Sampan 2.0















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”

Going Postal

After three years of plugging away at my next collection of poems, I’m really proud to say it’s finally coming into the light! Postal Code is going to launch on 4th November at the Singapore Writer’s Festival at 7 p.m., alongside Desmond Kon’s The Arbitrary Sign. Expect a special guest appearance from my former prof at NUS, Dr Rajeev Patke, as well as a reading and Q&A.

Postal Code Cover Image


Postal Code is a book about place. It divides into five sections; broadly speaking.






While the Singapore section seems to encapsulate all of the other sections thematically, I felt that it was time to return (after the nomadic wanderings of my previous book, Chai) to more home-grown issues. Hence poems about the 2011 elections, Mas Selamat, the 6.9m white paper, reservist training in the Army, and so forth.

The poems in the other sections consider other geographical places, but never quite stray from stories and experiences close to my heart.

And if you want to get a sneak peek of one of the poems, do drop by the Smoke-Filled Room this weekend. ‘Suara,’ a poem from Postal Code, is part of a collaborative work with Vikas Kailankaje. And I’ll be performing poems from Postal Code and more together with two other smashing poets, Jennifer Champion and Raksha Mahtani, on 27th October, 6pm. The gig is called Smoke-Filled Poets (naturally, right?) Come on down to get a lungful of socio-political incorrectness!

Smoke-Filled Room Events



An artistic dialogue with painter Janette Maxey. First exhibited at Lit Up 2013 as part of Tête-à-tête, a progressive conversation between three pairs of artists from different backgrounds. For Aproximity, Janette started with a painting and I responded with a poem. She then replied with another painting and I countered with a poem. The final exhibition featured eight paintings and poems, all created within a month.


a(proximity _)

by Marc Nair & Janette Maxey

The large, unseen gaps that hover between things

Exploring distance in a crowd, or any similar density

Growing from the nearness of space, time and relationships





These hooks hold a neck easily,

less so the baleful glance. Queue

please, this is transit ordered

en masse, a rapid conveyance

from coop to set meal. Whether

part or whole, we are all flayed

to the bone, laid in fragrant bowls,

our skins roasted with endeavour.


04A Becoming Shelter

Shelter, Becoming


Moment of sky,

with its shades of blue opal,
descends, a pendant hanging

from the neck of God,
above the hands of casual fronds
that drift lazily across the fence,

some rich man’s walled-in
dream; unbarbed, yet high
enough to be a shelter, becoming
home, for those who have enough.


05A Buddha hand fruit on Blue



Could this be the hand of a great man,

curled into original thought, holding
in the veneration of meditative years?

Or it could be a bunch of bananas,

arcing in ripe repast, a prayer before
being twisted off, and consumed.




A new day is sold behind metal hoardings

soon to ascend from pathos; the scaffold

of progress, the bones of a millionaire’s

new playground, rising higher over the

frayed houses that window lost seas,

the sad waves of tattered palm trees

and a sky that cannot see its stars.

Shimmering skirts walk by night

like tattered blue veils; only a

streetlamp will keep aglow.





This pot of necessary excess

This chamber of effluent secrets
painted with an indistinct eye on nature

This studio apartment of inner wealth
collecting drops the color of gold, a
dank waterfall in the wee hours of dawn

This is no cistern of desire, from which a
poxy of withering men may gulp a toast
No history stagnates overlong inside,
everything empties with the rising sun



She would dream this cosmetic fantasy,
a regression from riches into youth

Eyes the allure of perfect almonds,
eyebrows a delicate arch to hold the

weight of pencilled-in propriety and
those lips; what rounded reasons,

what bodied desire, what bee-stung
kisses to plant on the skin of some

natural fool, who will never know
the difference between collagen

and candour

Market Mannaquins


Last of the mannequins,
they hold stories in plastic silence.

Stand too close,
and they’ll stare down your
imperfections, though that
uniform smile makes them
two sisters in a family feud,

a wealth of colour wrapped
around serious eyes.

Each one takes on her own hue;
some haughtier than others,
some an inviting cup of tease.

No one has asked for a sister along
with a scarf, so they carefully
wrap their dreams like these shawls,

wishes warm against sudden chill.


Rambutan Bundled on Plastic bag

A Hairball of Rambutans


It was our secret proper name for luscious memories

set against evenings in neighbors’ dense gardens,

wielding a home-made pole with a kind of scissors

at the end to pull a string and snip off thin branches.

We watched the rambutans fall like circus jugglers

collapsing into heaps of laughter and juice. Too much

rambutan is just too much, and nothing more. Nobody

we knew ever fell ill from overeating, and there was

always extras to bring home, our sticky fingers

clutching plastic bags, as we stopped for a second

before getting in the car to break off wild ixoras

and slurp on stems, a nectar of kampung and sunset.





Images from utown at the National University of Singapore. The Stephen Riady Centre in particular has both winding curves and incessant geometric constructions. Shot with the iphone4.

This is in praise of cats


This is in praise of cats

How they have great purrsonality and avert catastrophes.

With mewling meowness, they lap the milk of human kindness.

Ginger striped burnished, they come fully furnished

with no caterwauling, or hissy-fit pussyfooting

Pawsibly psychic, they make the best mewsic.

The cream of the bowl, it’s time to rowl and roll.

No alive or dead Schrodinger suppositions,

not the product of random composition,

they’re conceived under howl and hiss,

on moonlit nights in tuna bliss.

Though they lick you into hairballs,

and scratch poetry on your walls;

this is still in praise of cats,

cuz they’ve gotta be purrfect.