Mini Reviews

Last year, I applied to be a social media intern  with Asymptote which is a literary journal that focuses on world literature and its translations. As part of the application process, I was asked to pick a few pieces and explain my choices. Having read through them, I found it a waste to leave it in the recesses of my sent mail. As such, here are some of my thoughts about some of the works featured.

Ermanno’s Breath by Fabio Pusteria (translated by Damiano Abeni & Moira Egan), Jan 2011
I am struck by the exploration of breath as a metaphor to describe a poet’s voice, presence and legacy. This simple tribute to a poet who died too young, with an inter-textual reference to another poem, is really clever. Just as the father’s breath gave life to the mattress in the other poem, Ermanno’s work thus brings to life certain things for Pusteria. I love the economy of the last line – “a breath and some lines” – which points to a variety of things but it most centrally suggests the lingering presence of the poet and his work.
Views and Testimony of a Sheep by Tan Chee Lay (translated by Teng Qian Xi), Jan 2011
Being a Singaporean, it is understandable that any work of local literature being featured will immediately catch my attention. This work was simply refreshing for me. There is a certain gentleness to the poem despite containing some biting criticism and fierce images such as war drums, annunciation and drawn-out screams. Portraying the voters as sheep is a very interesting choice for me as it contains a lot of connotations – from meekness and gentleness as marks of a civilised person to passiveness and helplessness as one is being shepherded around. Tan displays an acute awareness of this as evident from the direct juxtaposition in the line. “little lambs/must rule their homes”.
A lingering thought after reading the poems was how will Singapore solve the various problems of our politics? Do we need a sort of a Messiah figure to shepherd us? While there are no biblical allusions in the poems, it is to be expected that some readers would immediately connect it in such a way. But a further thought came to mind, if we need a shepherd, what are our roles as citizens and voters? This brings me back full circle to the complexity of the image of the sheep. If a poem could inspire such afterthoughts on first reading, what fruitful conversations are there to be had with closer readings and more in depth discussion? Of course, the accompanying essay by Teng made me appreciate the craftsmanship on part of the poet as well as the translator which further deepens by impression and admiration for the set of poems.
Only in New York by Jonas Hassen Khemiri (translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles), July 2011
The sheer creativity of this piece caught my attention from the first few sentences. The structure of this fiction is a manifestation of what happens when we travel to another country or attempt to write about it; we engage in constant conversation with it. I love how through New York’s voice messages, one can see a variety of experiences one can have in the city. On the other hand it can remain impenetrable as evident from the persona’s failure to have a direct conversation with New York and a great deal of what the city says are stereotypes or idealised. After reading the piece, I found myself forgetting that this is a translation from Swedish. This leads me to wonder if Khemiri was spot on with the Americanisms or was this a voice of Wilson-Broyles coming through which reminds me of Susan Bassnett’s comments (in her interview from the previous issue) that “translation is effectively rewriting”. Whether it is the former or the latter, the co-authorship of two writers has provided me with a wonderful reading experience.
Mulberries by Massimo Gezzi (translated by Damiano Abeni & Moira Egan), July 2011
For some reason, this poem took me on a road trip. What spoke to me in this poem was that the reader was made to go through the exact same experience as the persona. I thought the first four lines were referring to the mulberries stretching out its branches to touch the car window as it drove past. This seemed to be further established by how the persona looked and counted 8 mulberries. It is only in the last lines that the hands and gestures refer to the passenger in the car. Just as the passenger is able to create an “illusion of redemption” for the persona, the carefully crafted words of the poet and translators gave us an illusion of the seeming personification of the mulberries. Really cleverly written.
HOTEL by Lin Yaode (translated by Lee Yew Leong), July 2011
Speaking of personification, I imagine the hotel heaving and breathing while reading this piece. I love how it casts a brilliant new light upon a venue that we are relatively familiar with. It also possesses a sensitivity in addressing the politics of space – from how the buildings around it are affected by its presence to the interaction between people and the hotel. It also compels us to think about how we conduct ourselves in different spaces as well especially in Singapore when the landscape is constantly changing and important buildings and social spaces can be demolished for the most banal of reasons.

If you’re wondering, I didn’t get the job.

Character Study Featured In Wallflowers Anniversary Exhibition

Character Study

As a new ‘writer’, I am always happy whenever I am published – be it online or some obscure indie journal. But to be featured in an exhibition is really quite another experience altogether. To see people walking about and looking at your work with some concentration (I would like to think) is really exhilarating and frightening at the same time. You start to get defensive just in case people do not like your work.

Nonetheless, I do embrace this experience as it is all part of creating something. One’s work does not have a life if it stays in the bottom drawer.

Even if I fail, I would often tell myself, “fail often and faster – that way success will just be around the corner.”

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Looking at the other works on display, I must say that there really are a lot of creative talents  here and most of these artists/writers are younger than me! I am glad that my work sits together with them.

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I do hope that the works by these artists will soon be framed with a little card at the bottom right corner stating the dimensions, material, and price.

Quarter-Life Crisis in Malaise Journal

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Dear readers,

I am pleased to announce that my poem, Quarter-life Crisis, has been published in Malaise’s inaugural issue. I was quite surprised that it was accepted as this was dashed off quite quickly. Do let me know what you think of the poem!

