Afew weeks ago, I read a few poems at speakeasy here in Singapore and while I am tempted to talk about poetry, and the power of words to express our deepest selves, and the power of the poet to heighten our sense of language, perhaps it might be more appropriate to talk about how poetry can bring us to down to earth, to gather people together, to make us listen to each other.
Curated by Singaporean poet Pooja Nansi, speakeasy is a spoken word series that has hosted the variety and diversity of voices that has constituted Singaporean identity. In a multicultural country that has a long and difficulty history of racial relations, what has always stood out for me was how programs like speakeasy provide spaces in which those ideas of racial harmony go beyond institutional discourse and occupy the space of the everyday — or at least in this case the every few weeks.
In an age obsessed with tribes, with marking one’s borders, with delineating the ones “who are with us” and the ones who are not, poetry, writing, the arts, provides the possibility of a space in which multiple points of view can if not agree with each other then at least congregate. Poetry is usually seen as “high brow”, as “exclusive”, but my experience with it — writing it, sharing it, teaching it, has always been one of extending my own borders. It has allowed me to meet people I otherwise would n’t — if I stayed with the familiar, if I merely lingered with what I was used to.
The love for words gathers a motley crew: rebels, lovers, crammers, obsessive compulsives, but then what is so wonderful about meeting other writers is that however different in disposition or inclination, there is always a common agreement on the value of language, a respect for its power, and a sense that if used wisely it could potentially change who we are.
Many people come to poetry to solidify their sense of identity. I’ve always thought it had the power to make us forget it — so that we can remember everything and everyone that we are not. When I read that night, I was thinking of how vibrant poetry is in Cebu, it felt like I was so far away. But it also felt like I was home — because I was with them — the dreamers, the wish-makers, the shakers of feeling, kindred across seas, the one’s who are with us, everytime we write, or speak, or sing, or dance, or just sit on a chair, easy, for the time being, here where we are both everywhere and nowhere.
“When I read that night, I was thinking of how vibrant poetry is in Cebu, it felt like I was so far away. But it also felt like I was home — because I was with them” Dog-ears in the Wrong Notebook