a few months earlier i stared at my early Nov calendar and realised i had a 4-way clash:
- Hong Kong International Literary Festival 4-12 Nov
- Singapore Inside Out: Sydney 3-5 Nov
- Singapore Writers Festival 4-12 Nov
- Literature Across Frontiers - Sing Lit Station Translation Bootcamp 1-5 Nov
ok the last two were somewhat by design, as we had intended to stash our international and singaporean translators in a bungalow in malaysia for 5 days leading up to the festival so they could showcase their material in a reading at the festival (though it did mean they would miss half the first weekend of events)
- i wanted to attend HKILF to launch Twin Cities: an anthology of twin cinema from Singapore and Hong Kong, co-authored with the Empress of Cha, Tammy Ho Lai-Ming;
- i wanted to go for SGIO to put on an exhibition of prints from Ten Stories Below, my infinitely-work-in-progress graphic novel with Tim Wang and Adam Jay;
- i wanted to go for SWF because, well, SWF;
- and i wanted to go for the LAF-SLS bootcamp because SLS was hosting 4 european poet-translators alongside 4 southeast asian poet-translators, and alexandra buchler, the director of LAF was in town too, so i felt a bit of host responsibilities.
but the 4-way clash meant i had to make sub-optimal decisions for all:
- i would have to bail entirely on SGIO and count on the team to put up the exhibition.
- i would have to mostly bail on LAF-SLS and count on the SLS team to run the show, because i couldn't get any more leave (because of previous bali / vietnam exertions) but in concession to my sense of hostiness, i would drive up to malaysia on thursday night after work to hang out with them for dinner... and then drive back.
- i would attend the opening ceremony of SWF on friday, and a sprinkling of SWF events on sunday (more on this...)
- i would fly to hk first thing in the morning on friday, do the launch, do a reading at night, and fly back to sg first thing in the morning on saturday.
so here we go.
at this point i must pause and say that twin cities is really quite an amazing (toot our own horn) collection. you can read more about it at the minisite, or buy it from this webstore, but it's really a foundational collection that keys both on the connection between hong kong and singapore, and on this amazing form that yeow kai chai pioneered and david wong further developed, to some extent after ashbery. landmark did a bang-up job on the iconic cover and the squareish, spacious design leaving tons of breathing space for the lines. and i'm really happy we got an even representation of hk and singapore poets, with big dollops of the younger generation coming forward to show their formal chops.
i've fiddled with quite a few twin cinema myself over the past month, none of which are in this book, but if this goes on i might be able to put out my own twin cinema collection after a year or two...? i do want to work with tammy and cha again - let's see when the next collaboration will happen!
aaand i experienced another rush back to singapore - by planning myself on a 7am flight back. i thought i could check in in the city - but when i got there the scoot counter wasn't manned. i waited and waited and finally was informed that the 7am scoot flight to SG was the ONE FLIGHT that did not allow in-city check in. so i boarded the first airport express at... 6am, and hit the airport with 40 mins left. i reached the scoot counter with 30 mins, which was in a different terminal, only to be informed that the takeoff gate was IN A DIFFERENT TERMINAL and that i probably wasn't going to make it but they would still check me in as a courtesy. there was another guy in my situation just in front of me who was dithering a bit, but when i got my ticket i took off running with my book luggage clattering behind me and after a moment's hesitation he started running after me. i hit immigration at a full sprint, ducked into the diplomatic queue mouthing EMERGENCY EMERGENCY and they waved me through (i think i lost my tail here, he went to the normal queue), and i made it on the plane with minutes to spare. so that's two dramatic plane trips in two weeks - my dear heart.
and after all this... SWF started. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
so i went to bali nominally to attend APWT's annual conference, but then kicked off what Amanda Chong calls a "tragicomedy of errors".
let's just do a visual narrative of this literal shitshow via my fb feed...
how does one explain the ajar a-festival?
i find myself flipping through my photo roll again. Watch this 20 second video.
random paper planes filled with printed questions being thrown around a hipster cafe while people read poetry in the background and a media projection appears in the background with no lights on.
does that describe a-festival better?
