This Is Not A Safety Barrier

After close to two years of work on this anthology, it is finally here!
This Is Not A Safety Barrier is a collection of poems and photographs responding to this ubiquitous phrase found on plastic barriers at construction sites. It represents a selection of opinions seen in disparate images, both textually and visually, from people who are pushing back against the barriers, many invisible, that exist all around us.

In doing so, I hope that this collection expands the space of civic society and creates further opportunities for dialogue about who we are as a people and where we are going.

This project was made possible with the steadfast support of Ethos Books and my incredible co-editor, the gifted Yen Phang.

Come join us at the launch on 17 September 2016 at The Projector!

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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.

 

Loud Mouth: spoken word from Singapore

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After two and a half years and a lot of ink and tears, Loud Mouth is finally here.

This started life as a proposed anthology of spoken word poetry from Singapore, a collection of poems from pioneering poets in the scene to contemporary troubadours of the stage. But over time it morphed into a series of chapbooks by eight poets contemporary to the scene. However, grants and other circumstances only allowed four books to be published. So, the launch is finally happening, 14th March, 6pm at Artistry. Come join us for an evening of spoken word.

There’s Deborah Emmanuel with ‘When I Giggle in my Sleep,’ Jennifer Champion with ‘A History of Clocks,’ and Victoria Lim with ‘Dreadful.’ And me!

Here’s a preview of what my cover is going to look like:

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Mackerel

 

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We’ve finally launched! Mackerel is here. It’s a brand new culture zine by Carolyn and me.

Mackerel tells contemporary stories of authentic experiences, giving a deep-dive perspective on places, spaces and people. Much like the “maquerel” in Old French – the “go-between” – Mackerel is a broker of experience.

There are five kinds of stories on Mackerel, click through for a sample of each:
Comment – Our version of an op-ed
Portrait – A feature on an individual or team whom we believe to be particularly inspiring
Braised – Anything and everything to do with food
Review – We are always on the lookout for unique experiences
Sketch – Here is the arty heart of Mackerel; be it poetry, video or a photo essay

Check us out: mackerel.life
Follow us here: Instagram | Twitter
Subscribe to be notified when a new story goes up!

EleMental

In the first six weeks of 2015, I was holed up with three of my fellow poets; Marylyn Tan, Charlene Shepherdson and Allee Koh from the Party Action People, preparing for a pretty unique spoken word show.

EleMental came about as a result of Dream Academy’s invitation to be part of the Henderson Project, an eclectic event that brought together movies, music, spoken word and rap. We opened the second Friday of the event. The theme was ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.’

In a way, we felt that iconic slogan didn’t really apply to our contented masses. Our biggest beefs are bus drivers who drive too slow/fast or what new contraption is being used to reserve seats at food courts.

So we looked to the environment, and in the old cartoon, Captain Planet, we found some inspiration. Naturally, in this post-modern era, Captain Planet is dead. And so went our opening poem. From there, each of us took on a different element. Speaking as either wind, water, earth or fire, we used the elements to talk about war, loss, politics and love; all within a suitably green setting.

Here is a clip of one of our group pieces, with an alphabet song at the end to boot!

 

Animal City – A Review

Here’s a review of Animal City when it launched back in August. Thanks Allee for writing about it! She wrote this as part of her class, EN3263 – Singapore Literature in Context at NUS, taught by Prof Philip Holden, who taught me back when I was in NUS.

You can find more reviews/experiences of various literary activities here: http://pulauu.wordpress.com/

Photography by Amelia Rhea.

 

On 23rd August I attended the launch of Animal City, a collection of children’s poems written by Marc Nair and illustrated by Vanessa Chan. The event was hosted at Aliwal Arts Centre by Red Wheelbarrow books, alongside an impressive collection of food and free Sapporo. The poems were interestingly read alongside music by Marc’s band, Neon and Wonder, which had a largely alternative, electronic-funk sound.

