Write Now: The Singapore Writers Festival 2015

Poet, party-planner and educator Renie Leng literally spends a weekend with writers.
Renie Leng at the SWF 2015
Flying into Singapore for a whirlwind weekend of literary delights, aspiring poet Renie Leng presents you with her delectable soundbytes of the SWF 2015 (happening Oct 30 to Nov 8). Says Leng of her rich, textured experience — meeting writers, exchanging ideas over drinks — “Organised by the National Arts Council and directed by Yeow Kai Chai the festival offers a plethora of engaging panel discussions and talks by a stellar cast of writers from Indonesia’s Goenawan Mohamad to our own Pak Samad and transplants Shirley Geok-Lin Lim and Shamini Flint. Also in the mix are Singapore’s grand dame of literature Suchen Christine Lim (fact: Did you know she was born in Ipoh and used to roam the streets of Penang?) as well as international stars like Xinran, Omar Perez Lopez and Madeleine Thien. The grand finale next Sunday 8 November is the closing debate at the Chamber in the Arts House. The motion is “This House Believes that Singaporeans are not Dreamers” promises to be a scintillating end to the 10-day festival that is the SWF.” That alone is worth a weekend in the Lion City.

Booktique: The writer’s bookshop.
What started off as a pop-up, this very zen-looking gem in the underground Citylink mall below One Raffles Link oozes with originality. The independent show by the affable Anthony Koh Waugh, a book-enthusiast cum writer quit his day job to sell the most exquisitely-curated books, you won’t find in mainstream chains. He moves his books around every day due to space constraints but be sure to ask him for unusual titles that you might be seeking. Browsing welcome, none of that plastic-wrapping stumbling-block pain. It’s definitely a place where writers shop!
Booktique -Where Writers Shop ( a ten minute walk from The Arts House)#B1-17A( next to Starbucks) Citylink Mall. One Raffles Link

The Arts House
Singapore’s first Parliament House serves as the main venue of the Singapore Writers Festival 2015 and this beautifully-preserved historical building in the heart of the civic district holds 200 year old secrets. Expect mini-theatres, lecture halls, rooms and corridors perfect for serious discussions in sonorous tones and dulcet readings of poetry that echo through the halls. Literature comes alive in the walls within this building rich with colonial character.
The Arts House, 1 Parliament Lane

What I love about you is your attitude problem!
 If there is only one event that you can attend at the SWF this week, make that the all-night multi-disciplinary extravaganza by our very own uber talented and much-missed playwright extraordinaire Huzir Sulaiman’s all-night party of words and ideas called WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU IS YOUR ATTITUDE PROBLEM which starts at 7pm on 6 November but runs non-stop for 12 hours! In true Asian flavour-(what’s a party without food?)-the $50 ticket price comes with 2 meals including dinner and nasi lemak at dawn on the lawn. Copious amounts of coffee and a licensed bar will be available! Huzir promises the audience of this 24 text-based performances an evening of awesomeness from poetry, monologues, lectures, songs, speed-dating for angry hipsters, motorbikes on stage, just to name a few. You will spot Alfian Sa’at, Cyril Wong, Pooja Nansi and Philip Jeyaratnam, amongst others. Don’t miss this!
Happening all around The Arts House
What I love about you is your attitude problem- a multi-disciplinary act. Curated by Huzir Sulaiman. A joint collaboration between Singapore Writers Festival and Checkpoint Theatre. Friday, 6 Nov (7pm) till Saturday, 7 Nov (7am)
Hermes 2
The Little House of Wanders
 If you fancy a little stroll after the intensity of a day of lectures, book launches, workshops and panel discussions, walk over to the Little Room of Wanders which is on the Asian Civilisations Museum Green just across from the Victoria Memorial Hall in the vicinity of the Arts House. The ubiquitous/unmistakable bright orange of Hermes shines proudly on the lawn, missing only the horse and carriage. It’s literally a treasure trove of Hermes collectibles in a pop-up box in a museum setting, a taster of what you will see in a current, more extensive exhibit at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. A respite from books, if you’re all for the decadence and excesses of 19th century French designs, this should pique your interest big time!
Asian Civilisations Museum Lawn, Parliament Place
 The Literary Watering Hole
 ;D Happy Factory
Every literary enthusiast will need a drink in between sessions. Boat Quay, Singapore’s answer to Siem Reap’s Pub Street has many seafood restaurants touting Singapore’s best chilli crabs and a host of Irish pubs and beer gardens. One little cute watering hole was spotted. It’s unassuming, new and with glasses of wine at opening prices of $10; it’s the spot du jour to catch up with a writer pal, talk shop and get your next poetry collection published by Carcanet. Don’t be taken aback by the ;D instead of a ‘The’ on the pub front. The proprietors speak impeccable English, are warm and gracious, serve you nice dips and allow sipping!
(For Happy Drinks) ;D Happy Factory, Boat Quay

