thanks

Close the ranks, run the banks, noted with thanks

Let’s be frank, need a spank? Noted, with thanks

 

Dear reader,

My bullets points are leaden with leading lines, my subtext an incendiary mine, my signature speaks in sine wave, my drafts autosave. I will not hire or fire or wire money via this message, but I might quote you a line from a Wordsworthy passage:

And now I see with eye serene 

The very pulse of the machine

 

Best regards… What exactly are best regards?

Do they have little booties on them, a bow tie? Discount codes?

Just wondering, no response needed.

 

Spin Cycle Meditations

Attachment-1

Written for Waiting At A Stopped Clock, a pop-up poetry reading held at 71 Rowell Road, Wonder Wash Laundromat on 7th August 2015, where the clock has stopped at 9.37.

 

Spin Cycle Meditations

i
Laundromats are always shiny. Like whitewashed walls bereft of the identity of graffiti, a blank page proposition of what you might become if you spin long enough. And if you come at the right time, you can stop the clock to pick up a date, finish a novel, or conduct a clandestine conversation with someone who might be a spy.

ii
Next to Chinatown complex, parallel to Smith street, there is a laundromat; metallic and cold, unlike the clay crockery and Taoist offering shops that flank it. It stands with its rows of eyes, a bulging panopticon, swallowing a thousand dirty stories, spitting out clean, state-approved versions; softened and sanctified, darks separated from whites.

iii
There are two old men arguing in a Bukit Merah wonder wash laundromat. As good morning towels churn slowly behind them, their words thicken with Tiger, full of old-fashioned expletives, wet with the rain. There is no one to hand out change here. Perhaps an altar would work better. Prayers to the god of pre-shrunk hopes.

iv
The laundromat in Hualien, Taiwan has a photograph of a sexy white woman on the dish-washing powder box, but she’s not wearing enough to show how white her clothes are. Anyhow, the machine ate all our coins and didn’t spit out a return. Maybe we weren’t white enough to begin with.

v
A very large man stands in a Penang laundromat all by himself. He stares at the spinning drum like a roulette wheel, or some time-sharing kaleidoscope. Past midnight, when the lint drifts around like a broken snow-globe, he will read his future in the way clothes crumple to the floor, a tea leaf testimony of t-shirts.

 

The DIY Poem

single sock

 

I’ve just come back from Daiso.

I ignored the photo frames, the bow ties, the dog biscuits,

I went straight to the cheap DIY poems,

because even the price of words has gone up these days.

 

I wanted to try making a poem by myself, you know, the Ikea experience,

instead of getting a professional poet to come and install words for me.

 

You would think that even a $1.99 poem should come with an instruction manual,

a cheat-sheet for suggested end rhymes, some quick-start ideas or even a sample poem.

 

No.

 

For $1.99 all you get is a blank piece of paper, a pencil and 4 small cards.

I turn them over, and one says

Theme: Identity

another says

Tone: Happy

one more says

Poetic Device: Personification

and the last one is a picture of a sock.

I look in the packet for something else… a quote maybe, or an auto-complete button…

 

So I start thinking why socks don’t often come in black and white,

why bright colors on socks generally make your day walk by better.

I remember how socks keep your feet warm, unflustered and blister-free

I remember never to pair white sport socks with black pants.

 

Perhaps, I could use my poetic device to give the sock feelings of heroism

when it fulfills its stoic duty in spite of toenails threatening to punch holes in it,

how it gets bullied in the washing machine by more elegant work socks,

or smiles in quiet triumph when it gets picked to go out on weekends.

 

But look, it’s just one sock, and not two.

Are single socks more fashionable these days?

Maybe this sock likes to go DIY,

but a single sock getting a foot job might send it to a sticky end.

 

Or maybe someone else has another DIY poem kit with my matching sock,

and is writing a poem about how their single sock will find my single sock

and pair up, because… (cue killer last line)

they’re not single, they’re just waiting.