For those who are residing in Singapore, Malaise Journal can be purchased at Books Actually and Cat Socrates. Do hurry as this is a limited print run.

For those who have followed my blog, I apologise for the lack of updates. There will be a couple of posts coming up so stay tuned.

Updates

After what seemed like an eternity, my fifth semester as an undergraduate is finally over and the holidays are here! Regrettably, my plan to be consistent in writing a journal failed miserably  – I did not write a single word more after my first entry. It is easy to say that I was too busy to keep a journal but a more accurate description would be that I was too distracted  and my occasional inability to keep it brief often deters me from even starting.

However, something great happened in the middle of my semester! Two of my poems are published in Eastlit which came as a wonderful birthday surprise for me. One of them is written in a voice of a gypsy while the other talks about unfulfilled meetings. You can read them here if you are interested. I appreciate any feedback and comments that you may have! Incidentally, I did have a slightly different version of the poem, Meetings Unmet. You can read the edited version at the bottom of this post. Do tell me which version you prefer.

So what lies ahead during this ridiculously short holiday? In terms of writing, I shall edit a couple of my poems. I also plan to write an article about teamwork on Medium and I will blog my experiences here about trying to write on this new-ish platform and see how it compares with maintaining a blog. I hope to  blog more often on my personal blog too! So here’s wishing my readers Happy Holidays and hopefully my next post won’t merely be just wishing you all a Merry Christmas.

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Meetings Unmet

“Let’s meet up soon!” So you say

with a smile framed by a

colon and bracket closing.

That smile shining with optimism

like a camera’s flash –

illuminating shadows of fond pasts.

But with all flashes,

the promise lingers only an instant.

An instance of politeness?

Of pity? Of custom?

Those four words – a stock phrase,

finalising all conversations, are

steel frames of a pendulum.

And I, the steel ball, thrashes from

euphoria to dejection in an

unspoken hope of it coming true.

Words are feeble straws I

grasp to feed the petering

flame of our conversations –

fleeting and customary greetings

on certain occasions. With a

reactionary crackle, the flame

lives an instance;

enjoys a moment’s brilliance…

Silence –

Only to be broken by remnants of

those four words.  In a jar, I collect

the ashes and wish that an urn

it is not .

Haikews

I recently came across this twitter account, @HaikewsProject. The project is simple: read the news, compose a haiku that essentialises what it’s about and post a link to the story. I thought it was fun and decided to give it a try. The following are what I have come up so far.

For the first few haikus, I wasn’t aware that I needed to post a link to the story.

Vienna Boys’ choir

in deep financial trouble;

best export destroyed.

#Haikews

New flats for singles

with low incomes. Very good

move to house a nation.

#Haikews

Fandi demoted

plagued by egos and crown prince

boss who wants results.

#Haikews #SG #JB

Arts Council head steps

down after four-year tenure.

Search for new chief starts!

#Haikews #SG

After realising that I needed to add a link to my haikus, these were what I came up with.

SightLines saves one show

for Stroke Association.

A good cause indeed!

#Haikews #SG @SightLinesProd  http://ow.ly/nwhfg

First group of students

touring varsity library

this new semester!

#Haikews #SG #NUS @NUSLibraries http://instagram.com/p/cdEcrrHltW/

At this point, I thought I should try to stick closer to the conventions of the form as possible. I felt that I was merely fitting words into word count. A quick search on the internet taught me that I needed to add a ceasura in the first or second line as well as a nature metaphor to provide a “sketch of nature” to those reading the haikus.

Obama observes

demise of newspapers;

sheets of autumn leaves.

#Haikews  http://bit.ly/18T1pQ3 

Simon first-time dad

with close friend’s wife – New bud

blooms from murky roots.

#Haikews  http://bit.ly/15wJFVQ 

Gunman kills neighbours.
Spooked by witchcraft claims he, as
winter dawns within.

#haikews #Miami
http://bit.ly/14Fxhiv

Family Council
writes pledge, no mention of love –
Leaves us feeling cold.
#Haikews #Singapore http://ow.ly/nyE4z 

Australian tax on
bank deposits: Stealing bread
from mouths in winter.
#haikews  http://ow.ly/nyGjH

Tried to come up with a nature metaphor for these two pieces of news but I failed. As such, I just stuck to  the right syllable count.

P.E. syllabus:
more time and variety.
Different reactions.
#haikews #Singapore
http://ow.ly/nyFeY

Girls shave heads for good
cause. Refuse wigs; break promise –
Principal flips out.
#Haikews #Singapore http://ow.ly/nyDuB

It is really an interesting exercise to capture the gist of the news in 14 syllables. It forces you to be straighforward with your delivery and leaves no space for biased flourish. When I added the nature metaphor, I realised that I tend to use it as my personal commentary on the news and it really served me well. If I were to pick my favourite haikew, it would still be the one on Obama observing the demise of newspapers. “Sheets of autumn leaves” is very evocative for me as I could see tonnes of newspapers being tossed out of windows as they fall like autumn leaves. The sight of newspapers falling also reminded of the Chinese funeral tradition of tossing paper offerings in the air as the family walks around the coffin. All in all, it really is a good warm up exercise if you are gearing to write something bigger and longer. It’s like practising your scales before attempting a sonata.

So what are you waiting for? Get on twitter and start writing your own haikews now!