It’s taken a while, but this blog is back, complete with drop-down menus and updated pages linking to my poetry, translation and journalism elsewhere, and selected press (I’ve finally uploaded coverage of They hear salt crystallising, including a review and an article about the Singapore Literature Prize nominees). In the five-odd years since my first post, I haven’t been completely silent – a handful of opinion pieces have been published as Facebook notes – but it feels like time to have a more consolidated platform. For the past few years, Facebook has scratched my itch to express my views on a (semi-)public platform, and I particularly like being able to conduct conversations at varying levels of privacy, but getting instant gratification like that is basically what made me procrastinate writing the kind of long-form commentary I’ve wanted to write for years. But it feels like something I can’t put off any longer; perhaps it’s the effect of creeping towards my mid-thirties. I hope this blog will provide the necessary push and the equally necessary space for me to work on what interests me – no deadlines, no restrictions, but still reaching readers in some way.
I’ve been writing poetry since I was fifteen, but this year was the first time I’ve tried writing poetry that engages with a physical space, and I might be hooked. Earlier this year, I was invited to participate in the Singapore Writers’ Festival’s invitation to participate in their Poets Among the Stars event on June 4th, and write something in response to the Science Centre’s Omnimax show, “Cosmic Surfing”. I accepted, albeit with a tinge of arghwhatifican’tcomeupwithanything – I’d only just started collecting bits of text, and wasn’t even sure if anything would ever find its way out as a poem ever again. Notwithstanding that, I couldn’t pass up the chance to work with a space as amazing as the Omni-Theatre, and I guess it unlocked something in me. By the time I got to see a preview of their “Cosmic Surfing” live show in April, I felt that I had to see this through. The visuals was pretty spectacular – we were taken through outer space, moving away from Earth to see constellations, then away from the solar system into the Milky Way, then circling other galaxies, plummeting down black holes (one of the most vertiginous effects), and so on, in a flurry of gorgeous colours (lots of neutral tones and black, which is very much to my taste!). The segments where we were floating among the stars were particularly pretty:
The perfectionist nerd/model student side of me wanted to write something that would explore all these different concepts, but after dutifully mugging up on astronomy, I accepted that I would have to actually narrow things down, since I didn’t have time to let the ideas percolate deeply enough to come up with a nuanced exploration of all of them (see aforementioned model student syndrome; let’s just say I never had issues with minimum page requirements for my college essays). Now that I think about it, the sequence in which my piece developed was slightly different from what I said in Kitaab – I collated all the lines from They hear salt crystallising with images taken from astronomy before I settled on constellations as a conceptual framework. I think the constellation metaphor from “The Evolution of Language” stood out somehow, and the more I read about the history of constellation maps, the more I could see parallels to the ideas explored in the original lines. Humans have used constellations and stars to locate themselves for centuries, yet the stars remain unimaginably (if not immeasurably) distant from us. our relationships with other people are a huge part of how we locate our identities, yet for me, no matter how close or longstanding the relationship is, there’s always something about the other person that we can’t quite engage with, even if we can sense what we can’t access.