"the festival i enjoyed most in my entire career as a traveling writer". is that better? here, back to random photos.
another video, this one a workshop hosted by Greg Nissan and Jake Schneider, the editors of Berlin-based SAND journal - in which they challenge us to translate the untranslatable! including horrible monsters like Hamid Roslan's "This One Also Sonnet". (foreshadowing: Hamid's work is actually translated a few weeks later into 6 languages in the Sing Lit Station-Literature Across Frontiers Translation Bootcamp in Malaysia...)
at times it seems like the festival navigated every hipster venue in vietnam possible. not for them the traditional conference room or air-conditioned office space, or even the repurposed black box or school lecture hall. every single venue involved a mysterious street number which showed no signs of habitation from the main road, then a jaunt down an abandoned alley, a twist under an awning or a climb up a hidden stair past old men smoking or dripping rain, and then poof, magic hipster cafe on rooftop.
very much the heart of the festival - the amazing organising team of kaitlin rees, nha thuyen, quyen and hai yen. (and yen san, small boy). just in terms of the embrace of multi-disciplinary, inter-language madness that they consort in (while running a multi-city festival), they are so far ahead of singapore writers that i cannot even explain. what is confessionalism? what are our silly forms? these girls are really pushing the envelope of language as art as translation as movement as i do not know what is going on.
please invite me back please please please please.
many things. where do i start?
1. SING LIT BODY SLAM
oh, here. how do i explain this nonsense?
the world's first collaborative multi-genre theatrical smorgasbord extravaganza between professional wrestling and performance poetry. yeah that doesn't really mean anything. what was Sing Lit Body Slam about?
(unless otherwise indicated (watermark shots from Grapple Max and the last group shot), all photos are copyright Jon Gresham 2017 igloomelts.com)
anf- - Carthere are no words.
but here are a bunch from online sites archived on our webpage.
here too, also is a mini-essay by Hamid Roslan, excerpted here:
"Thus the essential point of why the entire thing damn well worked: poetry was told to inhabit bodies and speak, or otherwise tackle an adversary to the ground. But it was not told to lie low in printer ink and play enigma. It was strangely ironic to watch David Wong’s persona as Mr. Uppity-Highbrow-Poetry in the first segment participate in this somatising of poetry (always the highbrow child of the arts) even as ‘he’ denigrated the smelly classrooms ‘he’ would teach poetry to less-privileged kids in. All not real, you see— and yet, there he was. "
just a smattering of hyperbole:
"Complete and utter GENIUS!!!" - Carolyn Oei
"Mad good mix of wrestling and poetry" - Min Lim
"Sticks and stones have nothing on this shit. 😏Blown away at #singlitbodyslam 😍" - Zhihui Ho
"it was the craziest idea to combine pro-wrestling with poetry. but was it crazy enough to work? HELL YES. so glad we came to see this historic moment in singapore arts history..." - Jocelyn Suarez
and a slightly longer review:
"The #SingLitBodySlam was wild! This was really wrestling as theatre, as the wrestlers unabashedly took on larger than life personas with patently staged moves while poets yelled verses at each other to embody warring binaries: poken word vs page poetry, Raffles vs Farquhar, English vs Singlish. This was not always consistently poetic but it was visually spectacular and wonderfully nuts. #sglitftw #sglitwtf"
- Ng Yi-Sheng
and of course, some thoughts from the poets themselves:
"I've spent hours on YouTube watching wrestling videos and documentaries, days at Sing Lit Station with other writers collaborating on pieces, trips to Grapple MAX Dojo to take wrestling lessons(!) and devise something that could be described as "experimental performance improvised theatre spoken word", but it's the sweatiest and grimiest and LOUDEST I've gotten as a writer and a spoken word poet." - Joses Ho
"there was a time when people said "wtf how the hell would anyone combine poetry and pro wrestling"... but we did." - Stephanie Chan
"I mean, how many people can say they got to verbally castrate a historical figure with incisive rhymes while wearing a regimental outfit?? (Well, other than the cast of Hamilton...)" - Rajita Jay
If you were where I was tonight, I've got two words to say to ya: THANK YOU
Thank you for giving this weird brainchild a chance; this could've been a creative bastard child but you gave it a home, you made it legit, you made the show stand on its feet by getting on your feet."