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Animal City depicted the “concrete jungle” – a displacement of actual animals out of the wilderness and other organic settings into an urban environment, specifically Singapore. It featured monkeys in a mafia (“Monkey Mafia”), a rather debonair cockroach (“Colin the Cockroach”) and an elephant navigating the vagaries of a road crossing (“Elton Elephant Goes Shopping”). The collection displayed a largely eccentric and yet consistent rhyme scheme, a la Dr. Zeus, quite fitting for its intended audience. However, Vanessa’s street-art type illustrations – a luohan fish decked out in the bold chain and sunglasses of American rappers, a Persian cat adorned with a peacock feather headdress, etc. made it clear that this was far from your typical children’s book. If anything, it was a consistent attempt to re-invent the traditionally idealistic genre in a cosmopolitan setting where we are simultaneously amazed and appalled by the increasing worldliness of children. (Case in point: my six-year-old nephew finding out about the massive leak of naked celebrity pictures before I did)

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I found the afternoon quite enjoyable and extremely refreshing for this reason as well as the masterful, multi-disciplinary blending of music with poetry. A careful manipulation of meter, rhythm and syntax allowed for the poem to be read in harmonious accordance with the beat of the music. One example was Marc’s reading of “The Howling Cats”, which traces the shenanigans of a pack of alley cats in the evening. He varied his speed and rhythm to suit the accompanying jazz bass standard played by guitarist Daniel Tan, so it effectively transformed into a song.  The added auditory dimension made the poem more real, for lack of a better word, providing the audience with an amplified experience that transcends the two-dimensional page. His easy manner and open-handed humour also went over very well with the audience, nearly all of who participated when asked. This eventually culminated in a room full of expats, forty/thirty-somethings and a small collection of people my age forming a rousing chorus of “Pigeon Pooping Contest!”

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The experience was also particularly relevant to Shklovsky’s idea of “defamiliarization” discussed in week 2. One of the lines in the reading that struck me was when he declared that it aimed to “recover the sensation of life from habitualization, to make one feel”. Animal City accomplishes this in two ways – firstly, through the aforementioned added dimension of sound. We have been socially and culturally conditioned to accept the verbal reading of poems as normal; if anything, the lyrical poetic forms were made for reading and performing. The addition of music complicates this understanding. Not only do we have to decipher the meaning of the words themselves in their configurations, we have to pry apart the implications of melody and rhythm. The extended period of time we spend musing on the poem, this lingering slowness, allows us to reach new depths and dimensions of feeling. There is not just more to feel, we feel for longer.

 

Secondly, the illustrations accompanying the various poems are defamiliarizing. What would you expect in a children’s book? It is likely they would be animals of the colour-penciled, soft pastel toned variety. This is the “habit” or expectation that we have grown used to in our reading. Vanessa’s illustrations, as previously mentioned, are far from this ilk. Done boldly in marker and line art, her animals are vivid with well-defined hard lines. The images jolt the words from the page, displacing the reader’s usual expectations of a children’s storybook. In my case, my first thoughts were along the lines of – I’ve never seen a luohan fish looking so badass. Effectively, the use of these images allow Animal City to continue defamiliarizing its audience, retaining the ability to make them feel and think on the subject matter presented, even without an auditory dimension.”

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Vacancy

Something I wrote for a reading at the close of the Singapore Biennale 2013.

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Cosmology of Life, detail

 

Vacancy

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sampan 2.0

Sampan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sampan* 2.0

 

“I think we’ve upgraded our sampan. Sampan 2.0″

– Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 2013

 

Dear Captain,

when your father cast off from Kuala Lumpur,

and you threw overboard the white man burden, you told us to row,

for our lives depended on it. Not to look back, should the salt in the air

steal our tongues and dissolve our freedom. To trust, that this is the course,

that you will lead us home.

 

Dear Captain,

Now we want to talk to our crewmates on this boat, but winds of progress howl too loud

We want to write poems on the floorboards but they have to remain clean

We want to shimmy up the mast and dream to the horizon, to be fine, and not be fined

Continue reading “Sampan 2.0”