May 27, 2017

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by Joshua Ip

IN THE wake of all the controversy of the United States ban on immigration from seven Muslim countries, here is a human interest poem on the struggle of four immigrant ladies who traveled across the oceans and fought against the odds to make America great again.

An immigrant aged seventeen,
Mary MacLeod, sailed serene
From Glasgow to New York upon the SS Transylvania.
Her listed job: “domestic maid”
The fisherman’s kid scrubbed and stayed
Till she was naturalised with citizenship twelve years later.

Ms Knavs, from former Yugoslavia
Entered on a visit visa,
Found illegal jobs before she got her work credentials.
Twenty-six, she modelled
Five long years before she got her
Green card on her “extraordinary“ glamorous potential.

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Elisabeth Christ of Bavaria
Daughter of Anna Maria
Was a tinker’s child who wed eleven years her senior,
Friedrich, who promptly dodged
The draft and was compelled to lodge
A claim for US citizenship by unclear procedure.

Ivana Zelnickova
Born to Czech Marie Francova
In the tiny town of Zlin, showed talent as a downhill skier.
She traveled to New York to tout
The Montreal Olympics out
Found love, marriage and a new passport in eleven years.

What these girls have in common
Besides struggling from the bottom
Is that the USA is not their first nation of residence.
Immigrants of various
Legalities, they came to us
The mother, last wife, grandmother and first wife of the President.

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

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by Joshua Ip

AT THE “Singapore Perspectives” conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, 27-year-old lawyer-poet Amanda Chong accused the development of our arts infrastructure as (and here I begin to quote the Mothership article):

“… a branding exercise grounded in the desire to transform ourselves so we might be attractive to the world’, citing our beautiful galleries and museums as well as the government’s annual $700 million expenditure on the arts.

‘If we continue this trajectory of pursuing a global city built from the outside in while opening our doors wide to the world, we are ultimately closing the doors on ourselves… Singapore’s arts scene is important for our own sake. The arts should not just or even primarily be an instrument of the State to attract global talent.”

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In doing so, she drew the ire of Tommy Koh, but made a strong and strident argument for art for art’s sake. She made three points to back this up. I feel the need to further expand on the three points of her argument, as it seems inadequate to me. In the spirit of “Cabinet Battle” from Hamilton, I have crafted my retorts in a hip-hop beat:

 

1. The arts teaches us to be more mindful of dissenting views that exist, and enrich our understanding of the truth.

The arts assists the state to be more mindful of those
who must persist in making noise, who try to oppose;
it gathers them in easily-observable groups
so everywhere they feasibly go, Big Brother snoops.
Dissenting views enrich the few with faux independence,
so call a poetry reading and just take the attendance!

 

2. The arts helps us to see other members of our society as equals and as humans, not as objects to be dealt with.

The arts helps us to see other society members
as inspiration for our literary adventures;
Prostitutes or prisoners or even the Prime Minister
are equal opportunity protagonists in literature!
They won’t object to be subjected to our prolificity,
from nothing, we make something, we’re increasing productivity!
Human interest stories might be individually worthless;
we can monetise them if we just put the right word first!

 

3. The arts can contribute to the national conversation about our future in a meaningful way.

The arts can contribute to conversation.sg,
by making richer countries think that we are so edgy.
Unlike third world regimes that can be much more demanding
we never censor arts, we only pull back our funding!
If liberals want to gibber about freedom and passion
the free grants that we give will be our kneejerk reaction!

So what is wrong, Amanda Chong, with art not for art’s sake?
Observe the upward market curve that all of us partake.
We started with a junket to take part in this whole damn response
to marketing a market and its artificial Renaissance:
if foreign talent is inherently arts-obsessed,
why can’t our parent-state apparent fake its interest?
So Amanda, I contend there’s nought to contend with,
its fine to sell your soul but please just make it expensive!

P/S: (She plays the part of starving artist slightly too well:
please give her book a look at the attached URL.)

 

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Joshua Ip

AMOS, Amos why so famous?
Now the whole world come and blame us
New York poster boy for free speech
Human rights all come and preach preach

Insult PM Iron Lady
Go to jail enough already
Offend all diverse constituents
Regardless race or religion

Troll so many, kena summon
Little boy versus the gahmen
Goliath overcompensating
But David damn irritating!

