30 December 2005

The Year in Retrospect


Actually lots of things happened to me this year, but since this is my poetry blog, I'm just going to write about the poetry stuff.

Golden Point Award

The highlight of my year was winning the Golden Point Award for Poetry, an event reported in the Straits Times, the Business Times, the Lianhe Zaobao and Tomorrow.

Subsequently, I encountered a few clever critics (a grand total of three, actually) who basically implied, insinuated or otherwise said outright that my winning poems kinda sucked and maybe I shouldn't have won. Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinions and anyway you can't please everybody all the time - that's an important lesson I learned. Life goes on.

I also discovered that some people in Singapore believe that a secret formula exists for winning the GPA, and that is to write not the way you want to write, but in the way that the judges want you to write. And some of those people believed that I knew the secret formula and had applied it. Sorry folks, I really don't know how the judges wanted me or anyone else to write. I just try to write the way I want to write. That's a big enough challenge for me. Isn't it, for you?

Workshops & Drama & Readings

Two of my poems, Chiang's Heatstroke and National Day Parade, were transformed into drama pieces and performed by Stages, a local theatre company, at the Singapore Art Museum Auditorium. Kelly Madigan Erlandson, a poet in Nebraska, USA, used my works in a writing workshop to teach her students how to write poetry.

I read at a grand total of one poetry reading this year. Ummm. It was one of those Subtext readings organised by the tireless local poet Yong Shu Hoong. I was very pleased to meet acclaimed Australian poet Mark O'Connor at this reading. He read some startlingly beautiful poems. About nature and the wilderness and all that. He's an environmental kind of guy. I'm definitely going to try to track down his books.

Publications

I didn't write a lot of new stuff this year, but a lot of old, unpublished stuff managed to get itself published in various anthologies, journals and e-zines. I had two poems in Dim Sum (Hong Kong), one poem in Yuan Yang (Hong Kong), two poems in Graphic Poetry (UK), four poems in Softblow (Singapore), one poem in The Gift of Experience (USA) and one prose piece in In Our Own Words Vol 6 (USA).

I was supposed to have six poems appear in the November issue of Blackmail Press (New Zealand). But the editor changed his mind and decided to use those poems in February 2006 instead. So I guess this can't count as a 2005 poetry event for me.

Good Stuff That I Read

This was the year I discovered Rumi. Yeah, I know, long overdue. My single biggest discovery in poetry this year. This is life-changing stuff. Don't try it until your soul says so.

Reader's Eye

I've really grown to like this blog a lot - and that means all you readers too. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your comments and criticisms. This blog has been a great way to share my poems with other people, and that really means something to me because a poem is not a poem unless it has a reader.

And it has been a marvellous thing for me to discover and come to know, through Reader's Eye and the blogosphere, other fellow poets and poetry lovers, people like Floots, Dsnake, Liz, Alson, Orso, Amy G, Patry, Cocaine Jesus, Dreamer Idiot, mrdes, mischz and others. Thank you all and I hope you have a great 2006.
posted by Gilbert at Friday, December 30, 2005 7 comments

29 December 2005

Caravaggio, Narcissus


            A Completely Safe, Good Poem

            It is about nothing you love, hate or desire.
            It avoids sex, God and politics.
            The line breaks are unadventurous
            And the shape of the poem is prudent.
            The words do not take up arms,
            Tear down walls or otherwise conspire.
            As you put them down on paper,
            They neither protest nor demonstrate,
            But merely compose themselves
            With a careful, calculated blankness.
            They will do exactly as they are told,
            And nothing more. One late night
            When sleep evades and the questions burn
            You return here to your own words
            To seek the answers to yourself.
            And it is too late. The words fold their arms
            And smile in silence. They take no risks.
            They know what they know, but they
            Will tell you nothing.
posted by Gilbert at Thursday, December 29, 2005 9 comments

20 December 2005

Joseph Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed.


              Train Ride to Singapore

              The train pulled out slowly
              like a long sigh
              and I saw from my window
              how you stood alone at
              the station platform
              with hands in your pockets –
              you refused to wave
              but smiled a reluctant, sorry
              kind of goodbye.

