Around the middle of 2014, Christine Chia and me got whiff that LKY was ailing. It had long been a common point of discontent for the two of us that for all the anthologies Sing Lit had put out over the past decades, none of them had engaged with the gigantic figure of The Man, despite his shadow looming large over anything "SG"-branded. So we did a mini-open-call + emailed a ton of other writers. There was no lack of a response - we managed to put the whole thing together in under six months: an anthology of poems that ranged from a secondary school student and a 95-year-old American; short-ish prose from ringers like Amanda Lee Koe and Jeremy Tiang, and even a play extract from Robert Yeo. It launched in Dec 2014, alongside the first SingPoWriMo anthology.
People said nice things about the antho, and it seemed to capture a bit of the zeitgeist - the affection from some, the angst or even anger from others, all overlaid by this sense of having grown up in a country where it was impossible not to know his name. I like to think we got in ahead of the wave of overblown emotion / gross hagiography / reactive cynicism that hit once he passed a few months later, and were able to present an honest perspective on the whole range of feeling the country had for The Man. It quickly sold out its first print run within a year and is now in its second, which is unusual for any poetry anthology anywhere in the world.
Around the middle of 2015, we got a bit antsy again - things were stirring in the national pulse. The wave of post-LKY-ness had just dissolved into this tide of SG50 celebration, which then rippled into a snap election, all overcast by uncertainty about the future. We put out an open call that began on National Day and ended a week after the elections, to allow those feelings to bubble to the surface. And we dragged the young wunderkind Cheryl Julia Lee on board to resuscitate our aging editorial team with a breath of fresh air.
The result is A Luxury We Must Afford - another zeitgeist collection, but operating in a very different space from its sister anthology. If ALWCA was the history of everything leading up to SG50, ALWMA contains the hopes of SG51 and beyond. Singapore after The Man, newly easing into its mid-life crisis, against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world and region.
The book's launching on 15 Jan, in the same place where The Man used to hold court - The Chamber at The Arts House at The Old Parliament. Do drop by and listen to some poetry, and maybe some music.
I'm ending this lengthy plug with a short poem from the first anthology. Its sentiments are the starting point for the second.
THEY GOT YOU ALL WRONG
by Norashiqin Toh
I know. What you meant to say is:
We cannot afford poetry as a luxury,
for poetry is not luxurious.
It is simply necessary.
Check out the event here.
a singaporean poet with an unhealthy addiction to forms.
all content copyright of joshua ip 2012