So last Tuesday night, I found myself back in my old secondary school. At least that's what it's used to be. Today it's more commonly known as the Singapore Art Museum. I had a few small moments of nostalgia, wandering through its hallways trying to figure out where the school canteen and the P.E. room used to be.
I was there for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, held in conjunction with the Singapore Writers Festival. QLRS is a website founded by my friend and fellow writer Toh Hsien Min which over the past decade, has published a rather impressive collection of poems and prose from many writers, both local and foreign.
It was a pretty decent turnout. I estimate that there were more than 100 people in the audience. I was one of the invited readers, and I chose to read three of my old poems published in QLRS 10 years ago. Here's one of them:
Let there be trees, the man said, and lo and behold,
there were trees – rain trees, angsanas, flames of the forest,
causarinas, traveller’s palms and more – springing up against
the steel and concrete of the expanding city.
Even as the true towers of the city climbed higher
and higher for the heavens, the trees were planted, replanted,
transplanted, watered, fertilised, and groomed to grow
and grow. They appeared overnight, abandoned the
chaos of jungle, bent to the will of man, grew in straight lines,
in squares and rectangles, in allocated corners,
in car parks, along highways, outside banks and buildings,
faithful to the commandments of urban developers.
The hard lines of architecture were softened,
the rain did fall, the green did gently, gently grow,
and in his seventieth year, the man was pleased,
as he rested, as he viewed his work, as he felt the weight
of a nation’s soil run slowly through his old green hands.
The poem is about Lee Kuan Yew and one of his pet projects - the greening of the Singapore cityscape. At the same time, the poem also alludes to his vast power and his grip on the country, and reminds us of the extent of social engineering that goes on in our interesting little island-nation.
At the QLRS event, apart from the literary readings, there were also musical performances. One of them was by Kelvin Tan - a writer, singer & songwriter who is also a part-time lecturer at the Lasalle School of Fine Arts. Here is Kelvin's folksy, unplugged performance, of one of his own original songs:
I liked that. It starts off on a quiet note, but gets more exciting later. Yes, if you want to be fussy, you can quibble about some details - but overall, it was a very good performance, done with passion and feeling. And Kelvin's hat is so Elton John-ish. :)