Back in August, I stepped on a plane to Singapore. I had no idea what I’d find or whether it was the right thing to do. I’ve been here three months now and the idea that I might never have come is almost unimaginable. I’ve discovered so much – poets, artists, friends, jazz, festivals, schools, cafes, karaoke (!), what mangos really taste like, that umbrellas are actually meant for the sun… and food. A lot of food. And yes, I’ve neglected to blog. I’ve been so immersed in the offline world of streets and people that I’m only just coming back online. Here are some of the things I’ve been up to…
Performing at Singapore’s Esplanade during Y-Fest, a festival of youth arts. I was invited by Word Forward as a guest performer and judge for their youth poetry SLAM. Word Forward is a poetry & creative writing organisation run by Chris Mooney Singh, specialising in SLAM. They’ve given me a warm welcome to the Singapore poetry scene and I’m very lucky to work with them.
Recently, I performed at subTEXT at The Arts House, a literary evening presented by the wonderful poet Yong Shu Hoong, and at Blu Jaz (Singapore’s jazz cafe and one of the best venues I’ve discovered) at a Word Forward SLAM that threatened to blow the roof off. I also co-hosted an evening of spontaneous performance at Singapore Shophouse Salon, a jazz-poetry-dance party thrown by Laura Freedman at her beautiful shophouse. Laura is an MBA admissions consultant who happens to know a whole load of artists and truly knows how to throw a party. Just one of the many inspiring people I’ve met here.
Leading Workshops at the United World College South East Asia. United World Colleges are an international group of schools where students from all over the world come together to learn, volunteer and live together, most of them on scholarships. I went to UWC Atlantic College in Wales before university, so it was interesting to re-visit a similar place as a workshop leader. I was working with International Baccalaureate students as well as grade 8s – performing my poems, answering some searching and brilliant questions about poetry (do I mind how people interpret my poems?), taking them through writing exercises and looking at how to approach critical commentary writing in a creative way. I hope the students learnt as much as I did. I also led a special workshop on ‘Landscape Poetry’ – exploring different ways to write about place, for a group of students who were about to visit the UK on a literature trip.
Recently I led a series of poetry SLAM workshops in a local school with Word Forward. Class sizes here are bigger than in the UK – 40 students to a regular class. The students were hard to keep in their seats, but once their energy was channelled into poetry, they produced some impressive results. One group wrote and performed a beautiful poem on love – ‘love tastes sweet like palm sugar, bitter like antibiotics’. Mmmm. By our final workshop, even the shyest students got up and performed in front of the class, which was a real achievement. The students judged each other in a class slam and selected one group to represent them in an inter-class slam. By this time they were taking the whole thing much more seriously, asking questions like ‘what do you do when you’re nervous before going on stage?’ It was wonderful to experience a change like that in just four days.
I’ve also been Writing. I’m currently working on my pamphlet, which is due out next year with flipped eye, and also on new poems. As long as you remember to bring a cardigan (outside may be tropical, but inside can have glacial air-con), there are plenty of good places to write. My favourite is 15 minutes at Lasalle College of the Arts.
I’ve found a strong writing community here and there’s a sense that it’s growing and that things are happening. In September I attended the launch of Ceriph – a magazine of creative writing by new Singaporean writers, in its second issue. Books Actually, an independent bookshop to die for, publishes Ceriph through Maths Paper Press. They’re also collecting submissions for Coast – an anthology featuring new writing of that title by writers resident in Singapore.
Project-wise, I’m plotting a number of things for next year with some exciting people and organisations. These past few months have been a time to explore and find my bearings. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. Expect to hear more…