Quarterly Literary Review Singapore
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Letters to QLRS

18 September 2002

Dear Editors,

I'm a Singaporean writer who has lived abroad for the last ten years. I left Singapore as a teenager because I was very discouraged by the local support for writers (I think there are a lot of young people today who feel the same and we should help them!).

Recently I asked around if Singapore had a literary journal and another writer referred me to QLRS. I'm just writing to let you guys know that the effort is heartening, as is the attempt to reflect a wide array of Singaporean writers from all walks of life (as evidenced by your contributors page). QLRS bears the stamp of a democratic, passionate, independent grassroots organization dedicated to promoting Singaporean English-language literature for its sake alone.

I also like the publication of long and thoughtful letters from articulate Singaporeans about what QLRS is about. It gives me hope that the community of like-minded Singaporeans is much larger than I had initially expected and I congratulate you for uniting them! I will continue to read your website and hope that one day (in my lifetime) we will have a brace of independent literary journals publishing quality work similar to those in other English-speaking nations.

I also hope we improve the fiction/poetry publishing situation in Singapore - after 10 years, I find that most publishers in Singapore still only deal in children's books and school textbooks. Lastly, I hope writers can work together to improve the distribution and promotion of our English language efforts in other English-reading consumer markets outside of the region. Right now, almost all of the news that people abroad get of Singapore are still about our government. That can't be the most interesting news about Singapore. If we can astonish them with our thoughts and ideas in our fiction and poetry, we could wage an alternative PR campaign to correct many people's impressions of Singapore society. We already write in English - and hence, we already have a head start in connecting to a larger readership.

In the end, interesting the rest of the world in our art means writing as a global citizen and departing from a tight circle of Singaporean themes which "can't sell abroad". I think we can do this, and I hope we do.

Best wishes,
Wena Poon
Hong Kong

On QLRS's mission statement
5 September 2002

Dear editors

I have enjoyed some of the writing in QLRS. I like the journal's tone of voice and its appearance. However, just one small comment about your mission statement on being "apolitical". What does that mean?

1) no ideology?
2) not belonging to a political party?

If by being apolitical means that no person (no matter how important/powerful) and no organisation is allowed to dictate what should be published in QLRS, then letting the quality of writing speak for itself is a vital important part of your mission statement and like you, I am apolitical too.

Warm regards
Suchen Christine Lim

The Editor responds:

Thank you for your compliments - we're all delighted and encouraged.

You've summed up more or less what we meant to achieve by positioning QLRS as an apolitical platform - we want to let quality be the yardstick rather than any factors outside of the writing itself. Internally, some of the ways through which we've tried to achieve this include applying a similar yardstick to selection of editors (ability to recognise quality writing and edit well rather than any particular set of tastes), encouraging seeking of second opinions across the editorial team when in doubt, and maintaining a strict policy that editors' own contributions have to be peer-reviewed by the relevant editor(s) for inclusion (my own work has been rejected by one of our editors before, incidentally). Externally, this means that we can be responsive to the directions taken by Singaporean writing - if there is a sudden wave of X-movement writers, for example, we hope to reflect it just by being open and here. It also means that we've remained independent of other organisations in the literary arts - I have explored link-ups and sponsorship arrangements with some of them, as the non-profit equivalent of 'fiduciary duty', but we've in every case so far decided to maintain the status quo.

Of course we realise that there are some real-world constraints, which we've noted in the 'About QLRS' section, e.g. we would still have to refrain from publishing anything that could lead us to having to engage a lawyer... Nonetheless, the mission statement is something we want to live up to - it's partly an ideal, but also partly the best way we know of to make a positive contribution to Singapore literature.

On writing workshops and organisations
23 December 2001

Dear Editors

I have enjoyed browsing through your website, and have (for a start) read through Paul Tan's delightful short story - Jasmine's Father.

From an unpublished writer point of view, I think it would be great fun for your enterprise and/or Book Café to organize writing workshops or talks for aspiring writers for 18 years old and above. (Organise separate events for children by all means.) Such events ought not be for free; a nominal fee can be levied and with sponsorship from commercial enterprise eg. Book Café - for use of premises and discount coupons for refreshments, and funding by NAC (if available). Nothing should be for free as the efforts by organizers and course/workshop leaders are of value. And, if demand is there, a self-help organisation, like, The Writing Chapter, can be started for members. After all, there are organizations for lawyers, accountants, teachers, judo, chess, performing arts, etc. Why not have one for writers?