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Delinquent on a new scale leh,
but irritant must throw in jail meh?
Obscene video? But who say so?
Who’s aroused? Just bloody kaypohs

Sentenced ready finished doneded
Still dunno whose feelings wounded
Must be forum uncle write crap
Can’t control, give you one tight slap

Try to teach you lesson, fail
End up ownself go to jail
Martyr conscience funny fella
Self compare Gandhi Mandela

Sent to Woodbridge super frightened
(Out already, go asylum?)
People come support protest you
Then you claim bailor molest you

Tell the press you will say sorry
Laugh at them from lavatory
One time arrest not sufficient
One more time insult religion

Go to jail this sounds familiar
Qualify as conscience prisoner
Give up freedom days a few less
Secret scheme to go to US

Anarchism communism
Any pattern suits your jism
Change your thoughts like change your deh kor
Wan to siam NS just say lor

Shee shee shor shor coca cola
Wan to caogeng then say so lah

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

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by Tan Chu Chze

THE year 2016 has been nothing short of crappy. Not that no good things have happened, but plenty of crazy things occupy our consciousness simply because they don’t make sense. And this is made obvious from the way we are choosing our words. Here are four words that have taken over our minds:

 

Post-truth
Oxford’s choice of word of the year are usually interesting ones. Last year’s was an emoticon. This year’s is ‘post-truth‘. The reason they seem like strange and novel choices is because they are also strange and novel words. Oxford Dictionary keeps track of words that people use – online and off – and takes note of words that spike in frequency. ‘Post-truth’ has become significant to our vocabulary that way.

It refers to circumstances where the objective ‘truth’ is no longer as important as subjective feelings. In definition, that sounds a lot like ‘populism’, which is probably the main impetus of the rise in the word ‘post-truth’. Yet, there remains a significant difference between the two words.

‘Post-truth’ appears to take ‘populism‘ to the next level. While ‘populism’ describes people voting irrationally, ‘post-truth’ bluntly posits that people are irrational. It is as if the word is playfully, yet ominously, ushering a new age in human development where logic and reason are suspended. How true is that? We’ll have to wait for 2017 to find out. But, it definitely deserves a place on the list as it seems indicative of a paradigm shift.

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Xenophobia
Also known as the fear, hatred, or dislike of anyone or anything foreign. Unlike Oxford Dictionary, Dictionary.com selected this word based on user searches, meaning a heckuva lot of people looked up ‘xenophobia‘ on their site. People seemed most interested in the word around June this year, following Brexit.

What this means is that people generally wanted to understand or clarify the meaning of ‘xenophobia’. The word itself isn’t new or particularly rare in public use, but the fact that it was searched so many times shows that people were becoming more conscious of it. Perhaps other people are using it more in everyday speech, or are hearing it in the news more often… but what is certain is that we want to know its meaning.

‘Xenophobia’ finds its place on this list because it gives name to the demon that possesses our society. It has spawned other monsters, such as populism and terrorism and let loose the biggest monster of all, chaos.

 

Surreal
Merriam-Webster’s offering takes a similar approach to Dictionary.com – it selected ‘surreal‘ for an unusually high number of searches on its site. The searches had three significant surges this year. They were during the Brussels terror attacks in March, the Turkish coup and Nice attacks in July, and finally the US presidential elections in November.

While these events are undoubtedly real, they felt surreal, which is the feeling of intense irrational reality of a dream. If that is the case, 2016 is nothing short of a nightmare the world is waiting to wake up from.

Of course, not all surreal moments are reflective of bad ones. Joseph Schooling’s gold at the Olympics is a clear (good) dream come true. At least for Singapore lah huh. However, other moments like the seemingly unrelenting list of celebrity deaths easily overshadow that joy. If anything, the interest in the word ‘surreal’ shows that this year has been especially difficult to make sense of, even after finding the meaning of the word.

Here’s our take on the word applied to Singapore.

 

Trump
If one could personify everything that is post-truth, xenophobic and surreal, it would have to be – unquestionably – Trump. His name encapsulates the irony that pervades 2016: literally meaning “to win”, but really representing a loss. Donald Trump continues to defy common sense, being a businessman to take US presidency while having the unpopular vote. Completely unpresidented unprecedented.

And for being vacuous and polarising yet absolutely and unpalatably irresistible, Trump was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. He is so hard to ignore, and on that virtue alone ‘trump’ finds a place on this list whether we like it or not.

