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.
 
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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 .

A New Decision

The following is a portion of my first diary entry. The parts that are not included in this entry are personal and has nothing to do with writing.

After what seemed like a permanent hiatus, I’ve finally decided to start a diary again. The last time I kept a diary was in my primary school days. I probably had a rather romantic notion about diary keeping which was why I started it then. None of the pages from my childhood still exists. I probably threw it out the last time I cleared my room. Then again, my childish musings could hardly be of any use save for nostalgic amusement. I certainly was no Anne Frank.

This time, I was inspired to restart this habit by two articles that I read today – both of them from The Art of Manliness. The first article was an excerpt from Arnold Bennett about existence and the act of writing a diary. The second article is a more straightforward article about how and why one should start a diary. After giving much thought about it, I realise that both articles have a kernel of truth in it. Besides, now that I’m turning 23 and have been blessed with a decent education, perhaps my thoughts and secrets would be of use to someone – be it my future self or otherwise. The challenge ahead is to be consistent about it.

Those who know me personally will be surprised that I’ve chosen an electronic  medium to write my diary since I’m mostly averse to technology. It would be a beautiful thing if I could spend a couple of hours writing into a leather bound diary with a fountain pen. Alas, I don’t have the luxury of time nor – considering that this is a long term activity – the physical space to keep the diaries. I’ve thought of starting a private blog but that means I’ll not write my most intimate thoughts in it for the fear of someone hacking it or accidentally making the post public. As such, the current arrangement – whatever that is – is the best compromise.