Monday, November 25, 2013

POETRY THINGY #4 featuring STEPHANIE DOGFOOT, JERROLD YAM, and special appearance by NG YI-SHENG.

I'm hosting a poetry event with London-based Singapore-culture-dissemination group Platform 65. Come come!

feat Stephanie Dogfoot, Jerrold Yam and Ng Yi-Sheng
Date: Wednesday 4 December
Time: 7pm
Location: Woolfson & Tay Bookshop, 39 Bear Lane, London SE1

Platform 65's Poetry Thingy is a series of casual poetry + music open-mic sessions featuring poetry, spoken word, and live music by Singaporean artists. Each event features a headline artist (or two), but the mic’s open to everyone! Bring your friends, your poems, and your songs.



Stephanie Dogfoot, also known as Stephanie Chan, is a poet and sometime law student from Singapore, currently based in London. In 2010, on a summer holiday home, she won the Singapore Slam Championships and represented Singapore in the Indian Ocean Slam Championships on Reunion Island in December that year. In 2012, she won the Farrago UK Slam Championships and represented the UK in the European Slam championships in Antwerp (where she came 2nd runner-up). In June 2013, she represented the UK in the Poetry Slam World Cup in Paris and got into the semi-finals.

She performs and organizes spoken word nights around London, sometimes other parts of the UK, and (when she gets to go home) Singapore. She has also performed at the Glastonbury Festival, Small World Festival, Nozstock Festival, the Poetry Cafe, Southbank Centre, various squats in London, and many cities around the UK from Birmingham to Oxford to Aberdeen.


Jerrold Yam (b. 1991) is a law undergraduate at University College London and the author of poetry collections Scattered Vertebrae (2013) and Chasing Curtained Suns (2012) by Math Paper Press. His poems have been published in more than seventy literary journals and anthologies across twenty countries. He has won first prize and three honorable mentions in the National University of Singapore’s Creative Writing Competition 2011, first prize in the British Council's History and the City Competition, and is the youngest Singaporean to be nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has been featured at Interrobang, London Book Fair and Singapore Writers Festival, among others. His poems have recently been translated to Spanish.

Jerrold will also be launching 'Scattered Vertebrae' at Poetry Thingy #4, with a short discussion moderated by Ng Yi-Sheng.


Ng Yi-Sheng is a full-time writer of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and drama. Since 2006, he has curated the annual LGBT literary event ContraDiction, and also co-edited "GASPP: a Gay Anthology of Singapore Poetry and Prose". His books include "SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century" and "last boy", which won the Singapore Literature Prize. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Norwich, UK.


Directions: Woolfson & Tay Bookshop is 5min walk from Southwark Tube station. (Follow the orange Tate Modern lamp-posts onto Union Street, turn left onto Great Suffolk Street, and turn left again once you see The White Hart pub.)

Buses: 45, 63, 100, 381, RV1.

** Open-mic slots up for grabs! For enquiries, send Platform 65 a private mesage on FB or email

Sunday, November 17, 2013


I could’ve and maybe should’ve finished Anecdotes of Destiny by now (it’s excellent) but I’ve got to finish a report on Val McDermid’s The Mermaids Singing, so nothing this week yet.
Still, this is a pretty good time to give you an idea of the courses I’m taking.

This involves ten of us taking the prose course critiquing each other’s fiction, under the guidance of acclaimed novelist Andrew Cowan, who gives us about fifteen minutes of Yoda-like advice before every class.

This one is under crime novelist Henry Sutton, who’s got a weekly reading list for us of:

Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep
Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me
Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley
John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall's Roseanna
Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty
Val McDermid's The Mermaids Singing
Martin Amis's Night Train
Lee Child's The Affair
Denise Mina's The End of the Wasp Season

In addition, we’re each completing a 5,000-word work before next term starts – and it can be fiction, an essay, or a combination thereof. So far, everyone’s workshopping crime/thriller fiction ideas, which is pretty much what we signed up for.

