Every now and then, a horror story of the inequalities and inadequacies of how Singapore treats its ‘underclass’ emerges. Domestic helpers are often abused or ill-treated and construction workers are denied basic medical and legal recourse if they get injured. Essentially, construction companies see them as gross liabilities and don’t want to waste a cent on their medical expenses. Organisations like TWC2 though continue to do sterling work in helping these disenfranchised workers, often incurring the ire of private companies.
Hossain Md Alamgir is one such victim. Read his full story here. The original page has been removed, but the cache remains. Inspired, and horrified, by his story, here is a poem for him and everyone else who comes up against the dark side of this city, lauded globally for providing an excellent quality of life … for those who can afford it.
Hossain with broken foot
Hossain with broken foot
Hossain cracked safety boot
Hossain met metal plate
Hossain bevelled by fate
Hossain swells with the pain
Hossain must work again
Hossain would sign a lie
Hossain should not know why
Hossain takes boss to court
Hossain finds they forgot
Hossain arms for a fight
Hossain holds up his rights
Hossain sweeps up the floor
Hossain can’t keep the score
Hossain back home you go
Hossain someone we know
Note for Note takes place this Saturday, 25 March, at 8pm at the Arts House. Its been a project I’ve been working on since last December, and it certainly hasn’t been easy to pull together all these talents onto one stage! But I think the end result will be very satisfying. Think of this as a teaser into the larger body of work of each poet and musician. And after listening to them, go forth and buy their books and music!
Tickets available here
When ST interviewed me for this show, I said something to this effect:
Music often elicits an emotive response while poetry demands an intellectual affectation. When the two are brought together it is my hope that a new space is created, one that offers a creative insight into the intellectual workings of the poem through the emotional resonance created by the music.
Besides Note for Note, there are a bunch of other stellar performances, exhibitions and screenings going on as part of the House Party weekend, so do take some time to hang out at the Arts House.
Intersection is a project that has been three years in the making. Often, ideas are birthed from an offhanded remark in the heady rush after a successful show or exhibition. But it takes a certain doggedness to nurture that idea, coax it to life and rally the relevant forces to keep it blooming until it finds its perfect space to breathe and bloom. This exhibition and book was the result of never letting go of that idea. Nicola and I had this grand plan to create an artistic map of three neighbourhoods in Singapore, London and Yangon. The ensuing poems are artwork would resonate across themes common to all three cities. And through this process of intersecting various threads, we would hopefully find some nexus of meaning.
As a result, we’ve created 24 poems and 33 artworks. The exhibition opens on 10 January at Intersections Gallery, 34 Kandahar Street, and runs from 11 January – 12 February and 22 February- 5 March 2017.
There will be an artist talk on 17 January and I will be running a photowriting/walking workshop at the gallery on 11 February.
The book is a 60-page, limited edition risograph print of images from Nicola’s art together with my poems. Here’s what the cover looks like!
Here’s a sneak peek of one of the poems, accompanied by Nicola’s art.
We used to play at founding Singapore;
someone had to be the Temenggong, ceding
everything he could see, never pushing back.
The rest of us were British, asking obvious
questions about the trees; why gelam
bark was used for sails, why frangipani trees
always grew in the cemeteries. Not once did
we think these roads and schools and
rules encircled the kampung. We believed
in the glittering crown of the colony, so we
banished rogue tigers across the water,
stooped to serve an empire of khaki and tea.
You need to be there
Everybody talks about it
People don’t want fiscal barriers
The margins are narrow
The problem with traders?
No dedicated financing
Quick reenactment of an idiot colleague
The competition risk is always going to be there
The relationship is going ok
I don’t think
The other institutions take the same approach
We would love to increase our resource flows
Folks in London look after our accounts there
How much are we looking for
It’s still very much in discussion
It takes us quite a while to get a new product up
I just need to understand
Where we are
How signable it all is
At best $100-150 million tops
Don’t see it going to a quarter of a billion
Still buying up Russian oil?