....those who weren't there, you'll have to wait for tomorrow to catch more....OR DARE I SAY #SINGLITBODYSLAM 2 ?!?!" - David Wong
finally, more self-absorbed masturbation by me.
and i think that is all i have to say for a while.
...until SING LIT BODY SLAM 2!!!!
it's going to be a chaotic next few months but I'm going one month at a time:
1. I'll be reading at LaSalle on Wed 27 Sep from 730-9pm, together with Amanda Chong, Cyril Wong, Marc Nair, and LaSalle's own Chris Mooney-Singh and Darryl Whetter. If you're in the area, drop by! Event page isn't up yet, but I'll keep you posted when it happens - its usually at the LaSalle Library.
2. Sing Lit Body Slam 6 and 7 Oct. This is the biggest thing Sing Lit Station has done since its inception - put poets together with wrestlers for a mindblowing hybrid event. Pairs of poets will be waging lyrical warfare with each other across the ring, while pairs of wrestlers, each representing a poet as their avatar, do actual combat via the art of pro wrestling. Think of it as an extra exciting form of physical theatre married with words - or as a very literary style of commentating on a wrestling match.
The first night is $30, and the second "Fundraiser Night" is $90. What do you get for the 2nd night for paying 3x the price? Well, it's really a big push to fill Sing Lit Station's annual budget, so all ticket sales for the 2nd night will be tax-deductible at a special 250% rate (at peak tax rates, that's basically $40 of value!) You'll also get two complimentary alcoholic drinks, and there'll be poets bashing out typewriter poetry at the side which you can bring home and keep! But think of it first and foremost as a charitable donation. Please come sappork!!!
More is coming soon:
October is AJAR Festival in Vietnam, APWT in Indonesia, LAF-SLS Translation Retreat in Malaysia, the twin launch of Twin Cities in HK Int' Lit Fest and SWF, a Ten Stories Below installation at Singapore: Inside Out in Sydney, poetry.sg expanding into Malay, launching a new Southeast Asian Prize at SWF, new writing groups reading at the festival bookstore, a pedagogical songs project (Stories We Sing) being presented at SWF, a few random SWF panels, and my own 4th collection of poetry being launched (!!!!).
after that i'm going to collapse and die.
1. Yes, it's National Day soon. In light of that, I've put together a selection of local poets trading keys and notes with local musicians and called it KEY NOTE SPEAKER - Daryl Qilin Yam with Chris Jones, and David Wong with Vick Low, led off with a special set by poetry slam champions Rajita Jay and Neil Basu - check this out at the Esplanade Concourse completely free on Tue 8 Aug and Mon 14 Aug, at 7pm (there'll be a short intermission after the first pair and then a 7.45 set with the second pair). There'll also be a book table with a selection from Math Paper Press, so bring some money!
2. team SLS is rocking up to the Singapore Coffee Fest, which is now in a brand new ALL air conditioned venue at Marina Bay Cruise Centre! I'll be on a panel about my after-work career with other many-ECA-ed people Declan Ee and Rachael Leong, hosted by Rachel Au Yong at 2pm on Sat 5 Aug, and on the next day (Sun 6 Aug) at 1pm, i'll be hosting a pairing of writers with artists as Dan Wong and James Tan translate the poetry of Jennifer Champion and Felix Cheong into art! multi-disciplinary seems to be the flavor of the month. beyond those speaking events, Raksha Mahtani, David Wong, Marylyn Tan, Tse Hao Guang, Steph Dogfoot and Daryl Lim will be banging out poetry on coffee cups (i have measured out my life with coffee spoons!) every day from Fri the 4th to Sunday the 6th from 630pm-830pm - grab a cuppa with them!
3. Finally, I have a bit of poetry out in Mexican literary journal Ofi Press, available after the jump - it's called Destination.
when i have some time i want to say a few words about stuff that just happened (Unfree Verse launch, If Walls Could Talk / Spill The Ink in KL, Foresight Conference) - and stuff that's going to happen (Sing Lit Body Slam, A-Festival, and APWT in Bali)... but that's for another post!
i've been really bad at sending out work to journals in years past - but a trickle of amusement through my subconscious in the last few months has finally gotten a couple of pieces by me into two of my favorite asian journals.