Plus, I'm auditing an undergraduate class with Thomas Karshan, just for fun. Have a look at the title, have a look at the texts:

Assorted pre-19th century nonsense including excerpts from the Bible, Shakespeare and Donne
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (plus Edward Lear's poetry)
Emily Dickinson's poetry
Wallace Stevens's Harmonium
Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan
James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake
W. H. Auden's poetry
Sylvia Plath's Ariel
John Ashberry's Collected Poems

A lot more to say about all this, of course. But I'll save that for future filler weeks. :)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book 137, England: "Henry IV" (Parts One and Two) by William Shakespeare

UPDATE: The country marker for this post was later changed from the United Kingdom to England, due to a decision to cover each of the four nations of the UK separately.

It's been a bloody long time since I finished a book while actually located in the nation that book was written - in fact, that moment was probably three years ago, when I started this blog in Singapore.

And truth be told, the last pages of these plays were read in a country that might not even want to be part of the UK anymore. I'm spending Reading Week in Scotland, zipping between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, St Andrews, holding prolonged conversation with my local informant Scotticus (no, that really is his name) about devolution and the likelihood of secession from the union. In the process, I've learned a bit about how separate this land is - they don't just have their own parliament and banknotes, they've also got a sense of an independent culture - Scotticus didn't even study Shakespeare in English lit! The school did Philip K. Dick instead, which I can't say is an awful choice.

Anyhow: Shakespeare. I know he isn't the most British of writers - he set most of his plays in Italy, for crying out loud - so I'd been thinking about doing Dickens instead, or perhaps a great novelist like George Eliot or Zadie Smith whom I've never actually finished a book by.

But I've been swayed a little by watching Simon Schama's Shakespeare: This England on the plane - piqued by his assertion that Shakespeare was great because he represented the genuine, earthy voices of the pub and the market that still make England England today. In particular, the voices of Falstaff and Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet from his seldom staged duology, Henry IV (Parts One and Two).

Falstaff I'd heard of, of course - he's supposed to be one of the great characters of Shakespeare, popping up again in The Merry Wives of Windsor, which in turn became a Verdi opera. In the Henry plays, he's the wayward father figure whose drunken carousing and mischief-making is viewed as a corrupt force on the young Prince Harry, the future warrior king Henry V. And yet you're supposed to find him a lovable buffoon, a jovial rascal, a character so popular that he promises to come back for further excitement in an epilogue after Part Two (in fact, he died offstage in the first act of Henry V, purportedly because the original actor, William Kempe, had a huge falling out with Shakespeare and left the Lord |Chamberlain's Men to go on a Morris-dancing marathon for London to Norwich).
I didn't actually like Falstaff all that much. One reason, of course, is that reading Shakespeare is hard - even with the Arden footnotes, which are academic rather than explicatory - which dampens the enjoyment of a text. But it's also because he isn't a member of the proletariat: he's a knight who happily exploits the poor, whether by loading the innkeeper Mistress Quickly with credit he can't pay off or by accepting bribes from peasants who don't want to be conscripted into the army and retaining the pay of the poor schmucks who actually get killed in battles. Plus, his whole big prank at the beginning of Part One is a highway robbery. What is this guy, a sociopath?

What makes Falstaff rather more likable, however, is the fact that his rambunctious world of prostitutes and thieves is so much less nasty than that of the kings. There's the gloomy eponymous Henry IV, who feels guilty about his usurpation of Richard II (this is where we get the "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" line), and Prince John, who reneges on his courtly promise to the rebel leaders to do no them no harm, and of course Prince Harry himself, who's supposed to be on a huge coming-of-age voyage, graduating from his wild boyish days to heroic responsibility, but who actually seems to have had the whole teen rebellion thing planned out in a Machiavellian way from his first appearance:

"So, when this loose behavior I throw off  
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,  
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;"

And then at the duology's end, when he's crowned, he refuses to even recognise the fat old man who's Falstaff, and has his old innkeeper Mistress Quickly whipped. Oh, and he acts like a complete dick to Falstaff all through. What a turd bucket.

