by Jasmyn Lim
SingPoWriMo: The Anthology is an anthology of Singapore poetry compiled from the submissions to Singapore Poetry Writing Month (SingPoWriMo), a challenge to write one poem a day to a given daily prompt for the whole of April 2014. The event eventually grew to an open community of 454 poets ranging from veterans to first-time writers, and SingPoWriMo: The Anthology compiles the best of hundreds of submitted poems. Arranged chronologically by day with the daily prompt preceding each selection of poems, the anthology does not reveal the poet and presents the poems in their original unedited form “to preserve the energy and immediacy of these raw works”. Reading each apparently anonymous poem thus truly foregrounds how personal they all can be –rather than reading as a work by _____, each poem is heard only in the voice of the reader who reads it. There is thus an interesting paradox between being removed from knowledge of the author/context (and only being able to appreciate each poem for its form, style, and content) – and intimacy, where anonymity implicates readers in the creation of the poem’s full meaning.
One interesting prompt where this tension may be seen is in “Day 17: Write a poem from the point of view of the opposite gender. Bonus challenge: …And a different sexual orientation.” Not knowing the gender or sexual orientation of the poet opens lines like “I said ‘make love’ instead of ‘fuck’”[i] and “why couldn’t you / just drop your pants”[ii] to a proliferation of inflections and meanings that perhaps reveal more about the prejudices of the reader than the intended meaning of the author.
Another prompt I like for the simultaneous ambiguity and proliferation of meaning it enables is “Day 14: Write a poem about yourself in which nothing you say is true.” With this prompt in mind readers perhaps feel even more keenly the poignancy of lines like “but i definitely am not / in love with you”[iii] and “i am not bitter. i am a unicorn. / but no one believes in unicorns anymore.”[iv]
In addition to tackling challenges of formal, stylistic, and linguistic discipline/flexibility, SingPoWriMo takes on various ways of creating meaning via interacting with other works; prompts such as “Day 12: Write a blackout poem. You can start with your favourite poem or any article, passage or text at all, and proceed by blacking out the text with a marker, retaining the words you wish to use for your poem” and “Day 13: Find a line in a poem in this group posted by someone else and write a poem in response to that line” encourage a dialogue between works and poets. Meaning also abounds in the camaraderie and series of “memes” or running in-jokes like the “terrible infestation of BCM(Bak Chor Mee) poems” or the flurry of “Hamlet themed haiku” (“i don’t want to kill / uncle, maybe kill myself / instead. so should i??”). And finally also the editors admit that meaning escapes from the confines of prompts, and a selection of non-prompt-conforming poems are presented in the wittily titled “The Impromptu Verses”. Pooja Nansi in her introduction to the section writes that “if we are living in a time where power is synonymous with control, then it is important to have spaces where language is free.” SingPoWriMo is thus one of those free spaces where creativity and control clash, to delightful results. From heartland (“STOMPhoria”, “Serangoon Gardens”) to heart wrenching (“Scenes from Ward 48”, “In Grandpa’s Wake”), poets covered a dizzying array of topics with humanity and verve.
Above all therefore this anthology revolves on the key idea of the power of poetry to move people — SingPoWriMo: The Anthology was published with funds raised through crowd-sourcing, and Ann Ang observes eloquently in her introduction that “this is also our way of freeing poetry from its academic or highbrow association; our way of saying to you that it’s obvious from the sheer diversity of poems and poets in this collection that poetry is still relevant in our city.” And Pooja Nansi adds: “there’s a treasure trove of contemporary Singaporean poetry out there saying important things. It’s up to you to hear them and decide which ones speak strongest to you.” The voices in this anthology cry out a plethora of meanings from “Yes. We are not alright”[v] to “lifehack: live”[vi]; it is well worth the time it takes to savour thoroughly and return to. As a testament to the chaos and depth of humanity, SingPoWriMo: The Anthology is a trove of raw, lovely pieces embedded with golden advice for times when “pollen embedded like shrapnel in your skin / sprout flowers from them.”[vii]
- SingPoWriMo: The Anthology is available at BooksActually.
- In keeping with the spirit of the anthology I have not listed the authors of the cited poems; a full list of indexed and attributed titles is presented at the end of the anthology.
- If anyone is interested, SingPoWriMo is slated to take place again in April 2015, and updates will be posted on their Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/singpowrimo/
[i] “Jock Chivalry”
[ii] “Jock Chivalry”
[iv] “I am a unicorn (but no one believes me)”
[v] “Bus 156”