Meetings with contemporary Singaporean poets
In July 2010, Mike Ladd of ABC Australia’s Radio National weekly poetry programme, Poetica, spent a week in Singapore. In two beautiful programmes, Mike interviews Singapore’s leading poets from Chinese, Malay, Indian and other backgrounds to find out what they really think of the place and how it influences their writing.
In Part 1 of the programme, he spoke to the elder statesman of Singaporean poetry, Edwin Thumboo, who was born in 1933 in the British colonial period, lived through the war and Japanese occupation, the post-war independence movement, the rule of Lee Kuan Yew, and is still active as a poet and lecturer today.
Alfian Bin Sa’at is a dissident playwright and poet of Malaysian descent who has written a harangue called ‘Singapore You Are Not My Country’, a long, Ginsberg-like wail of a poem, and we also hear a reading of this work in the program.
Aaron Maniam gives us an insight into life as a Muslim poet in Singapore, and Pooja Nansi into her writing as a young woman of Indian descent, pushing up against Singaporean conventions.
We also hear from leading poet and editor Alvin Pang, who gives us a briefing on the phenomenon of ‘Singlish’, that characteristically Singaporean reworking of English, and he reads a poem written in Singlish.
Listen to Part 1 by clicking the image below.
In Part 2, Mike explores the multi-lingual nature of Singaporean society and we hear translations of works by Dan Ying who writes in Chinese, and Mohamed Latiff Mohamed and Rasiah Halil who write in Malay. We also meet Yong Shu Hoong whose poetry invokes his Peranakan heritage.
Cyril Wong has published seven collections of his poetry as well as a collection of tales inspired by Ghost Stories. He is the editor of the “soft blow” website which publishes contemporary Asian and international poetry. Cyril talks about his experience as a gay poet in Singapore.
We also meet Australian Sikh poet Chris Mooney-Singh. Chris has lived in Singapore off and on since 1997 and with his wife Savinder Kaur, is the organiser of Word Forward and the Singapore Lit Up festival for emerging writers and performers. In his long poem “Views From My Apartment” Chris describes looking down from his Singapore Housing Development Board apartment to “this logged-on island gone glocal.”
Listen to Part 2 by clicking on the image below.
Additional readings by Daniel Browning and Mei Wong.
Thanks also to Chris Mooney Singh, Savinder Kaur and Alvin Pang for assistance with research.
Listen to an edition of Abc Radio National’s Artworks programme, exploring Singapore’s performing arts scene, here.
Listen to a further edition of the programme, exploring Singapore’s visual arts scene, here.