              Five years ago we skipped
              the bahasa melayu class
              to play chor dai di
              in the dirty, deserted
              alley behind
              Ah Hin’s coffeeshop,
              we talked about girls
              and about all the
              things we’d do
              when we were old enough
              to get a job or into
              university -

              things were so much
              simpler then.
              Now we understand that
              the colour of skin
              opens doors for some
              in this country,
              forever closes them
              for others.
              I’m going south
              alone to chase a dream,
              because I can,
              you can’t,
              for this I’m sorry
              and I really don’t know
              if I’m ever
              coming back.
posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, December 20, 2005 4 comments

19 December 2005


            Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

            Five hundred years old I was,
            and possessed of mystic powers.
            She could have asked me to tell her
            the secrets written in the stars,
            or to show her the wonders hidden
            in the depths of the darkest sea.

            Instead all day long she preened
            and prattled before me, like a peacock
            nibbling delicately at its feathers.
            Playing with her mascara and bright
            pink lipsticks. Talking to herself,
            giggling like a schoolgirl
            then acting solemn as she asked me –
            “Mirror, mirror on the wall,
            who’s the fairest of them all?”

            The truth was that the queen was
            schizophrenic. Normal people don’t
            talk to mirrors. She was seeing
            a psychiatrist but sometimes she skipped
            her pills and then she’d act weird.
            She had this obsession with
            her looks – her eyes, her nose,
            her skin, her everything.
            So I told a lie and earnestly replied,
            “You, my queen, are fairest of them all”,
            although of course she wasn’t.
            You have to humour them a bit
            sometimes, you know?

            But was she satisfied? Did she get better?
            Oh no. Night after night, she came back to me,
            fingers toying in her long dark curls.
            “Tell me, tell me again,” she cried fiercely.
            And I did. I said, “You’re the fairest, queenie,
            no doubt about that at all.”
            But it was clear that she wasn’t getting
            any better. Finally, I told her,
            “Look, you’re sick. You need help.
            You’re sixty-three this year, how could you
            be fairer than even a prepubescent kid
            like Snow White?
            Everything about you is wrinkled,
            even your sanity. For goodness sakes,
            get a hold on yourself and go check in
            at the mental hospital.”

            Of course she didn’t listen. I should
            have known better. I should have called
            for help then, yelled for the palace guards –
            Help, the Queen is crazy!
            But I was just a mirror on the wall,
            who would’ve believed me?
            Day after day, the queen sat before me
            sinking deeper into her own madness,
            swallowed by her jealousy.
            In desperation I chattered on and on,
            trying to distract her. I talked about
            the weather, about sports, about dwarfs
            and fairies, jack’s beanstalk and all the rest
            of it. None of it worked. One day,
            the queen started muttering to herself
            about eating Snow White’s lungs
            and livers. Another day she went on
            and on about an enchanted comb
            that could kill little girls.
            Her mind was sinking fast.
            Then one night she wouldn’t eat
            and started talking to
            the fruits on her silver platter,
            as if plotting a conspiracy.
            I knew she was a goner then.
            Poison, she whispered, poison,
            as she picked up a blood red apple,
            held a knife and stabbed into
            ............................ its pale yellow heart.
posted by Gilbert at Monday, December 19, 2005 10 comments

13 December 2005



            Construction

            They were building a subway
            station right next to our block.

            Most of the time, you could not see
            the workers. They worked deep down below,
            beyond the reach of light -

            like so many termites carving
            ceaseless secrets into the hidden parts
            of a wooden house.

            At noon, they emerged from tunnels,
            blinked into the sudden sun.
            After a quick meal, they would lie
            in the shade of void decks
            and swiftly fold themselves into sleep.

            They became so still and quiet
            you might have thought them dead.

            Then a small breeze came, and one of them
            stirred slightly, though he did not wake.
            He would not have known it,
            if you had come close enough to watch him breathe -
            the way his chest slightly rose
            ..................................... and fell,
            then, almost like a miracle,
            slightly rose
            ............ and fell again.
posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, December 13, 2005 7 comments

09 December 2005


          Tiananmen Square

          A bus ride through Beijing streets, to a city square
          called Tiananmen. Our guide, Little Zhuang,
          saying that if we had sensitive questions
          we should ask them now.
          Later there might be policemen in plainclothes,
          and he would have to refuse to speak
          for fear of bringing trouble
          onto himself.

          It's a bright beautiful summer day,
          the wind gusty. At the square, a dozen people free
          their giant dragon kites into the clear blue sky.
          The children scream with laughter.
          No one is to grieve. No one is to recall the 4th of June.
          History is written with a scalpel,
          and the flesh that festers can be cut away.
          Years ago, there were people who dreamed
          and ran and fell to their foolish useless deaths here,
          but the state has spoken and the ghosts,
          it seems, will not remain.
posted by Gilbert at Friday, December 09, 2005 5 comments