For the record - Apr 2016
A list of recently published Singaporean literature, with some gossip
By Stephanie Ye
In this column, we list all Singaporean literary titles in English that have been published since the last issue of QLRS. Let us know about corrections, omissions, or titles for consideration by getting in touch. We reserve the right to reject publications we feel are inappropriate for this column.
Four of the five poetry titles published this quarter come off the presses of the trailblazing Ethos Books:
Giving Ground by Theophilus Kwek (Ethos Books, 76 pages, SGD 16). Kwek studies History and Politics at Merton College, Oxford, where he's president of the Oxford University Poetry Society and has won prizes for his verse. He already has two previous collections, including the Singapore Literature Prize-nominated Circle Line (2013). In his third collection, Giving Ground, this insufferable 21-year-old 'enters and examines the unfamiliar, giving himself over to the power of place to transform thought and language'. His poems 'A417' and 'Sonnets for Singapore' were published in our Jan 2015 issue.
Bitter Punch by Loh Guan Liang (Ethos Books, 136 pages, SGD 16). This collection 'explores what it means to live and love in the city'. This is the poet's second collection: his first was Transparent Strangers, published in 2012. A teacher by day, Loh also co-translated from the Chinese the novel Art Studio (2014) by Singapore Cultural Medallion recipient Yeng Pway Ngon. His first publication with QLRS was the poem 'Rewind' in our Jan 2011 issue.
Spomenik by Marc Nair (Ethos Books, 72 pages, SGD 18.60). Marc Nair is probably best known as a spoken word poet and also as Jesus (as imagined in a recent photography series by Eugene Soh). However, he's really no slouch in the 'page poet' department, having published five previous collections. His sixth, Spomenik, is his first that combines poetry with photography. The title is the Croatian word for 'monument', a reference to the massive Tito-era sculptures he saw dotting the landscape during his travels through the Balkans. You can also buy postcards featuring photographs from the book (SGD 10 for a set of eight).
Phedra by Euginia Tan (Ethos Books, 84 pages, SGD 16). Of the four Ethos poets, Tan probably has the least conventional background. In 2007, when she was sixteen, she was diagnosed with severe depression and subsequently left school, eventually obtaining her O- and A-level certificates through independent study. She has self-published two collections of poetry, and was mentored by Grace Chia under the Mentor Access Project 2013. Phedra 'is a poetry collection of re-interpreted mythology – with an emphasis on female identity – which delves into the juxtaposition of idolatry and banality'.
Last but not least, from Math Paper Press comes Dreaming Cities by Eddie Tay (Math Paper Press, 106 pages, SGD 16). Also a collection that combines poetry with photographs, Dreaming Cities is inspired by the cityscapes of Hong Kong and Singapore. Tay was born in Singapore and is a long-time resident of Hong Kong, where he is an associate professor with the English department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has two previous collections of poetry, and his poem 'for arthur yap' was published in our Jul 2009 issue.
Behold the first fruits of the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize, with the publication of two of the four shortlisted manuscripts:
Let's Give It Up For Gimme Lao! by Sebastian Sim (Epigram Books, 320 pages, SGD 24.90). Gimme Lao! follows the titular hero from his birth on the night of Singapore's independence (shades of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children there) through to a life that, on paper, sounds like the realisation of the Singapore Dream, culminating in a run for office. But of course, things are more complicated beneath the surface… This is the first novel in English by Sim, who has previously published wuxia novels in Chinese, and before that, according to a Straits Times interview, worked variously as a 'bartender, McDonald's restaurant manager, checkpoint security officer and casino croupier'.
Death of a Perm Sec by Wong Souk Yee (Epigram Books, 284 pages, SGD 24.90). Set in 1980s Singapore, this mystery novel centres on the apparent suicide of the disgraced permanent secretary of the housing ministry, who had been suspected of corruption. However, his family soon starts to realise that there might be a more sinister explanation for his death. This debut novel about the darker side of politics comes from playwright and lecturer Wong, who was detained for 15 months between 1987 and 1988 for allegedly taking part in a Marxist conspiracy against the government. More recently, she ran in last year's general election as a Singapore Democratic Party candidate.
And the Walls Come Crumbling Down by Tania De Rozario (Math Paper Press, 132 pages, SGD 19). De Rozario was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize for her first book Tender Delirium (2013), a collection of poetry and short prose. Her sophomore effort, And the Walls Come Crumbling Down, is 'part memoir and part poetic rumination'. It spans six years of her life after she left her family home in 2003, during which she lived an itinerant existence, at first with a lover and then alone. Her first publication with QLRS was the poem 'Interpretation' in our April 2005 issue.
To You Out There by Clarice Ng (Math Paper Press, 60 pages, SGD 12). Perhaps less a graphic novel and more a graphic novella or prose poem, this debut work is probably one of the more adorable explorations of existential angst out there. A School of the Arts graduate, Ng 'seeks to magnify the instances that go unnoticed and bring to light the significance found in seemingly arbitrary moments and interactions'.
Written Country: The History of Singapore through Literature, edited by Gwee Li Sui (Landmark Books, 355 pages, SGD 25). Fact meets fiction as the story of modern Singapore is presented via the literary efforts of various Singapore writers, poets and playwrights, including many found on these pages. But lest you are tempted to dip in and out of this anthology, cherry-picking your favourite moments in history, editor Gwee urges readers, via Facebook, to respect chronology: 'There really is a dramatic arc – with setting, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. There are also a couple of twists, and you'll know when you hit those moments! There's at least one oracle foreseeing a certain social development.'
The NTU-NAC Writing Residencies Chapbooks by Grace Chia, Timothy O'Grady, George Szirtes, Jean Tay and Yong Shu Hoong (Ethos Books, 218 pages, SGD 25 for box set or SGD 10 each). From the wilderness of Pulau NTU comes this set of chapbooks by past writers-in-residence of the creative writing programme there. There is a short story by Chia, an excerpt from a novel by O'Grady, journal entries and poetry by Szirtes, part of a play by Tay and poetry by Yong.QLRS Vol. 15 No. 2 Apr 2016