 

Featured image “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”Helen Keller by Flickr user Kate Ter Haar. (CC BY 2.0) 

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by Felix Cheong

IT’S not certain, yet,

you’re today whom you thought

you would be, yesterday.

 

You’re cursed not to see

your own clockface, if it slows

to a growl, quickens as mercury;

 

a month, a year, or maybe never,

between understanding means

and ends, what the end must mean

 

when what you held as beautiful

that once, like a mimosa to sun,

collapses, your touch.

 

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You’re what you’re as

capable of loving as losing,

beginning as destroying.

 

Oh, the years, yearning, learning.

How it takes time

to know time.

 

This poem was first published in Sudden in Youth: New and Selected Poems (2009).

 

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by Tan Chu Chze

MOST of us know what a ‘marquee’ is. It’s a tent. A big, big tent. The kind of canopy that Cirque du Soleil might run a show under.

However, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke last week about a “marquee project” in which no tents are being erected. Instead, a High-Speed Rail will run from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. PM Lee and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak signed the agreement to this project on Dec 13 this year, so the plan is definitely not on tentative terms.

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So what is the deal with calling a train project a ‘marquee’ if there is no canvas stretched across the two countries? Or is ‘marquee project’ just monkey malarkey?

Such confusion is not unfamiliar to the history of the word ‘marquee’ though. In fact, ‘marquee’ was formed by mistake:

The origin of ‘marquee’ is traced back to ‘marquis’ – the French term referring to a rank in nobility. So ‘marquis’ in Marquis de Sade is actually his title, not his name.

When the marquis set up camp next to their subordinates, they placed a special canopy over their tents to distinguish themselves. These canopies became known as ‘marquise’ – the feminine form of ‘marquis’.

Here is where the English language makes the boo boo; It mistook ‘marquise’ (pronounced mar-keys) to be plural, so the singular form, ‘marquee’ (mar-key), was invented. Possibly contributing to this confusion was that the English were using ‘marquess’ as their equivalent of ‘marquis’, which they still use today.

This historical blunder seems especially significant considering the impression it has left on our understanding of ‘marquee’. For one, it now doesn’t refer to any old tent, but usually a rather atas, if not large, one.

‘Marquee’ later evolved to refer to the canopy outside theatres, then to the signage put up on them to grab the attention of passers-by. Names of celebrity performers, and later sportsmen, were displayed on these marquees to draw people in, similar to the prestige of atas French men.

Thus, ‘marquee’ came to represent not just a grand tent, but also the charms strong enough to entice the crowds. Strong enough, even, to build new bridges across rough waters.

 

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by Joshua Ip

Twenty years after humiliation
A nationalist strongman shouts defiance,
And vows to marshal his resurgent nation
Westwards past a crumbling alliance.

A waning oceanic superpower
Believing itself safe across the seas
Wants to be great again, decides the hour
Has come to turn inwards, withdraw, appease.

A league of nations formed to end all war
Instead becomes the system that effects it
By gathering to veto and ignore
The stormclouds. One by one the nations brexit.

A tribe of people from the Middle East
Wander through Europe. Men perpetuate
Stereotypes that spread and do not cease.
Easy to rail against, easy to hate.

“Countries aren’t what they used to be.
These immigrants! Now, wasn’t it much better
When the neighbors were as fair as we?
Our heritage requires a defender.”

A rising Asian nation eyes the treasure
All around it: living space, resources;
Preaches co-prosperity, and as the
World goes mad elsewhere, builds up its forces.

Local strongmen chafe at the restraints
Imposed on them by neo-imperialists.
The economic system’s skewed with taint.
The winners win. The losers seethe and hiss.

All diplomats uphold this orthodoxy:
Conflict should be nicely outsourced rather
Than directly waged; thus war by proxy.
Of course, one thing does not lead to another.

Everybody learned thinks a war
Lasts just a week. Is localised. Not here.
We’ve seen the horrors of world war before.
It’ll never come to pass. That much is clear.

But all the wheels are turning and in motion
And most of us are merely passengers.
Will someone strike the flint of charged emotions
And shoot an archduke or ambassador?

