The Singapore Writers Festival is a yearly literary event organized by the National Arts Council, bringing together Singaporean and international writers alike. The week-long calendar is full of events ranging from panel discussions, workshops, film viewings, literary tours and opportunities to dine with world-famous writers, to Little Lit events for kids. SWF is preceded by a few year-round programmes including the Utter 2014 screening I wrote about a few months back.
An SWF Festival Pass will get you in free to most of these events. There are various discounts for students, seniors, and early birds, among others.
The sprawling white tent on SMU’s campus green doubles as an event venue and a popup bookshop. Books are sold at a 20% discount during the duration of the festival, in partnership with Popular Bookstore.
I dropped by after class yesterday and managed to attend a panel discussion titled ”Trending – A Writer’s Life Online.” Panelists would touch on why they chose blogging as a medium, how they handled trolls (or passionate fans), and whether one could make a living off blogging (not that I intended to, but the premise was intriguing). Journalist/blogger Bertha Henson, blogger Grace Tan, and editor Surender Dhaleta headlined the event.
I found it interesting that each panelist came from very different backgrounds. These differences manifested clearly in their responses to the panel questions (for example, one was a syndicated journalist who already had a following, another stumbled upon blogging for a living quite by accident). I listened, agreed and disagreed in equal measure: I agree that authenticity is a sacred asset for any blogger — which is why I’ve since completely dismissed one Singaporean food blogger’s recommendations, why I find myself refusing invitations to write paid pieces for one of my other blogs. I found myself inwardly shaking my head on hearing that one panelist didn’t care if people read her or not — of course you do, regardless of whether you admit it or not. To write and to read are two sides of the same coin; to be heard and listened to is a universal need, I think. It was a fascinating panel and I loved how the moderator, Carolyn Camoens, did a good job moving the discussion along and smoothing out small kinks here and there.
I also had the rare opportunity to be part of a workshop titled “The Art of Not Knowing” with Paul Muldoon, a Pulitzer-prize winning poet from Ireland. The workshop’s slots were limited to 15.
Mr Muldoon talked about ‘negative capability’ in the context of crafting a poem. The phrase was coined by John Keats, and teaches us that there is creative value in not knowing (a radical thought, especially these days when knowledge is prized above all things):
”Several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…”
When one embarks on writing a poem, often one doesn’t know what one’s doing. Only later does one discover what’s been made. There is an element of giving oneself over to the poem such that it writes itself.
The latter half of the workshop was taken up by what I thought was a fun exercise: each person in the room was given a sheet of paper with the first line of a poem, “The last tiger was shot under a billiard table,” written on it. Below the line were numbers 1 to 16. We were then instructed to write one line, fold the paper such that only one immediately preceding line was visible, and pass it on to our neighbor. Ultimately one ends up with fifteen lines of ‘poetry’ cobbled together (a provocative question: Who wrote the poem? Was it you? Us? No one?). It was up to one to write the last line.
Some of the lines were beautiful (a reference to the tiger’s “cue ball eyes”), some were crass (one person in the class kept writing ”he plunged into her sex” as a line in several papers — someone’s acting like he’s twelve, eh?). Strangely enough (or not), most of the poems had a lovely tone of their own.
Here’s the one I ended up with:
The last tiger was shot under a billiard table
Blood gushes. Blood pools. Bloodlust
But I must march on, I must
Boots, saddle, stirrups in battle
The bronze statues of all my grandfathers dance
(completely unrelated to Degas)
but the symphony of flatulence is rather orchestral
This champagne tastes like piss, Dame Margaret cried.
The colour of champagne, like the smartphone she queued up to buy.
But a smart phone is never quite as smart
Always second-guessing what your next word is
hey. did you sign it? did they smirk? I must tell you that when they
see it, they will implode within themselves and
come to rest as they would have otherwise anyway
have rested, as physics dictates all things must do.
Or have done.
Somehow, this ”exquisite corpse” made sense.
SWF 2014 is still ongoing. It ends 9 November 2014. The festival programme is available here.
Many of the SWF events are held in or around SMU or its surrounds — the Singapore Art Museum, the Arts House, the National Museum of Singapore, the Singapore Art Museum and The National Library.