Second Saturdays Reading Series #2

by Jee Leong Koh

 

We are incredibly surprised and pleased by Monday’s news that Vijay Seshadri has won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Surprised by the timing, because Vijay was our featured reader at the second installment of the Second Saturdays Reading Series last Saturday. Pleased, so very pleased, because we know from hearing him just two days ago, that the win is so well-deserved. We agree with the Pulitzer Prize committee that 3 Sections (Graywolf Press) is “a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.” You can read “Light Verse,” a poem that makes a rhyming reference to Singapore, on singaporepoetry.com.

 

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It was characteristic of Vijay’s graciousness that after his reading he heard the other readers with marked attention, participated gamely in a collaborative exercise, and stayed late into the night to chat. The home of Paul and Alphonse Rozario-Falcone, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, provided the lovely and warm setting for the evening of literature and friendship. The Second Saturdays Reading Series is a monthly platform in New York City for the reading of Singaporean and American literatures. Taking place in different intimate locations around the city, the series will culminate in the Singapore Literature Festival, a three-day festival open to the public held in New York City on October 10, 11, and 12, 2014.

 

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After Vijay, other readers took the spotlight, ushered by the evening’s emcee, Paul. (The following is not in order of reading.) Colin Goh’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer into Singlish was hilarious, without being disrespectful. He and Damon Chua gave us a memorable foretaste of the forthcoming short-story collection Singapore Noir (Akashic Books) by each reading an extract from their contributions. The anthology, edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, will be launched in Singapore in May, and in New York in June.

 

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Eric Norris, editor of Kin poetry journal, read two fine poems, one about Kyoto and the other after Horace. Poet and artist Jason Wee read from his collection of poetry The Monsters Between Us. Kenneth Lim, who is helping with publicity for the Singapore Literature Festival, read his well-turned poems about love. Christine Chia, a festival author, read a couple of new poems that strongly and evocatively linked political and familial separation.

 

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The more theatrical among us were not to be outdone by the poets. Marcus Yi dramatized a satirical monologue about, what else, Singapore, and Teo Kiat-Sing rendered in her inimitable manner a darker and more personal piece by Marcus. Halfway through the reading, Teo Mei Ann led us in creating a piece of collaborative theater. We were divided into different stages of life, and told to write down one unforgettable thing that we had heard in that stage of life. Contributing one line each, we wrote a discontinuous but pregnant narrative about the course of an imaginary life.

 

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The activity brought all of us, Singaporeans and Americans, together. Also present were Kimberley Lim and her father, who is visiting her for a week; Win Lubin; Wee Hong Ling, the NY-based ceramicist; and Woo Yen Yen and Yakuza baby. Good company, good literature and good food, all vital ingredients of a beautiful literary evening.

 

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Second Saturdays Reading Series #1

by Kimberley Lim

 

On March 8, a living room in an intimate Upper West Side apartment was the inaugural venue for the first ever Second Saturdays reading series, a literary (and gustatory) powwow among Singaporean creatives, friends, and lovers. The idea of holding a regular reading series featuring Singaporean work had been sparked exactly a month ago in Brooklyn—a group of friends had met on the second Saturday of February to announce their intentions for a Singapore Literature Festival, to be held this year from October 10 to 12, 2014, in New York. Colin Goh threw out the idea of gathering in different locales around the city to read and share Singaporean literature, someone else suggested that it be done monthly, huzzahs were given, drinks were sipped, and the Second Saturdays reading series was born and christened.

 

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Fast forward to March, and I am standing in front of a door, bearing a gift of chocolate–vanilla bonbons. I am welcomed into the arms of Jee Leong Koh, one-half of the Koh–and–Humphrey duo that had so generously offered to host the event in their beautiful apartment on West 86th Street. The ceilings here are high. The living room is awash in candlelit glower. There is a magnificent—really magnificent—spread of food on the long table, a very important component in any party hosted by self-respecting Singaporeans: pastas, spinach pie, baked rice, Italian meatballs, Damon Chua’s chicken curry (“made from scratch leh!!!”), assorted sweet biscuits, delicate madeleines, and Jeremy’s Tiang’s homemade apple cake.

 

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As important, if not more so, are the conversations regarding everything and all things literary, creative, and self-endeavoured. There are about fifteen of us, comprising both Singaporeans and Americans, and we talk about the strenuous yet rewarding process of being published, our literary inspirations, plans for future writing projects, the creative environment in Singapore today, Damon’s chicken curry recipe, and the upcoming Singapore Literature Festival, which a few of us are involved in. Throughout the intercourse, two cities linger in the background—Singapore, our land of shared, permanent pasts; and New York, the now and present. Weaving together some kind of intermediary dialogue, or reconciliation between the two milieus, is what I believe a few of us are (unconsciously and involuntarily) tending towards. Hence, our attendance at such an event, in such a place.

Midway into our meeting, Jee Leong interrupts the gobble and chatter and begins the reading, the reason we have all come tonight. We take our seats on sofas, chairs, floors.

The reading roster for the evening:

1. Jee Leong Koh, co-chair of the Singapore Literature Festival, emcees and reads “Study #5 After Frida Kahlo” from his book of poetry Seven Studies for a Self Portrait.

 

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2. Festival author Christine Chia reads four poems from her forthcoming book The Filial Defense—one poem from each section “Father,” “Mother,” “Fatherland,” and “Motherland.”

 

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3. Paul Rozario-Falcone, co-chair of the festival, reads a nonfiction piece “Grey” about his stay in Tenri, Japan, and his fascination with Japanese mystic Miki Nakayama.

 

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4. Damon Chua, treasurer and fundraiser, reads four pairs of twinned haikus, which he has aptly christened “b’haikus.”

 

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5. Eric Norris, editor of Kin Poetry Journal, reads an extract from his long poem-in-progress about his first romantic relationship in New York.

 

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6. Kimberley Lim, publicity manager, reads “A Chapter of Travelling Persons: Terminal”, a poem from her fourth-year poetry capstone thesis at the University of Virginia.

 

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7. Author and translator Jeremy Tiang, who has recently moved to New York, reads his short story “The Honeymoon” about a Chinese Singaporean woman married to a worldly Englishman.

 

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8. Jee Leong closes the session with Singaporean poet Alfian Sa’at’s poem “Autobiography” from his book A History of Amnesia. Alfian is a festival author.

 

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The next reading will be held on April 12, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Anyone interested in reading their own work or simply hearing Singaporean writers read can get in touch with either Jee (jeeleong.koh@singaporeliteraturefestival.com) or Paul (paul.rozario@singaporeliteraturefestival.com) for details of the next reading.

 

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The Second Saturdays reading series is a monthly platform in New York City for the reading of Singaporean literature. Taking place in different intimate locations around the city, the readings feature established and emerging writers. The reading series takes its name from the first gathering of Singaporeans at Paul and Al Rozario-Falcones’ apartment in Brooklyn on February 8, the second Saturday of the month. This year the reading series will culminate in a three-day festival open to the public. The Singapore Literature Festival will be held in New York City on October 10, 11, and 12, 2014.