BBC Performing Arts Fellowship WOOHOOO!

It’s been a little while. I am notoriously slow at these things but I am sure that recent news will stick a rocket in the appropriate place:

I am the first poet to be awarded a BBC Performing Arts Fellowship- of which there have been 32 granted to artists across the UK.

Over the next year I will be working with Spread The Word, developing my full poetry collection, running workshops, meeting other artists, working on a range of projects and growing a cross arts show to scratch at the end of the year. Huge Things!

Check out the list of Fellows here!

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Back in the London Fold

Hello all!

It has been a little while. I returned to the UK in Jan ’14 and have just spent a little time finding my feet and getting settled in.

Leaving Singapore was heartwrenching in a number of ways but I feel massively grateful to have been able to be there for such a chunk of time and meet people who I connected with on such a level.

So what is happening now?

WRITING

I am working hard on my first full collection, which might be picked up by a Singaporean publisher but has also received some interest from a UK publisher too. It is steadily growing and it is exciting to see it coming to shape in some way. It currently tries to deal with themes of loss, bereavement, history, and also the identities we hold onto or leave behind.

Meanwhile, my first book everything we don’t say is in the process of reprint with Singaporean imprint Math Paper Press, having first been printed by Tall Lighthouse Press in 2009. The work in it is raw and speaks from a different set of perspectives in my (then) fledgeling life but I am happy that it can exist as a book again, rather than a dead end on a website. Details on availability will be up before long.

I have also been fortunate to have had a piece published in the Queer in Brighton Anthology, a collection of writings, experiential and creative, from the queer community in Brighton, on the coast of the UK. It features a diverse selection of voices and is available here!!

I’m also working on some different collaborations with music and film, but as they are embryonic so far, that is all I’ll say for just now…

PERFORMANCE

What a vibrant spoken word scene there is in the UK! So much going on all the time! I had forgotten. Check out my Attend page if you’d like to come something soon!

THERAPEUTIC WORK

I am working as a volunteer counsellor for Alone in London, which is a homelessness support organisation in London. Working with the young people there is a great privilege. The centre offers time-limited therapy and also other support/home placement services for young people aged up to 25, and they have a few satellite centres also.

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The Invisibility Project

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Over the last few months, I commissioned 12 artists: 6 visual, 6 poets, to respond to the theme of Invisible identities. I wanted to curate a collaborative project where emerging visual artists could respond to poets’ work and where it could all be exhibited together. As part of TAH/NUS writing residency, residents are supported in curating public events of their own creation and are given a budget to play with, which meant that all the artists involved received a fee for their commission. The work produced was really beautiful and it was fun to have everyone together in the same space, sharing and discussing about the work. The exhibition runs in the foyer of The Arts House until the end of this year.

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Me looking very serious as Lisa Lip introduces the project at the launch.

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Khaleedah Sairi and Cyril Wong with their pieces

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With artist Fariza Stromblad in front of her photographs and poem by Tania De Rozario

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Me, Pooja Nansi (poet) and Jessica Bellamy (playwright in residence at Grey Projects).

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NUS Student Anthology and Performance

Late in November, the whole cohort of NUS poetry students came together to perform pieces they had written during the semester with me. To commemorate the series of workshops, we produced an anthology with two poems per student. The anthology is on sale at the University and also at The Arts House.
Working with these young people has been such a joy. Many of them have not written before and even more have not performed their words in public. Friends, family, faculty and others came down to support the reading at BookHaven on campus. I was really moved by how far they have come and how much they seemed to let go and share their pieces for the first time.

All these images are credit to one of the students, Kevin Wong.

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“I Feel The Tails of Comets’, name drawn from a student’s poem.

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Kamalia Shafie wowing the crowd..

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Weng Kin San

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Natalie Tai

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thoughts

anthologies

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everyone

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Writers Festivals and Headless Chickens

Even though there is a lot on this week, it feels like I have not stopped for a few weeks now. With the Singapore Writer’s Festival, the 4th Philippines International Literary Festival and a full gig at Speakeasy #7, it feels like my feet have not touched the ground.