I am all for helping Singaporeans to develop an interest in creative writing - both fiction and non-fiction, notwithstanding that the academia has not yet, in my knowledge, come up with structured courses on writing. So people like myself subscribe to an oversea writing course by correspondence. The more fortunate ones have, of course, embarked on writing curriculum in foreign universities.

But I feel there are sufficient talents here in our Junior Colleges (Lit teachers), NUS (profs, lecturers, undergraduates) and amongst local published writers (oh, so many of them) to spur aspiring writers to develop their writing skills. The Writing Chapter can be to writing what Informatics Group is to Info Technology and be profitable. What we need are experts in their fields to develop a course curriculum and stay on as part-time course leader and/or tutors for our local writers. In the spirit of entrepreneurship, the tutors are to be rewarded for their value-added services.

Related businesses can also be developed involving local publishers and bookshops making for a livelier writing landscape here.

Meanwhile, your postings to your website on future happenings and/or promotions are valued.

Best Regards,
Mike Chu

On 'The Singaporean Poem'
21 November 2001

This is with reference to the Singaporean Poem page, where the poem 'Autobiography' is currently posted with a specific question for discussion.

I am wondering if it might perhaps be a little too confining to headline this page as a forum for practical criticism of Singapore poetry, and to then further limit the field of discussion by posting a specific point for readers to ponder.

The use of the phrase practical criticism itself can add to an oppressive feeling of academia and reminds me of an O-Level question the teacher has set for you and that you have to tackle in school, without any choice in the subject matter that you wish to comment upon. It seems a real pity to confine it in such a way as a poem can provoke and inspire such a wide range of emotions or responses from readers, and one of the interesting things always certainly from the author's and from the reader's perspective, is to be exposed to the varying opinions and views that a poem can invoke.

Calling it practical criticism seems to imply that the response should be a considered, scholarly, literary, 'serious' one - but really, why should it be so?

A response to a poem could be serious or frivolous, well argued or dogmatic or plain nonsensical, but a response, in whatever calibre, shape or form it takes, is always indicative of the mindset of the reader who sent it in. Yes, it is interesting to read a 500 essay debating the finer points of the poem. But personally, both from the perspective of a person who likes to dabble in writing poetry, and from a person who enjoys reading it, if I were to be given a choice between having 2 prac crit entries on that poem, and reading 50 responses from a broad spectrum ranging from one-liners like 'I liked this line XXX a lot" to one-paragraphers, I'd take the latter anyday.

I understand that quality is a concern in this site, and fully agree that there should not be carte blanche for readers to post any kind of chats, or responses. However, I do think that the boundaries can be widened a lot more than at present without risking unduly the quality of the site. While quality can and should be paramount in the primary material posted up for discussion. I think that a somewhat looser standard can be used in measuring the type of responses you get to the material that's posted, particularly if the side benefit is to encourage and widen audience participation in the material you have posted.

Poetry is a living medium, meant to connect and bond with its audience.

There is already such a huge perceived divide between people who read and like poetry and the Rest. Why risk accentuating this divide by calling this prac crit and then limiting the area to be "prac-crited" once more?

To call it practical criticism risks deterring the average man in the street who has never done literature (and thus would not even understand what prac crit means), reads a poem, likes it, has a point of view to express, and then really feels inhibited that his view isn't 'good' enough to qualify as prac crit because he can't comment on the goals, structure, syntax, etc.

While I think this site is a wonderful idea, and agree that one central goal of this website should be to promote and foster the standard of the literary arts in the local scene, I do feel it would be a huge pity while this goal is being pursued to ignore the opportunity of using this website to broaden and widen the base of appreciation for these arts amongst people who may not have thought that they would be interested in reading such things in the first place.

No art form can possibly thrive and grow in a cocooned self-referential atmosphere, a literary castle in the air, where its inhabitants breathe a rarefied air and speak a language that is difficult to access for those who do not already live within its particular medium of expression.

I have always believed that poetry is a particularly apt and relevant medium of communication for the modern connected soundbyte age we live in. Poetry is after all, a whittled down collection of soundbytes, thoughts, wisps and fragments of impressions. It is also much easier to absorb eight lines of poetry while dashing about the harried world of today, than to sit down and wade through Doestoevsky.

