For the record - Oct 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: email us at the usual address. We reserve the right to reject publications we feel are inappropriate for this column.
It's that time of the year again: the Singapore Writers Festival publication onslaught. We're not complaining more literature is always welcome in these parts though the sheer number of titles means some books might have been inadvertently overlooked (again, email with your complaints).
From Math Paper Press comes four titles under its Ten-Year Series imprint, which focuses on emerging writers. However, none of the four poets being launched will be that unfamiliar to watchers of the Singapore literary scene:
Caterwaul by Jennifer Anne Champion (Ten Year Series, SGD 16). With a background in performance poetry, Champion is probably more often heard than read, but this will change with the launch of Caterwaul, "a largely autobiographical collection of experimental poetry, loosely centred on childhood, trauma, and contemplations on voice". She previously published the chapbook A History of Clocks (2015) and co-edited SingPoWriMo 2015. Her poem "Authorial Airship" appeared in our July 2016 issue.
Professions by Amanda Chong (Ten Year Series, SGD 16). Based on a manuscript that won third place for English poetry in last year's Golden Point Award (when it had the intriguing title Museum of Aborted Romance), Professions "investigates the minute oddities and curiosities of human relationships through the lens of the poet's craft". Chong is a Cambridge- and Harvard-trained lawyer who is also a past winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. Her poem "Malacca" appeared in our Jan 2016 issue.
A Field Guide to the Supermarkets of Singapore by Samuel Lee (Ten Year Series, SGD 16). From National University of Singapore undergraduate Lee comes this "attempt to mine the strange and cavernous spaces that separate as well as connect the extraordinary and the mundane". Lee has previously been published in A Luxury We Cannot Afford (2014) and Yale Literary Magazine.
A Book of Changes by Daryl Lim Wei Jie (Ten Year Series, SGD 16). Last year's winner of the Golden Point Award for English poetry, Lim's collection is "informed by the Singaporean experience and Singapore's place in the world". Lim read history at Oxford and Cambridge (his winning manuscript was, appropriately, titled Histories), and is a frequent contributor to our Criticism pages. His very first publication with us was the essay "The Original Sin of Singapore's History" in our Jan 2013 issue.
Also from Math Paper Press is SingPoWriMo 2016: The Anthology (SGD 21), a collection of the best work produced during Singapore Poetry Writing Month, i.e. SingPoWriMo, in April, and edited by Ruth Tang, Daryl Qilin Yam, and ringleader Joshua Ip. This is the third publication to stem from the Facebook group, which encourages members to write a poem a day during SingPoWriMo, with prompts provided by moderators, many of them established Singapore poets.
From Ethos Books comes Lost Bodies: Poems between Portugal and Home, by Heng Siok Tian, Phan Ming Yen, Yong Shu Hoong and Yeow Kai Chai (88 pages, SGD 16). This quartet of writers last year produced the prose anthology The Adopted: Stories from Angkor, based on writing prompts they gave one another during a group trip to Cambodia. Likewise, this poetry anthology stems from writing prompts they gave one another during a group trip to Portugal, though with an unplanned twist: at the last minute, Yeow bowed out of the trip to care for his unwell mother. He continued taking part in the textual exercise, though, adding a new spin on the "Wish You Were Here" postcard.
I Found A Bone and Other Poems by Teo Kah Leng, edited by Eriko Ogihara-Schuck and Kum Suning (Ethos Books, 152 pages, SGD 18). Published posthumously, this is a collection of verse written over a lifetime by former school principal Teo Kah Leng, who passed away in 2001 after a long career in education. As a poet, Teo was active mainly in the 1950s and 1960s, and many of his poems chronicle life in pre-independence Singapore.