Cha: An Asian Literary Journal first published me in 2013, and i've been wanting to submit more to them for a while - the "Writing Japan" issue poked me in the eye and a poem called shigata ga nai (仕方が無い) popped out. i have written pieces about Japan (in the context of Singapore) before - one called 'Liang Court', about Japanese stereotypes in Singapore, one called 'oh green frog', about sakae and the extended metaphor of conveyor belt sushi, but the piece that made it in is in one of my favorite forms - the meditative, elegiac pantoum, and is not immediately discernable as being about japan - but i am glad that the editors found it to contain a sliver of that particularly (to me at least) Japanese sentiment. The Writing Japan issue drops in Jun 2017. (Separately, the current rhino issue also has an essay by me about Sing Lit Station and the good-ish work we do that reads more like an infomercial/advertorial, but i must declare that no financial gain accrued to the editors of Cha as a result.)
Quarterly Literary Review Singapore is the old grand-daddy of Sing Lit, and young me coming up through the ranks always saw having work in QLRS as the gold stamp of achievement. i was rejected several times before, and thought i was lucky enough to sneak a piece in in (coincidentally) 2013: ingrown from making love with scrabble tiles. however, MLWST actually dropped before the QLRS issue, and it had to be pulled it from the journal as a result. a few years on, and several books into my literary career, i finally have a piece in QLRS - defensive architecture. my precociously talented intern who is more than a decade younger, Ang Shuang, also has her first pieces published in QLRS at the same time, but i'm just happy to finally be there too.
i do have one person to thank for both poems and getting into both journals, but she knows who she is.
separately, i've kicked off a couple of different projects. after kicking myself off the editorial team for SingPoWriMo 2017: The Anthology this year (three years in a row is enough), and terminating the A Luxury We X Afford series, i've found myself anthology-less after spending the past few years doing two series of them. (Unfree Verse, being a historical anthology - doesn't immediately lend itself to a sequel). but in the past few months i've found myself (to various degrees) walking down the paths of two more anthos!.
1. i wrote a twin cinema about the Hong Kong elections that went down pretty well, and Eck Kheng of Landmark messaged me shortly after about the possibility of doing a twin cinema anthology dedicated to the form. i was already in talks with a friend about doing a HKG-SIN anthology, and it seemed like the perfect marriage of form and theme - a twin cinema, twin cities anthology. hence, i'm excited to be editing the first ever twin cinema anthology, titled Twin Cities: a twin cinema anthology of Hong Kong and Singapore poetry, together with the irrepressible Tammy Ho Lai-Ming. open call ends 3 Jun 2017 - check it out!
2. in the middle of SingPoWriMo, this happened. Stephanie Dogfoot dropped a prompt that said "Write a poem about a place in Singapore that no longer exists" and nostalgia-crazy Singaporeans went all over the map. in the end, there might well be enough pieces for an anthology of its own - but again, a publisher came forward to chope this idea, and we should soon be having an open call for an anthology of lost location-based poetry in Singapore. I do need a co-editor, though...
- excited to be doing new work, with new partners.
there are a lot of things to say about Sing Lit Station but for once i'm not going to say them! just wanted to drop a few updates on things that have been low-profilely pottering along separate from SLS:
1. i've been working on a "pedagogical song" for teaching musical concepts in schools for the Singapore Teacher's Academy for the Arts - a collaboration with Professor Bernard Tan. it's a suitably rhyming metric run-down through all the stations of the east-west line, creatively entitled "East West Line"! congratulations to all the children who will be tormented by horrible puns for the foreseeable future.
2. separately, i've been working on another musical piece for MOE primary schools together with Liong Kit Yeng, tentatively titled "Little Red Dot" - it's still coming along, but developing quite well in a very national educationy way. getting back to my lyricist roots has been quite an interesting experience.
3. finally, i'm curating a small selection of Sing Lit for three issues of The New Paper as part of a campaign that-shall-not-be-named-until-it-is-named! i really hope that (some) Singaporeans enjoy it - and that they go on to find out more about where these works came from, and hunt down bookstores like BooksActually and go on to buy more Sing Lit and keep on doing so and write about it online and post pictures on instagram and tell more people that SINGAPOREANS ARE WRITING THINGS WORTH READING and that will be worth it.
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