Poets take wrestling classes for Sing Lit Body Slam

Sing Lit Body Slam: This Is A Poem.ST VIDEO: OLIVIA HO
Poets (from far left) Joses Ho and Joshua Ip war verbally while wrestlers Greg Ho (in red tights) and Jeff Ederer fight in choreographed synchrony.
Poets (from far left) Joses Ho and Joshua Ip war verbally while wrestlers Greg Ho (in red tights) and Jeff Ederer fight in choreographed synchrony.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

At Sing Lit Body Slam this weekend, poets will recite original works while pro-wrestlers slug it out on the mat

When people go to a poetry slam, they expect some verbal violence. But this weekend, local literary non-profit Sing Lit Station takes the poetry slam to a new, literal level, as poets war in words while wrestlers physically slam each other onto the mat.

At the first-of-its-kind Sing Lit Body Slam, wrestlers from pro-wrestling school Grapple Max Dojo will fight in choreographed synchrony as poets recite original works on the sidelines.

At the media preview at Grapple Max Dojo's Geylang premises, Shakespearean sonnets and contemporary love poetry go head to head.

"You have wormed your way into my heart like a parasite," cries Joses Ho, who is fighting in the name of contemporary poetry. His avatar wrestler Muhammad Irfan goes flying.

"You have my heart in a headlock!" tries Ho and, indeed, Irfan finds himself in a headlock, which he escapes with difficulty - only for his opponent to floor him with a running kick.

The idea for the slam came from Sing Lit Station director Joshua Ip, who was secondary-school classmates with Grapple Max Dojo co-founder Greg Ho, or "Greg Glorious".

  • BOOK IT / SING LIT BODY SLAM

  • WHERE: Multi-purpose Hall, Aliwal Arts Centre, 28 Aliwal Street

    WHEN: Friday, 8pm (preview), and Saturday, 7.30pm (fund-raising night, includes pre-show reception)

    ADMISSION: Friday: $30 online (go to www.singlitstation.com/bodyslam ), $35 at the door; Saturday: $90 online, $100 at the door

    INFO: www.singlitstation.com/bodyslam

"We want to take poetry to a strange place that challenges your idea of what poetry ought to be," says Ip, 35.

Sing Lit Station has previously put poetry on the pavement - through rain-activated stencils - and pushed it at commuters via flash recitals on buses and the MRT. Now, it has thrown it into the wrestling ring.

Pro-wrestling, despite its sound and fury, is not actually a combat sport. Rather, it is a performance art with a carefully choreographed outcome.

"The KPI (key performance indicator) is not to win the match, but to engage the audience," says Greg Ho, 35. "Like poetry, pro-wrestling is a way of telling a story."

Safety in the ring has been in the headlines recently, with the unexpected death of bodybuilder Pradip Subramanian in a Sept 23 celebrity muay thai match with YouTube personality Steven Lim.

Greg Ho maintains that the upcoming slam will be meticulous in its safety requirements.

Trainee wrestlers at Grapple Max Dojo may perform in their first show only on completion of grading milestones, the first of which can take between two and six months of training.

Those performing this weekend have had at least eight months of training. There will also be trained first-aiders on-site.

The performing poets also had to go for a basic wrestling class.

Poet David Wong, 29, has always loved wrestling as a spectator sport, but never imagined that he would one day be the one doing backward rolls. "The kind of competition we're used to in poetry slams is way too nice," he says. "This is going to be weird, wacky and pack a punch when you least expect it."

Wrestler Dennis "The Ladykiller" Hui, 31, has not had much exposure to poetry, but finds himself appreciating the alliteration and rhythm of verse when it matches his moves in the ring. "I like how experimental it can be," he says.

Ip hopes audiences will get excited about the contentious issues the matches are based on, from a showdown between Sir Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar over who really founded Singapore, to the final battle involving four poets and four wrestlers, which will set Singlish against Queen's English.

"I think a lot of people will identify with this one," says Ip. "If a General Paper student wants to write an essay on English in Singapore, he should come to this because we're covering all the angles."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'Wrestling with poetry'. Print Edition | Subscribe