Let’s start with

Singapore Writers Festival 2013

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SWF 2013 was a Writer’s Festival that spanned over ten days in the heart of Singapore. Poets, Fiction writers, playwrights, journalists, filmmakers, graphic novelists all piled in to do readings, panel discussions, workshops and more. I was fortunate enough to moderate a Meet The Author event with Folklore and Fairytale specialist Terri Windling. As well as being a writer, she is an editor and anthologist, and gave an extensive talk on how fairytale has evolved through time, affected by publication and the impositions of ideology of those controlling the print. Terri lives in the UK and as I was fortunate enough to spend time with her outside my/her role, I’ll look forward to roaming the Devon hills with her on my return to England.

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I also did a reading at Molly Roffey’s Irish Pub, battling the hubbub of the Friday night crowd with poems ‘on Darkness and Dystopia’, the theme of this year’s festival, er, which is basically most of my work. Sharing the stage with Alvin Pang and Kosal Khiev from Cambodia was an honour. Alvin performed finely crafted and moving verse, and Kosal finished the evening with a burst of heartfelt and passionate poems about his remarkable life journey. We were gently guided and organised by Storytelling Revivalist Kamini Ramachandran, who I will gush about shortly.

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 4th Philippines International Literary Festival

Myself and Kamini boarded our respective planes last Monday to take part in this festival in Manila, the Phillipines. Themed ‘Text and the City’, it spanned over the week but moved from venue to venue every day, between the universities of Manila. We were joined also by Indonesian poet Sitok Srengenge, who gave a reading on Tuesday, a thrumming roof raising performance of incredibly moving poems, performed in Bahasa but subtitled on screen. I was on the floor, in a way that actually I am not very often. It was wonderful to hear work that straddles both craft and performance in this way. Kamini ran a workshop on storytelling in the classroom for THREE HUNDRED teachers. She never even breaks a sweat.

the bar

I did a brief reading at Marjorie Evasco’s commemorative dinner, and a workshop for some creative writing students at De La Salle University, Manila. The whole festival was coordinated by poet Dinah Roma, who made sure that we were taken care of at every step.

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Events like this, which are happening while a country is collectively grieving after the natural disasters of typhoon and earthquake, are tricky in that you encounter your own privilege starkly in a wider context of destruction. The spirit of the Filipinas is sturdy and scattered with love and humour. It was moving to be there.

Credit goes to Kamini Ramachandran for these photos.

Speakeasy #7 at Artistry 

I flew back to a day of feverish zinemaking for my gig at Artistry Coffee House. Artistry reminds me of various Antipodean cafe’s in the UK, but with an American twist, serving windowsill pies and draping the walls with photo exhibits. Speakeasy is a poetry and spoken word night hosted by Pooja Nansi, and she was kind enough to give me a whole gig to myself.

I’ve been producing a limited run of my new zine ‘True Colours’ to fill the gap before any other publication comes through. They are all handpainted and hand sewn, and contain just ten of my new poems. At Speakeasy I thankfully sold all that I’d made, though it looks like a second run is in order. :-).

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I was actually quite nervous before this gig, packed out with friendly and unfamiliar faces, and an entire evening to fill with poems. Thank you very much to everyone that came, and also to everyone that took video and photos. Alvin Pang has uploaded a full stream on youtube here!

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speakeasy

Much more coming up this week, but I need to go into hiding now, otherwise my head will explode. Much reflecting and chewing over needs to be done, as well as some chill out.

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Interview in Kent Ridge Common!

 

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So those of you who know me know that I paradoxically don’t deal that well with attention. However, seeing as I consented to this interview for the Kent Ridge Common, one of NUS’ student publications, the bullet was bitten. Compiled carefully by one of my poetry students, Xiang Yeow Tan, it is a little glimpse into my experience here so far in Singapore. Enjoy!

 

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Happy Birthday Marj!

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Last July I was lucky enough to be ‘buddy’d up with Filipino poet Marjorie Evasco last year as part of Poetry Parnassus at The Southbank Centre. A poet was chosen to represent every country in the world and come to share their work and expertise at The Southbank Centre. This year marks Marjorie’s 60th birthday, so late last month she celebrated by inviting friends, family and loved ones to the beautiful Bohol Bee Farm, on the island of Bohol, The Phillipines. The resort is a stunning, peaceful and sustainably run business that focuses on warmth, self- sufficiency and also contributes to the local community in a number of different ways.

