This was my speech for the Proposition during the Art’s House 10th Anniversary celebrations debate on 29th March 2014. The motion was ‘Singapore can be a city of literature.’ To our chagrin, we won.
Singapore. We are a city of literature.
When we reserve tables, the word chope is personified through a multitude of creatively employed objects.
We photograph sonnets of inappropriate behavior in public. We write incredible monologues of public transport breakdowns, of long waiting times between our stanzas.
We the people are always reading… between the lines.
We are always stomping stories onto each other.
We are an efficiency of prose; precise and purposeful.
And there is great literary value found in Korean dramas, which have become a staple diet for us Singaporeans. We have learned to plot our lives through the perfect skin tone of story, to cry on cue against the moving metonymy of Seoul food.
Facebook buzzfeeds our daily dose of deep thought and connects us to dozens of denizens who dream in the same language of like. We tweet in haiku, rendering the mundane into concise catapults of meaning.
Singapore, we are a city of literature, despite all they might say.
After all, visitors misunderstand the figurative language of our gantries, the need to pass under these small taxes of our travail.
We are pilgrims bearing alms in cash-cards, the great temple demands a daily offering, and who are we, who have been blessed with vehicles, who are we to complain?
We must be grateful, as we pause in jams and squeeze onto elevators. Our hours are long, but like extended metaphors, they build us up, unrelenting, with all indicators of progress covered.
For we have gone first world, a world of fine first lines and long last lives.
We truck in similes as popular as reclaimed sand and foreign talent.
As expensive as Tokyo,
As crowded as Hong Kong,
As rich as, nay richer than New York.
Our billionaires sit like jewels atop Mount Faber, sparkling high above newborn citizens, who stretch out in boxcar apartments.
And our people are writing poetry on trains, listen to this gem from a blogger:
A fire burning in their nascent loins.
Too in love to know love.
And too like love to have love.
Searing hot. In warmth and scorching wind.
So when the trains do stop between the stations of our lives, we shall walk the last mile, hand-phones raised in wonder at the greatness of our structural engineering, the power of what lies beneath.
At the end of this tunnel, we always see the light.
Singapore, we are not just a city of literature, we are a country of literature.
The whole nation is a poem with matching end rhymes; the right analogy graces every occasion.
The best people, in the best order.
RE: TO ALL CHICKENS CONCERNED
Here is the latest coop from the Progressive Chicken Party (PCP):
The Party believes in equality for all chickens;
no chicken should be left behind, caged against its own will.
Eggs must not be aborted into omelettes but must claim
their rights; as shell-shocked chicks scrambling to life.
All chickens suffering from cage layer fatigue
will be given a free pass to watch Chicken Little.
Chicks are yellow because they have escaped the yolk;
they are free range children of the sunny side of life.
Cockerels rise to greet the dawn, chasing the devil away.
As hens lay blessings, chickens are the progressive proletariat,
watchers of time and egg, hard-boiled believers in suffering.
Stop chicken genocide. Go for the cows, they won’t see it coming.
Chickens will be restored as oracles; once we brought
prophesies to pass, we still guide nations from the dinner table.
The foundations of philosophy have been laid from us;
which came first, the chicken, or the egg?
In other news, the Hen Pecked Association of Cockerels is organising
its annual summit on ways to minimise committing domestic fowls.Read More
Something I wrote for a reading at the close of the Singapore Biennale 2013.
Cosmology of Life, detail
After Toni Kanwa’s Cosmology of Life,
Singapore Biennale, 2013
If empty has a sound, what would it be?
There has been a sign hanging over this door
for as long as I can remember. It waits, resigned,
the way some shops are perpetually on sale,
their dusty eyes with no expiry date staring
balefully at shoppers who pass them by.
For rent, the sign speaks, in a thick steel tongue,
its prayers unvoiced as I grow older, and still, this
gnawing continues at the bustling heart of the city.
I can only imagine the unconditional summers
in the eyes of the man who laid the first brick
in this façade before it became forgotten, while
we laid down our pillowed offerings elsewhere
and promised to appear fully stocked, steering
through the solitude of a thousand ways
to fill our lives while the world turns, slow as ever.
So we consume desire in passing eyes, we drink,
in the shadowed days, the sighs of crowded hearts.
But look again, past the sign. The cosmos heralds
a thousand voices gathered around in the shape
of life. Look again, at its curving pageant, its delicate
pleasures, look how it falls in order. If empty has a
sound, it might just be the hum of possibility when we
take down the sign, and start to fill this vacancy.