 

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by Felix Cheong

 

ALL her life she knew

Anything brand new

Was all but her cue

One of the first few

 

Five-day sale was due

Took time off in lieu

Packed bag and pork stew

Book by Lee Kuan Yew

 

Three days in the hew

No bath, sleep or chew

Smelled like last week’s brew

Face became grey hue

 

One day before phew

Line abruptly skewed

Tempers flared and grew

Fists and chairs just flew

 

Down came men in blue

Hard on whistles blew

Fighters stopped in queue

Found a girl was slewed

 

Out of mouth she spewed

Blood and some char siew

Dead as slaughtered ewe

Cold as morning dew

 

Up there, on schedule

Heaven in neat pews

Queued up like her due

One of the first few

 

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skillsfuture_300x250

by Joshua Ip

In 2016 Singapore lives in a cloud of fear
Where cyber-vigilantes now police the public sphere
No need for courts, due process, or a neutral media —
Our country is in thrall to a brigade of bao tou kia.

They lurk around the Internet like trolls lurking in grottos.
They’re scared to show their faces, so they have no profile photos.
Their favourite trade is loud tirades cloaked in obscurity.
They’re noisy but they like to shout “silent majority!”

Who are these shady characters, so dank and sinister?
Why do they like to complain every day to Minister?
These keyboard warriors guard the gates, so deeply paranoid,
Because they have no life, they must delight in schadenfreude!

See something they’re not happy with? A show they won’t attend?
Then no one can attend it! Asian values! Must defend!
One rambling complaint post from them with incoherent grammar,
Then some poor civil servant has to deal with all the clamour.

See one book they don’t like? Triggered! Offended! They must help!
Just swarm the NLB with complain letters – penguins pulped!
See happy LGBTs holding picnic in a park?
Insinuate that foreigners have motives deep and dark!

Our government in all its wisdom, rules with a soft touch:
By which it means that one complaint is one complaint too much.
So opaque unelected private Internet dark forces
Can overturn a public and transparent artist process.

Social media amplifies both rage and influence.
Before it, we lived with more tolerance (or ignorance.)
Raised our kids how we wanted to and left others’ alone.
This is what happens when you give kaypohs a megaphone.

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Felix Cheong

IT WAS not that school principal Penny Lay did not like entertaining questions from expat parents. She did, however reluctantly. But, truth be told, she did not see why parents could not ask obvious questions that took no time to prepare and little effort to answer.

Take, for example, this young British couple, Mr and Mrs Roach, doing a tour of her childcare centre. For a start, they could at least get her name right.

“My name is not Ms ‘Cher,” she said crossly but with a big smile, although that was what the kids called her. “It is Penny Lay.”

“Oh, like that Beatles song!” Mr Roach said, laughing.

Penny winced. She was not xenophobic. After all, she grew up reading Enid Blyton. But foreign talents were so dense. She tolerated them only because they brought in the big money. Ten thousand dollars for a place in the waiting list and not an eyebrow raised. Three thousand dollars a month in fees and not a letter to the papers. It was easier than robbing the Standard Chartered bank at Holland Village.

“What are the children doing there?” Mrs Roach asked, pointing. Out in the garden where the afternoon sun shone its brightest, 10 children stood in a single file behind a toy kitchen.

“Life lesson number one,” Penny said, nodding.

“Life lesson?”

Penny opened up the file under her arm. It was full of newspaper clippings of Singaporeans queuing up for this, for that. From being first in line at the opening of Muji, to H & M sales, from the latest gadget release to the Hello Kitty café, it provided the composite picture of a nation that loved toeing the line.

“We equip our kids with survival skills,” Penny said. “You need to know the etiquette of queuing in Singapore.”

The Roaches could only nod in amazement.

At the far end of the garden, they saw another 10 children shouldering what looked like sandbags, up and down the garden. A few of them, no more than three years old, staggered under the weight.

“Another life lesson?” Mrs Roach asked, alarmed. In her mind, she had already packed up her bags for home. Despite its First World status, this country seemed altogether Third World.

“To prepare them for school,” Penny said. “Have you seen the load of books primary school kids have to carry to school?”

As they continued their tour of the childcare centre, they came to a room where 10 children laughed gaily playing musical chairs. There was some amount of pushing and shoving when the music stopped. A few kids who couldn’t get a seat had to step aside, dejected.

The Roaches’ hearts leaped. Here, at least, they looked like they were enjoying their childhood. They could be themselves.

“Ah, they’re having some fun at last!” Mr Roach said.

“No, this is a life lesson too,” Penny said.

“Life lesson, again?”

Penny smiled, almost painfully. “You should take our public transport some time.”

 

 

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