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With the calming and steadfast travel companion of Alvin Pang as icing on the cake, I could not have asked for a more rich experience. From the conservation projects to delicious local produce, fireflies on the river, and the freshest squid I have ever tasted, the weekend was a beautiful escape to natural beauty and the joy of a group of people united by their love for Marjorie. Her birthday celebration involved poetry readings from all of us. in addition to a poem by a poet that we love- I chose to read Sea Swell, a poem written for her birthday, and Some Bright Elegance, the title poem from Kayo Chingonyi’s first pamphlet.

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This is the kind of place that makes you question why you live in a city….

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SPEAK @ Home Club, September 2013

 

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So I am back-catalogueing here just a bit, but I wanted to document the gig I did at SPEAK in early September.

SPEAK is a night that is run by Vanessa Victoria and Deborah Emmanuel. What sets this night apart from other events is that the feeling created by the hosts is very inclusive and really makes space for anyone, whatever level of experience, to come and take the mic. The hosts are a close team and there never seems to be much confusion about what is going on. It reminded me of Sage and Time, run by Anne Le, Amy Acre and Richard Marsh in London. It was a pleasure to go up and do a mixture of old and extremely new material, and also to have the experience of a multiple encore, which those who know me know that is not something I easily deal with! Big thanks to Deborah and Vanessa- they go through life with determination and grace, so it was a pleasure to work with them. 

Here is a video of me performing that night,

and a link to the soundcloud file of some of the new work I did, too.

 

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Make it At Home: Learning to Bookbind

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Last weekend another Singapore-based writer, editor and book-artist Pooja Makhijani ran a hardcover book-binding workshop at The Arts House. I met Pooja recently at a writer’s event and was really pleased to take part in the workshop. Over two days, we learned how to make a strong structure for a hardback book, bound the pages by hand using specialist, organic, acid free materials, and also crafted the hard cover from scratch. Pooja brought the materials and instructed us firmly but encouragingly on the practical details of the craft. I was really excited to be there, as I have much inclination for craft but very few specialist skills. I came away feeling like I could make something strong and durable. Look out for Pooja’s workshops in Singapore, and check out her blog here.

I am interested in this field for a number of reasons. Firstly, while I appreciate the sustainability issue regarding craft work (use of paper vs interweb), it still satisfies me to connect with the tangible, especially in terms of personalised items. I grew up making cards, birthday presents, mixtapes, read: TAPES, and come from a partial lineage of stout Dutch women who made all the family clothes, cooked up jams, baked bread, crocheted, darned, and generally did not buy anything of they could make it. I still am resistant to buying clothes or even eating out at places if I feel I could do it myself. As they said multiple times on slightly slapdash British- Asian comedy Goodness Gracious Me, ‘ I can make it at home for nothing‘.Considering my time here has enabled me to engage more deeply with environmental issues and sustainability, I feel there are additional reasons why self-making crafts could have more space made for them. If I buy an notebook at a stationary shop, how far has it travelled to get to me? I acknowledge that making one notebook is hardly a revolution, but it does bring up questions for me about how I spend my time and how much I take for granted in the resources around me. My grandmother and great grandmother made all their clothes because it was cheaper that way- and they fit, lasted, and carried a value that belied the constant turnover of clothing that we have now in affluent societies. I’d be interested to see who else is practicing forgotten skills, and will definitely seek out other opportunities to develop the skills I learned at Pooja’s workshop, for my own practice, and to pass on to others.

Here is a selection of images from the workshop!
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Ready, Set..

P is For Poetry.
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Above is the set of poetry workbooks I prepared for the NUS students. Any excuse for some paint, basically.

This week marks the beginning of several workshop groups I am facilitating in Singapore. For the sake of accessibility, I am running two poetry groups of 12 NUS students, who I will see weekly to write, talk, do exercises, and share words and thoughts. The first Thursday evening class was last week, and it was fun and great to meet one of the groups. I took in anonymous wishes from the group about what they wanted from the series, and will do my best to accommodate their needs. The first Wednesday evening class is today. I’m always somewhere between nervous and excited before the beginning of a course, but the students seem hungry to develop their work and are a pleasure to work with.

In addition, I am also running the first of ten poetry sessions for Little Arts Academy, a hub in town that offers creative/expressive arts classes to children in Singapore. These will culminate in a show at the end of the year, so I hope they feel inspired to make some poems and practice speaking up through the workshops.

September is sprinkled with different poetry gigs: further details to come :-).

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