SG Poems 2015-2016, edited by Eric Tinsay Valles, Tan Chee Lay, Ian Chung, Ow Yeong Wai Kit, Chow Teck Seng, Azhar Ibrahim, Krishnasamy Kanagalatha (Ethos Books, 152 pages, SGD 18.60). Well, this certainly is what it says on the tin an anthology of poems from Singapore, written between 2015 and 2016. A tie-in with the two-year-old National Poetry Festival, it "showcases a representative sample of Singapore poetry written in or translated into English, our common language, in 2015 and 2016." The poems are placed in one of two categories based on the festival's past themes, namely "Home, Nationhood and Identity" ﴾2015﴿ and "Reflections" ﴾2016﴿.
Even Epigram Books, which tends to focus on prose (i.e. stuff that sells), has a poetry offering this time: We Contain Multitudes: Twelve Years of Softblow, edited by Jason Wee and Cyril Wong (592 pages, SGD 27.90). Gleaned from the online literary journal's archive, this anthology's list of contributors is a Who's Who of the Singapore poetry scene, though there was something of a kerfuffle on Facebook after poet Alvin Pang noted that he and other contributors had not been informed that their work was being included. Fortunately, this has been since been sorted out, with contributor copies promised for all involved. The anthology also contains notable non-Singaporean voices such as Sherman Alexie, Ingrid de Kok and Ocean Vuong, as well as several specially commissioned poems by writers such as Lawrence Lacambra Ypil, Michelle Cahill, Yasmin Belkhyr and Sharlene Teo.
The Epigram Books Fiction Prize is the gift that keeps on giving, with titles that made the inaugural longlist now seeing print. Coincidentally, both titles this time are by writers partially inspired by their time studying abroad:
Kappa Quartet by Daryl Qilin Yam (Epigram Books, 256 pages, SGD 24.90). This debut by Yam moves between Singapore and Japan and features numerous protagonists, though it begins with Kevin, "a young man without a soul", as he encounters Mr Five, a kappa a Japanese river demon with a fondness for stealing human souls. A graduate of Warwick University, Yam spent a year studying at the University of Tokyo, where presumably he managed to ward off all kappas' advances. Yam's first publication with us was "It's Not Valid" in our April 2012 issue; his novel is reviewed by Wong Wen Pu in this issue.
Annabelle Thong by Imran Hashim (Epigram Books, 344 pages, SGD 24.90). This chick-lit novel, the title of which is a nod to Singapore-born porn star Annabel Chong, centres on a pious Catholic teacher who faces all manner of temptations when she moves to Paris. Imran studied French at the National University of Singapore and subsequently studied at the Sorbonne and Sciences Po Paris on a French government scholarship.
Math Paper Press also offers two debut novels. The first is The Wanderlusters by Grace Chia (SGD 24), which follows a Cirque de Soleil-esque troupe as they live life on the road, and draws from Chia's own experience as the spouse of a circus performer. A Singapore Literature Prize-shortlisted poet, her short story "The Elephantine Apple" was published in our Oct 2014 issue.
The second is Rain Tree by Mahita Vas (SGD 24). The protagonist is Ani, a woman whose dream of becoming a teacher is thwarted when she is married off at a young age. The former ad executive's previous publication is the memoir Praying to the Goddess of Mercy: A Memoir of Mood Swings (2013), which chronicles her battle with mental illness.
Moving on to short stories, National University of Singapore academic Philip Holden has published Heaven Has Eyes (Epigram Books, 272 pages, SGD 18.90) his first fiction foray after thirty years of literary scholarship and commentary (including contributions to our Criticism pages). The professor of English has lived here since 1994, and his collection "explores estrangement, interconnection and belonging in Singapore". Holden was one of the editors of Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature (2009), and his first publication with us was the short story "Host" in our Jan 2010 issue.
Dream Storeys by Clara Chow (Ethos Books, 224 pages, SGD 18.60) As the pun in the title suggests, Chow's debut is centred on architecture. The former Straits Times reporter puts her journalistic background to good use as she asks nine architects to tell her about structures they'd like to build and then the creative writer in her takes over, as she sets short stories in these architects' imaginary buildings. Chow's short story "Buying A Wig" was published in our July 2014 issue.
