Crossing boundaries with poetry

Poems and photos from the Lens & Lines exhibition.
Poems and photos from the Lens & Lines exhibition.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZHOU HAO

This year's Poetry Festival looked at how the art form can define, confront and transcend race

Issues of race and the boundaries between Singaporeans formed the theme of the third Poetry Festival Singapore last weekend, an annual non-profit festival celebrating local poetry in the four official languages of Singapore.

At its opening ceremony on Friday night at the National Library Pod, speakers looked at the ways in which poetry can define, confront and transcend race.

Festival director Eric Tinsay Valles, 49, said: "Poetry is a subtle and powerful means of combating racism. It is a home where everyone can take shelter, regardless of race."

The event's guest of honour, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, said in his address: "The words 'regardless of race' have always touched me. Why 'regardless'? The suggestion is that we were never going to be blind to race, that we were never going to be able to ignore it, but have to actively rise above it constantly, to be Singaporean regardless of race, language or religion.

"In being an active consumer of poetry, you have to examine what are the commonalities between your culture and others and what are the differences, and make some decisions on whether they matter."

The event also featured a keynote address by Dr Sa'eda Buang, Asian Languages and Cultures senior lecturer at the National Institute of Education, who recited and discussed Malay poems on race dating back to the 19th century.

This year's festival, which ran until yesterday, also featured the inaugural Singapore Literature Conference, a one-day event at Lasalle College of the Arts where academics and writers such as National University of Singapore associate professor Ismail S. Talib, writer Latha and playwright Marcia Vanderstraaten spoke on local literature. The conference will be a biennial event.

The festival also featured adaptations of poetry across different media, such as film adaptations of Chinese poems by Lasalle students and a poetry-photography exhibition, Lens & Lines.

The exhibition at Lasalle, which will run until Oct 31, comprises 16 photos by the Photographic Society of Singapore that 16 local writers composed poems about.

Editor Zhou Hao, 28, one of the poets, said: "We wanted to create dialogue between two artistic forms and four languages, to cross some boundaries."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2017, with the headline 'Crossing boundaries with poetry'. Print Edition | Subscribe