The Festival Bookshop
 It sits on the ground floor, which is the hub of this whole literary cornucopia!  Here are some personal favourites which I lugged back to Kay El, hand luggage, no less,  in no particular order.
1. Huzir Sulaiman’s Collected Plays (A thick tome -How proud am I of this Malaysian? May we have an Atomic Jaya revival with current undertones please?)
2. The Eye/Feel/Write anthology of commissioned poems written by some of Singapore’s best like Lee Tzu Pheng, Alfian Sa’at, Ovidia Yu, etc, inspired by artworks at the national gallery.
3. Jeremy Tiang’s It Never Rains on National Day- a collection of witty short-stories I can relate to, and will share with my mum in our mum-daughter book club
4. Jee Leong Koh’s collections of poetry. Outstanding verses from The Pillow Book and Payday Loans and well-deserved to be Singapore’s first Carcanet poster-oops, I meant poetry boy in Steep Tea.
5. Cyril Wong’s poetry collections- the raw and romantic ‘After You’ and the invigorating ‘Tilting our plate to catch the light.’ Exquisite reads. 
6. Gwee Li Sui’s latest collection of poetry The Other Merlion and Friends and the relaunch of his first collection Who Wants to buy an Expanded Book of Poems? Funny explorations of the Singapore psyche with punchy, raw nuggets of truths.

5 minutes with Dr. Gwee Li Sui
The man behind the term SinGweesh and a renowned literary critic, graphic novelist and poet, Gwee is everyone’s favourite literary ‘unker’ — Uncle in Singlish. Here are his involvements in this year’s SWF:

On his commissioned poem and drawing: The Festival has previously commissioned poets such as Lee Tzu Pheng and Paul Muldoon and graphic artist Troy Chin. This year, seeing that I both write and draw, I was invited to create a work with both poetic and graphic components. This work of mine now appears as a two-page spread in the programme booklet, and the graphic is also on a limited-edition Festival tote bag. I wrote the poem “New World” to honour the ordinary people of Singapore who, through their unsung daily struggles, contribute to the true form of our society.

On Eye/Feel/Write This is a two-year project curated by the poet Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé. He has asked a number of us each to write three ekphrastic poems about a painting of our choice that hangs in the new National Gallery Singapore. I chose Liu Kang’s “Artist and Model” (1954), which shows, in a rather refreshing style, his friend Chen Wen Hsi painting an Indonesian woman outdoors. I wrote a funny poetic triptych called “Four Artists and Three Models” – the fourth artist being me – and it plays on the idea of perspectives agreeing and disagreeing. On Sunday, I actually got to read my poems before this artwork! All our poems are collected in an anthology called Eye/Feel/Write: Experiments in Ekphrasis edited by Kon.

Wine with Jee Leong Koh
 (It’s not every day that readers and poets connect and become almost  instant friends but this is what happens when wine is infused with poetry. Jee asks very good questions and is also an excellent listener. Win-win) Jee Leong Koh, a fomer RI boy and Oxford scholar, who headed a neighbourhood school in Singapore for some years before leaving for the States has been writing poetry since he garnered a top prize in secondary school. With four volumes of poetry to his name, his latest, published in the UK by the esteemed Carcanet Press has received rave reviews. Though based in New York now, Koh admitted that it’s harder to break it big into the writing scene in the States with the huge number of writers churned out yearly. He has a highly-respected following in the UK having been featured in The Guardian’s Poem of the Week by Carol Rumens. Having left Singapore 12 years ago to pursue his passion for poetry at an MFA at Sarah Lawrence college, his leaving Singapore coincided with his coming out as a gay man. His poems, bloodless before, as he claimed, now resonate with the raw honesty and poignancy that only the anonymity and truth of being in NY can afford him to be. He regularly reads in the local circuit in New York and completed a book tour of Steep Tea from London to Edinburgh to Madrid this past summer. His advice to new writers is to believe in their craft, to write what will change the reader and to never stop submitting work until success arrives.
Read his outstanding collection by Carcanet called Steep Tea. He runs the Singapore Poetry website, co-organises the NY-based Singapore Literature festival and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter. www.jeeleong.blogspot.com
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