The Guardian UK held a competition for SMS poems recently and was absolutely flooded by thousands of reader responses - emoticons and icons were all acceptable usages of language and some of the entries were original and imaginative. While the average UK readership is probably far more literate than what we have here at present, still, would it not be challenging and fun for QLRS to organise something similar for Singapore tying up with the local phone networks for sponsorship and advertising? If only to see what kind of response it would stir up?

Thank you for your kind attention, and for taking the effort to establish this site.

- Lee Tse Mei

The Editor responds:

Thank you for your feedback. One of the criticisms of our site that has surfaced in recent weeks was that it could promote too 'academic' a perspective of poetry in Singapore; we take that in our stride, because one of the reasons this site was set up was that we felt that there wasn't that much critical thinking about our literature in Singapore (whether inside or outside the academy), and we wanted to promote that critical thinking. This is not mutually exclusive with encouraging response of whatever variety, however. In fact, the 'Singaporean Poem' and 'Classic Poem' are currently set up to invite responses, hence the rather general nature of the questions (instead of, say, "Analyse the handling of line lengths in 'Autobiography'"). I take your point that calling it "practical criticism" could discourage people from posting responses, and as we are currently reconsidering the future of these two sections, we'll take your feedback on board for the re-jig.

By the way, the forum is meant to be the democratic and liberal part of our site... posts there aren't monitored for quality! (Even if we'd wanted to extract the best responses for re-publication in the two sections.)

On NAC Grants
5 November 2001

In your interview with Hwee Hwee, I note that she claims NAC does not have a "Writers-in-Residence" grant when in fact they do have such schemes, albeit with NO TAKERS. I think the point is that the quantum for these grants is not sufficient to entice full-time professionals (and who can afford not to have a day job here?) to quit their jobs just to go on a 3mth or 6mth stint. Jobs here won't wait that sort of time for you. It's got to be an amount sufficient to cover living expenses for a year, for really talented individuals, we've got to be willing to make that kind of investment in our artists and writers. Are we prepared for that sort of commitment? I think not. I think our writing will continue to be dependent on the vagaries of fate and the ability of our literary talents to multi-task.

Which is one theory of mine why poetry is ascendant in Singapore, rather than fiction which requires more sustained stamina and focused attention.

- Alvin Pang

Some assorted praise
Variously dated

I just had a look at qlrs and am overwhelmed with the amount of good writing it contains. The website is well laid out and everything is easy to access. It seems a bit too much to absorb and must be hard to maintain as a quarterly, as I'm sure you are all finding out. I'd be happy with even one or two issues a year. But as long as the energy lasts, play on.

- Ronald Klein

wah QLRS July is ambitiously sweeping, lots of content.

- Alvin Pang

a great electronic harbour of expression. keep the electrons sailing~~~

- Yee Ann

My congratulations for the excellent QLRS site that you had put in place. This is indeed something that Singapore writers need to promote creative writing locally.

- Martin Leong

Love your site. Thanks!

- Tan Tarn How

I wanted to take a minute to let you know how much I enjoy QLRS. The poetry selections are fantastic!

- Tracee Coleman

Just want to say that you guys have been doing a really impressive job!

I would also humbly like to suggest that you guys set up a section to educate budding young Singaporeans looking to get work into print by providing information on publishing opportunities in Singapore as well as hangout opportunities with like-minded others.

The website is well done! This can only be a step forward for writing in our country.

- Guo Xunwei

I had a look at QLRS. Very impressive indeed. That is definitely the right way forward - something targetted at a higher level of intellectual-literary engagement. And its not just about having "names" as draws - but the level of writing [...] had a sophiscated style of writing that should be an achievable standard.

- Grace Chia

hee. site looks promising so far. congrats on a job well done!

- Ong Sor Fern

I respect your effort. I hope you will get enough readers to appreciate the work of fellow writers and to fulfill your mission. Well, someone has to blow the 'start' whistle.You did. Wishing you all the best.

-Rajendra Gour

looked at the beta issue. It certainly looks promising. I am looking forward to reading more good things in it. All the best.

- Koh Jee Leong

I just wanted to say that the website looks pretty good and I hope that you'll manage to keep it going for many years to come. It's high time the local literary arts got something like this.

- Gilbert Koh


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