So really, it's the rebels I have more sympathy with - Henry Hotspur, in Part One, is something of your classic tragic hero, battling against both royal Henries and dying honorably on the battlefield (though his slaying is falsely claimed by Falstaff, who's a coward and liar on top of everything else). The Archbishop of York's got some great lines in Part Two as well. Plus, in their insurrection, they've actually teamed up with the Scots and the Welsh - they're more of a united kingdom than the king's, thank you very much.

Oh, and Doll Tearsheet's got some great speeches too. She's a doxy: Falstaff's paramour, whom he's promised marriage to, and she's tender and loving to him, but she's a sharp-tongued virago to everyone else. Just do a search on her lines in the full text of Part Two. Bad-ass.

Ah, but as Mohan told me, there's no way I'm able to really grok these plays until I've seen them in performance - even on video. And didja know, Orson Welles did a condensed film version? Even Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho is supposed to be a 20th century gay hooker reinterpretation of the tale.

Odd how no-one stages the history plays - other than Richard III, which is arguably to be classed with historical tragedies like Julius Caesar or Macbeth. Richard II's had a recent revival, of course, but King John and Henry VIII and the trilogy of Henry VI plays have kind of ended up on the historical/literary trash heap. Maybe it's because of the way historical fact gets all wound up into these stories, weighing them down with these interminable speeches and milquetoast queens, while legendary stuff like King Lear allows so much more room for the imagination.

Who knows? Anyway, good to get the UK out of the way. I'll return to Scotland if the referendum says over half the population wants independence. I respect self-determination, y'all.

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote:
King: Harry the Fifth is crown'd. Up, vanity
Down, royal state. All you sage counsellors, hence.
And to the English court assemble now,
From every region, apes of idleness.
Now, neighbour confines, purge you of your scum.
Have you a ruffian that will swear, drink, dance,
Revel the night, rob, murder, and commit
The oldest sins the newest kind of ways?
Be happy, he will trouble you no more.
England shall double gild his treble guilt;
England shall give him office, honour, might;
For the fifth Harry from curb'd license plucks
The muzzle of restraint, and the wild dog
Shall flesh his tooth on every innocent.
O my poor kingdom, sick with civil blows!
When that my care could not withhold thy riots,
What wilt thou do when riot is thy care?
O, thou wilt be a wilderness again.
Peopled with wolves, thy old inhabitants!

Next book: Isak Dinesen's Anecdotes of Destiny, from Denmark.

Friday, November 1, 2013

I won't be at the Singapore Writers Festival...

... but my books will! Gonna take this opportunity to publicise the book launches I'm part of. (Sadly, Diary of a Stone Monkey is still being delayed at the publishers.)

The Last Lesson of Mrs De Souza by Cyril Wong | Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe | The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One
2 Nov, Sat
 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM, 
Festival Pavilion, Campus Green, SMU

The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories is a new biennial anthology series, with this premiere volume showcasing the best short fiction from Singaporean writers published in 2011 and 2012. Join Jason and five notable contributors—Alfian Sa’at, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, Alvin Pang, Stephanie Ye, and Wei Fen Lee—in a discussion of their works.

Featuring: Alfian Sa’at , Alvin Pang , Amanda Lee Koe, Cyril Wong, Jason Erik Lundberg

The Substation Fairytales: Stories in The End
6 Nov, Wed
 7 PM - 8 PM, 
Binary Pavilion, Campus Green, SMU

The Substation Fairytales: Stories in The End are modern tales of love, identity, and belonging for adults. Reasons for the Rain is a poignant tale of serendipity and chance, of two strangers crossing paths in the concrete jungle. The Crocodile Prince is about a boy finding himself in a magical jungle of mystery. Jack and Alice is a story built from inner thoughts and how the lives of the title characters are built both parallel and divergent from that of each other and in the fairy tales. There will be readings followed by a book signing, Q&A session and reception.