Singapore Siu Dai 3: The SG Conversation Dabao! by Felix Cheong (Ethos Books, 152 pages, SGD 13 / boxset SGD 40). Following the success of parts 1 and 2, here are more satirical shorts from poet and author Cheong, making up a trilogy of humour books that serve up the less-sweet side of Singapore. Readers of news website The Middle Ground will have gotten a taster via his columns there; his first creative publication with us was the poem "Instructions From A Serial Killer" back in April 2002.
Spaces: People/Places by Verena Tay (Math Paper Press, SGD 19). Tay's second short story collection "explores the interior landscapes of the various protagonists and/or the exterior settings amidst which each protagonist functions through various experiments with form, point of view, mood and tone." A writer and playwright, Tay is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Swansea University; her short story "The Building" was published in our Oct 2013 issue.
Besides writing, Tay has also been very busy as an editor, with not one, not two, not three, but four anthologies coming out under her charge. Singapore Love Stories (Monsoon, 224 pages, SGD 15.26) collects 17 stories imagining the love lives of Singapore's denizens, while Balik Kampung 3A: Northern Shores; 3B: Some East, More West; and 3C: Central Corridor (Math Paper Press, SGD 22 each) are the latest instalments of the fiction anthology series inspired by neighbourhoods in Singapore.
In "anthologies not edited by Verena Tay", we have this is how you walk on the moon: an anthology of anti-realist fiction, edited by Patricia Karunungan, Samuel Caleb Wee, and Wong Wen Pu (Ethos Books, 320 pages, SGD 20.56). You know this is avant-garde stuff because the title is all lowercase and has "anti-realist" in the title. But enough snark this anthology has one of the most beautiful covers I've seen from Ethos, while the contents promise "a practical field guide to the vagaries of our contemporary universe; a handbook for navigating the sublime, the subjective, and the inexplicable". All three editors are current students or recent graduates of the English Division at Nanyang Technological University, while the 25 stories are mostly by (as-yet) emerging writers, with a sprinkling of familiar names such as Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdι, Ng Yi-Sheng and O Thiam Chin.
Another anthology is We R Family, edited by Grace Chia (Math Paper Press, SGD 19). In this collection of eight stories, the concept of the family "comes under scrutiny through the whispers of home in nameless cities to the metropolises of Singapore, New York, Mumbai and Addis Ababa to the suburbs of Indiana and Connecticut."
The Eye of History by Robert Yeo (Epigram Books, 100 pages, SGD 13.90) First staged back in 1992 and set in 1981, The Eye of History imagines Sir Stamford Raffles descending from his pedestal by the Singapore River and popping in at the Istana to visit then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The discussion that ensues between the two giants of colonial and post-colonial Singapore is an "investigation of historical authority and grand narratives". Yeo's short story "The Professor" appeared in our Oct 2004 issue.
In Transit: An Anthology From Singapore On Airports and Air Travel, edited by Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (Math Paper Press, SGD 22). An airport book in the most literal way, this anthology gathers 35 poems, short stories and essays inspired by air travel a nod to the dominance in our national imagination of those two "world-class" icons, Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines. Beats Dan Brown for a good read when your flight is delayed.
This Is Not A Safety Barrier: An Anthology of Poetry & Photography, edited by Marc Nair and Yen Phang (Ethos Books, 144 pages, SGD 18.70). An anthology of 113 poems and photographs from 69 contributors, the title is a nod to the plastic barriers that snake around construction zones, each stencilled with the phrase "This is not a safety barrier". The contributions examine barriers in Singapore "whether physical, ideological or imagined", while the mix of the visual and the textual reflects the editors' backgrounds: Nair is a poet and photographer who has himself released a poetry/photography book (Spomenik, 2016), while Phang an artist who mainly paints.QLRS Vol. 15 No. 4 Oct 2016