On Minimalism – Two Poems

I was invited to read at The National Gallery Singapore on 24 Feb together with a bunch of really cool poets – Momtaza Mehri, Charlene Shepherdson, Jennifer Champion and Tse Hao Guang. We were responding to Minimalism. Space. Light. Object. an ongoing exhibition at NGS, either to the individual exhibits or on themes of form/anti-form, light or space. I wrote two new pieces for the reading. The first was after Tatsuo Miyajima’s Mega Death, where I spotted a single number counting up against an entire room of descending numbers.


From distance, 
a pulsing envelope of blue magic 
beckons in irregular heartbeats, 
a chorus for the clicking crowd 

Seen up close, 
one number counts upwards 
while the rest descend like a
herd reasoning down to zero

One number walks upslope
an improbable anomaly
a refugee refusing order 
a sheep swallowing the language of wolves

The other numbers blink furiously 
as they chase zero, starting over
at their own pace, making up 
the apparition of a faceless crowd, 
lights going on in a silent room. 

The lone number climbs
against the tide, against all logical proof; 
glitch in the system, broken integer. 

Like that one child in class who keeps 
raising a hand to ask question 
after question, dissatisfied, 
holding up the diminishing lesson, 
holding time itself with a clenched fist, 
wired for a different world. 

The other poem drew its inspiration from Jiro Takamatsu’s pair of 1971 artworks titled Oneness of Wood and Oneness of Concrete. I tried to embody the idea of words contained within words through a series of haiku, where the four successive haiku that followed the first one comprised of words drawn from the latter.


Here is the earth and 
here we find, body broken 
between unread lines

Here the line is broken
body and earth 

Find the unread body 
broken earth 
here, and here 

Earth lines,
find the broken here, unread, 

Here between the earth
and body, we unread 

Frame lines

After an intense ten days at the Singapore Writers Festival I’m back to considering the role of text and image in my work in a couple of events that are coming up this weekend.

Most of the time, the image is made first. It occurs from a way of looking, an intense gaze  in search of something striking. It does not have to be spectacular or manufactured. The image is often found at the intersection between light and chance. 

The frame is always deliberate, and what is excluded is sometimes what is unnecessary; an abundance of sky which fills too much of the frame, or cropping out what’s distracting, which could be something as simple as one person too many, or simply a brightly-coloured object.

The void deck, spotless;
where not even doggies dare
to leave barks behind

The poem almost always comes afterwards, a kind of reflection to the image. The poem is a mirror held up to the image, translating that striking moment into its own composed shape.

The frame line sits between, an unused space that separates two adjacent images, or frames. If one considers the image and the poem as two successive frames, then the frame line is what divides and connects them. 

So join me this Saturday as I talk about my solo photohaiku exhibition, Slide and Tongue, at Intersections Gallery, 34 Kandahar Street at 2pm. More details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/258257094880173/

And the very next day, I’ll be speaking on Today at Apple at the Apple Store on Orchard Road! It’s a talk/photo walk where I share a few ideas and approaches to photography and then we’ll all go for a photo walk together around the Emerald Hill area to take a few images and write a poem based on them. 

Register for the session here: https://www.apple.com/sg/today/event/photo-walks-marc-nair-6464123935587211725/?sn=R669 

Vital Possessions – The Launch

Vital Possessions is my ninth (ninth!!) book of poetry. The roots of this book came about through the Gardens by the Bay residency in 2015. I had the opportunity to spend hours walking and thinking in the grounds of GBTB. Initially, I wasn’t enamoured by how planned and fake the gardens seemed to be. I am more a fan of wide-open moors and natural forests. But gradually, I came to see the gardens as that perfect synthesis between nature and nurture. It is, in many ways, the epitome of our garden city. The Supertrees are like our skyscrapers, inhabited by a variety of human flora, and the grounds of the garden are much like our planned estates, neatly segmented while still keeping a semblance of nature and enough variety to keep us sane.

The poems in the book began to be shaped by this overarching theme and along the way, they expanded as I explored and visited other green spaces. I also considered the way we interacted with our environment. Along the way, the title of the book morphed from Naturebiotics to For Yours Is The Garden to Vital Possessions. It became a treatise on what we believe and hold dear to in an age of uncertainty, where our faith is frangible and our knowledge fractured.

The book reads like one long narrative and dips in and out of the following themes: our relationship with nature and natural spaces, how technology interfaces with our lives and the votive value of nature. Haiku accompanied by photographs intersperse the poems. They function as pauses, a breath of image; quirky and quiet reminders of the unnoticed quotidian.

Ethos Books, my publisher, has been very patient with the manuscript over many moons of editing and piecing together the book. The cover proved to be especially tricky, because with such a title, it was truly difficult to find an image that would evoke a similar state of feeling.

The book launch is at the Esplanade Concourse on 11 August, at 5pm. I will be doing something rather different, and invite all of you to come and join me as Vital Possessions finally emerges into the world.


a photo poem from Ghim Moh estate

Time pauses in the gentle estate,

waits for a signal to move into evening

with its crevice of empty offices;

the playpen with one child; waiting

for a dinosaur to come to life

for neighbours to exercise patience

while birds mock each other; a cage

is only a perspective, bars make

a slow corridor,
a vanishing

An Afternoon in the Heartland

Toa Payoh Central is a quintessential microcosm of life in Singapore’s HDB heartland. It is a melange of commercial enterprises, peopled by older folk as well as a slew of younger people who work in the HDB Hub that links to the MRT station and the bus interchange and becomes an all encompassing multi-level strip mall.

These are common moments; pauses to buy 4D, to check messages, to while away work hours.

Starbucks is contemplated by a small group of statues of uncertain provenance. Security cameras exchange safety for privacy.

Sharp corners of buildings jut out, trying to add a touch of post-2010 into the landscape.

A row of spiral staircases are surprising spectators in a nondescript car-park.

Courts rises out of the shimmering afternoon heat, a bastion of A/C and relevant home appliances.

Older folk pause in the middle of their perambulations, stopping to think and dream, to remember what no one else sees.

Photographed with the Fuji X-T2 and Meike 28/f2.8.




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.

Crowned, Colony

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.


The Daily Haiku

I’ve been making a daily photohaiku on Instagram for the last month. It’s been quite the challenge, to find an image with enough ‘space’ to include a haiku, or to ensure the image isn’t compromised by the existence of text on it, as opposed to being a caption. This, I suppose, is an experiment to see how text becomes part of the image, and therefore part of the visual representation of what a haiku could be. Less ekphrasis, more espresso.

Here are a few of my favourites:

IMG_1360 3 IMG_1533 3 IMG_1550 3 IMG_1440 3 IMG_1464 3

On Image-Making

Painted Light 4

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;

Painted Light 2
what is beyond is never considered.
Slow down the blinking shutter

so everything illuminates in well-
composed lines, grid-eyed, pleasing.

Painted Light 3

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.

Painted Light 1

And Spomenik is away!

 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. 

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.

_DSF4099_DSF4088_DSF4082 _DSF4100    _DSF4105

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.

_DSF4122 _DSF4074


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.

_DSF4417_DSF4393   _DSF4422