Poetry as films and Insta-stories

Dharshan Nathan (far left) and Kaiden Quinn (left) in a still from We Will Burn, a short film by Amanda Tan, based on Ng Yi-Sheng's poem The Audience. It will be one of eight short films screened at the Poetry Festival Singapore.
Dharshan Nathan (left) and Kaiden Quinn (right) in a still from We Will Burn, a short film by Amanda Tan, based on Ng Yi-Sheng's poem The Audience. It will be one of eight short films screened at the Poetry Festival Singapore.PHOTO: COURTESY OF AMANDA TAN

Poetry Festival Singapore reaches out to a wider audience by fusing yoga, music and social media with poems

Turning poems into short films and having poets recite their works in an Instagram marathon are some of the ways Poetry Festival Singapore is pushing towards the "metamorphosis" that is its theme this year.

In its first year without a seed grant from the National Arts Council (NAC), the five-year-old festival, which runs from Friday to Sunday at The Arts House, is striving to find new ways to attract audiences to poetry.

Other efforts include a workshop on yoga and poetry, and a poetic play with music called Palindromes, conceived by Filipino-American Giovanni Ortega and Singaporean Zora Imani Smith, who will both act in it.

"We need to make Singapore literature 'lit' again for a whole new audience," says poet Ow Yeong Wai Kit, 30, who will be reading his poem about a 700-year-old gold armlet found at an excavation site at Fort Canning Hill in 1928, as part of the Insta-story marathon.

The poems featured are from the upcoming Bicentennial-themed anthology, Contour: A Lyric Cartography Of Singapore.

Even a poet as eminent as Edwin Thumboo, National University of Singapore Emeritus Professor, is getting in on the action.

The 85-year-old says: "It is one of the byte-sized ways that earlier generations of Singapore poets can be re-introduced to the Instageneration."

The festival will also screen eight short films by Lasalle College of the Arts students based on poems and short fiction by Singapore authors, such as We Will Burn, an adaptation of Ng Yi-Sheng's poem The Audience.

Its director Amanda Tan, 23, met the poet to discuss interpretations of the poem.

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She says: "Certain lines and references from the poem would stand out to me in relation to a particular scene, visual or concept in my film. This was a further reminder to me that art has no formula - that it wasn't necessary for every line to be literally translated for the film to work."

There will also be a concert by migrant worker poets; a panel on "millennial poetry" with newly published poets such as Marylyn Tan, Natalie Wang and Andrea Yew, who are in their 20s; and Sanggam: The Confluence Of Beauty, an event that will feature poetry readings in Malay and Tamil.

It will be followed a week later by the second Singapore Literature Conference on July 27 at the National Library Pod, which will showcase recent scholarly research on local literature, from the politics of race in the short fiction of Wena Poon and Alfian Sa'at to Sonny Liew's 2015 graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

Festival director Eric Tinsay Valles, 51, says the theme of metamorphosis is apt, given the challenges poetry faces today.

He says: "How does Singapore poetry generate buzz and renew itself without selling to the least common denominator in the Insta market?

"How can it draw funding to enable its creators to pay bills at a time of stiffer competition in the arts scene and with the spectre of an imminent technical recession?"

The festival is surviving so far on a different NAC grant and private donations, but Mr Valles says they have had to cut costs and charge fees for more programmes.

"At a time of great disruption, you adapt or die," he adds.

For more information, go to www.poetryfestival.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2019, with the headline 'Poetry as films and Insta-stories'. Print Edition | Subscribe