You got a bit of a wild card in DT
If he takes a hardline… oil price.. the likelihood… harder for the Gulf states… that’s what he wants…
To see you
This weekend is Neon Lights, a madcap music festival that also has a large chunk of exciting arts programming. In addition to trying to catch some of my favourite acts like Foals, Jose Gonzales and Funkadelic, I’m curating the spoken word segment of the festival. Held in the Rocking Horse tent, it’ll feature new work by Deborah Emmanuel, Steph Dogfoot, Ng Yi-Sheng, Jennifer Champion, Shivram Gopinath, Kok Wei Liang, Shak and yours truly.
We go on in between the bands, so there’s no danger of being drowned out! If you’re thinking of going for the festival this weekend, maybe this will help you decide. And if you’re already going to be there, do drop by and say hi!
Festival poets after the show,
in narrow hotel rooms, the door
double-locked television tuned to
Festival poets light a fuse, fireworks
on feast day, a hymn of words touches
hidden places, tongues explore the ways
to translate an entrance, an exit
Making love from loneliness,
festival poets churn furiously, until butter
melts in the mouth of gods, until birds
enter a room of remembering
Until loneliness grows hard,
until rhythm takes over
slipping in and out, up and down
Finally something like a sudden rain
explodes in relief, a lingering
scent of shame,
stanzas spurting on the sheet
The festival poet
in the sweat of a first draft;
in silence and sticky fingers
July sure is a busy month for performances.
All of the Light (with Neon & Wonder)
Come 13th July, I’ll be at the Central Public Library to perform at the 2016 NLB Read! Festival.
The set is called ‘All of the Light,’ and my poems and songs will revolve around light and all of its connotations.
More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/627972884025978/
Wok with Marc Nair (Kuching)
From 22-25 July I’ll be in Kuching, Malaysia to run a couple of spoken word workshops and also do a solo spoken-word show with beats and other suitable musical sounds.
You can read a lovely write up by the Borneo Post here: http://www.theborneopost.com/2016/06/24/marc-holds-workshops-on-poetry-and-spoken-word/
And on 27th and 29th July, I’m teaming up with Marylyn Tan and Shivram Gopinath to put on a brand new spoken word theatre/performance called House Party. Its not your typical spoken word show, but neither is it strictly theatre. We’re even thowing in a couple of songs just to shake things up!
Tickets here: http://ptix.co/29iY2Fz
Always a camera on the table,
always memory carded in its side,
the lure to capture some unspoken
angle in ordered frames, as if these
dimensions can tell the whole story in
double exposures. Time blurs the sea;
what is beyond is never considered.
Slow down the blinking shutter
so everything illuminates in well-
composed lines, grid-eyed, pleasing.
The aperture ring opens to its full yawn,
the moment snaps, shutting out neutral
densities, displeasing shadows, higher
definitions pixelated against purpose.
That’s all it ever is, isn’t it – a room left
in light, dots on the page, a grain of truth.
My sixth collection of poetry, Spomenik, was launched at the Arts House on Saturday, 12th March 2016. It was a milestone for me, as this is the first time my poems and photographs have been published together.
The poems and photographs are interwoven together in the book, and while one can read them individually, they are best seen as complementing each other.
Spomenik is the Croatian word for monument, and I envisioned the art in this book to be a series of monuments that speak of my journey through the Balkans.
I had a fantastic emcee and friend in the lovely Michelle Martin, who governed the session with aplomb and perfect timing, and I’m extremely grateful to the able team at Ethos Books, who decided to take a chance on this very left-field idea and bring it to completion. My thanks to Mr Ethos himself, Fong Hoe Fang, for first being convinced and subsequently Kah Gay, Suning and Adeleena for patiently shaping and crafting the work until my vision was realised.
Here’s a video from Six-six News, where I read one of my poems from Spomenik. Enjoy!
Past the Gates of Socialism
You can pick up a copy of Spomenik online, or at selected bookstores around Singapore.