“Writing Singapore?” by Joshua Ip

The “Writing Singapore” issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal will be available in October 2018. Joshua Ip, one of the two guest editors who read the submissions with us, has written the following editorial. Also read Eddie Tay’s editorial here

“Writing Singapore” is an odd turn of phrase, as opposed to the more commonplace “Singapore writing”—the latter often accompanied by tired descriptors such as “The best,” or “Modern,” or some lofty institution name, or maybe just “an anthology of.” Which also brings to mind the question—should it be “Singapore writing,” or “Singaporean writing”? But back to “Writing Singapore”—what is the reader meant to think? Is there a missing “about”? Should it instead be “Writing Singaporean,” or perhaps “Writing Singlish”?  Is Singapore a teeming hive-mind-entity that is currently engaged in the activity of writing? Or has some unlucky schoolboy been ordered by his form teacher to letter “Singapore” a hundred times on a whiteboard?

I prefer some perversion of the latter. Ask nineteen poets to write “Singapore” on a whiteboard, and you will find out a lot, if not about Singapore, then about nineteen poets, or at least their relationship to the notion of Singapore.

Someone born outside of Singapore but who has lived their whole life here writes a poem about the localness of being othered. Someone born in Singapore who is working in the UK writes about a national institutionalised othering in a received form. Someone born in Singapore educated in the UK working in Singapore writes in a received form about places in Singapore. Someone who has spent their whole life in Singapore writes about places in Singapore in a form invented by a Singaporean. That latter Singaporean writes about a Japanese restaurant which seems utterly Singaporean to me. Someone born in Singapore living in the US writes about samsui women, which is a memory processed into a TV channel, the idea of which is also a memory. Someone born in Singapore who moved to the US writes about being born in Singapore then moving to the US. Someone born in Singapore educated in the UK working in Singapore writes about China, which most people think Singapore is part of. Someone who I don’t recognise but sounds Chinese writes in English, with fragments of Malay. Someone I recognise translates fragments of Malay into English. Someone who I don’t recognise but sounds Indian writes about a place in Singapore that sounds English and is basically Malaysia. Someone born in Singapore and emigrated to Australia writes about places in Singapore as if she misses it. Someone born in Singapore who is going to study in the US writes about Singapore as if he misses it already.

Instead of “Writing Singapore,” why not “Telling Singapore”? We are good at instructions, and banking. And if pressed, we can spin a good tale. Telling and retelling. Telegraphing and telepathing. Tessellating and self-fellating. Jee Leong repeats himself every eight lines. I do not know what a rubber seed looks like, but Marc does. Instead of “Writing Singapore,” why not “Telling Singapore”? Cyril actually titles a poem “Singapore.” We are good with instructions, either way.

Tammy says we need more poems. I think that nobody will read them all anyway, because of the Cha UI. It involves too much clicking and too little scrolling and Singaporeans are better with sayang-strokes than with pressure. Tammy says we should ask more poets. I file “Asking Singapore” away as a future anthology title. Is every question an anthology? Or is every instruction an anthology? Tammy mentions you in a comment. Every anthology is a comment thread, but the edit function belongs to the individual.

Instead of “Writing Singapore,” why not “Righting Singapore?” That seems to be what Singapore wants to do to itself all the time, whether the metaphor is American political kiri-kanan affiliation, or the humble sampan-as-city-state. Theo writes about someone who died doing national service, while doing national service. Grace takes pills while serving the nation. Carissa writes about finding the next prime—hold that thought.

We are better with rites than with rights. We tourism-board the former and media-classify the latter. We wear white to funerals and weddings, churches and mosques, institutions and elections. We have more writers than readers. We have more lighters than leaders. Put your hands in the air, the DJ says. Maybe you will get a poem.

Joshua Ip / Guest Editor
“Writing Singapore” (October 2018)
(Picture of Joshua by Jon Gresham.)


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