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letting go, carrying on

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I haven’t used this GoodsSweat3 hankie for some time (the photo below was the original product shot we took in 2015). This phrase 拿得起放得下was contributed by filmmaker Tan Pin Pin Growing up I hear this phrase mostly in kungfu shows. The man would thump his chest and declare - 男子漢,拿得起放得下!(I’m a man! If I can take something up I can also let it go!) - meaning he is man enough to not become attached to things or people. Instead of bravado, Pinpin had shared this phrase in the context of her creative process where editing is difficult but so necessary. Editing is a process of clarifying intent, structuring thought, realizing composition. But we can sometimes be so attached to an idea or a certain part which we struggle to let go. But all creative work demands a critical eye to edit. Sometimes the creator is too close to the work and they need someone else to provide the editing eye.  Of course, letting go is never easy. How do we know when we have to persevere and hold on? Or when to “cut yo

27/30 and 30/30 - imperfect perfect and the last

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  The last post of this “notLockDown” Poetry sharing, I realised I have so many more poems and poets on my shelf to share! But all things must end. And since no one poem would be fitting, I share something that is not a poem. It is epistolary but so poetic in its construction, intensity and profundity - and written by a Tax man! One difference between this past month and “Circuitbreaker” last year was that we all could have 2 visitors a day. There was no question that these 2 girlfriends would be part of my “social bubble”! And last night as we bantered over a low carb zhichar (cos we are that age) about everything and nothing, the conversation turned to relationships and this chapter of the Bible 1 Corinthians 13 - that famous chapter on love written by taxman-turned-evangelist Paul. The love it speaks of is not that of Eros or Philos or even Caritas, the Greek the word used is Agape - an unconditional, perfectly giving and perfecting love - realised only because God loves. But even t

Day 26/30 - I lost count

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I got my numbers wrong. Since I started this Daily Poem countdown on Day3 of the notLockDown, technically today is Day 29 and not Day 26/30. The penultimate poem. In honour of numbers, today’s poem is titled “A Contribution to Statistics”. It is a late poem by Polish poet and Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012). She lived through the horrors of WW2 and later, Poland’s communist regime and its departure. It’s a lot to live through. And for those who lived through all that, there are things they know we must not tolerate - racism, fascism, militarism, terrorism - which are names for hatred and death. She has poems that I cannot read without needing to pause, take a deep breath and not cry. She also has poems that can make you lol. This poem has her characteristic humour. It is smart but not smartass. It is wise and compassionate. And it needs no explanation. A Contribution to Statistics Out of a hundred people those who know better — fifty-two, doubting every step — nearly all

Day 25/30 - a poem for -

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Some weekends ago at the start of the notLockDown, I went for a walk at Macritchie with a friend on Sunday. And it was packed! Today I took the afternoon off and escaped into Macritchie at about four. It felt like I almost had the nature reserve all to myself. Nature has this poem for you! A poem for emeralds and a cluster of pink rubies; for heights and what is higher still; for what must be parted and for what is found; for the bountiful and for the colour that is life and decay.

Day 24/30 - spider soul

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Good news! The notLockDown will end after 13 June. I realised my countdown is inaccurate since I started on Day5 of the 30-day notLockDown. Oh well. But here is a poem again that speaks directly to the experience of isolation and connection.  Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is the grandfather of American poetry. His person and poetry seemed one - larger than the page, expansive, generous, superlative, declaratory.  It is almost impossible, for reason of word count, to share any of his poems - but here is one rare small poem by Whitman.  But in the same way that the smallness of the spider's form belies the expansiveness of its presence, this short small poem spins a large romantic notion (romantic or naive because, in reality, aren't spider webs to trap prey???). The notion is this: that the human soul seeks connection - even when we do not know where the signals, the threads, the filaments we send out will land. This dream of the self connecting with another, becoming larger, infinit

Day 23/30 - Maya Angelou!

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Last night I read some poems by an angry man - young then, no longer. I was feeling tired and the poems were, frankly, depressing. In their rightful anger, the poems nonetheless felt murderous even - in their anger. It came from a place of weakness seeking power. He sought in the poems a power and a channel for that anger to bring action, change. But it felt to me that he came away disappointed. The words - the words didn’t feel like he believed the words were enough. He was a teacher. Perhaps this sphere of influence frustrated him too? Oh, it could also be that the translations are bad!   So I can't share a poem of his to share that wouldn’t, on a Wednesday, spread a debilitating anger. And then I recalled Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou! I read her poems Sunday afternoon as I lay on the living room rug, feeling strangely tired then too. And receiving a kick in the butt as I read her poems. You can also say she’s an angry woman. Take an early poem like "No No No" or a later

Day 22/30 - almost a thousand years ago, the crabapple

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[Nothing as romantic as willows, crabapples or chrysanthemums grow in my balcony. Last weekend, the fierce sun demanded that I give my trays of tiny but precious succulents a treat!] Earlier this year I remember watching YouTube videos with WW in her living room about Sung Dynasty poems (haha, that's what ex-lit students do when they hang out). The  talkshow featured Taiwanese High School students  sharing their favourite Sung Dynasty poems with a special guest.  Not long after, another friend NB told me about a BBC series called "Chinese characters" - 10min podcasts on interesting figures throughout China's history - and one episode was on Sung Dynasty poet Li Qing Zhao (1084-1155).  Today I will share a poem from almost a thousand years ago.  Li Qing Zhao was an educated and admired woman who married a successful bureaucrat at age 18. They shared a love for books, calligraphy and other collectibles, and accordingly had a calligraphy collection that was supposed to b

Day 21/30 - no poem

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Today I take a break from sharing a poem. Because this picture is sufficient. Every day the hills and the trees do not move from their place on the earth, but every day the light shifts - cutting through the clouds and meeting the dust and vapour and rain and - our retinas.

Day 20/30 - six four

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I was reminded by a friends’s FB post that 2 days ago was June 4th. Today’s poem is in memory of that.  When the TianAnMen incident happened in June 1989, I was 15. At that time, like many “woke” teenagers today, I was consuming news about the world as much as I could. I remember watching and reading about the dramatic encounters on that square of that ancient civilization and massive nation on the cusp of modernization. And the aftermath of that encounter. We were at the turn of a decade, a century - no, a millennia. And even for those outside of China, the confrontation on that square was amidst the rumblings that would lead to the Berlin Wall coming down, the breaking up of USSR, and closer to home, the narrative of emerging Asian tiger economies, our own political dissonances, and I remember, a really exciting slate of filmmakers from China, HK, Taiwan were getting recognized on film festivals around the world.  In university I picked up a bilingual edition of Chinese poet BeiDao’s

Day 19/30 - sonnets

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S ometimes having a structure or an unrelenting restriction can paradoxically give space, freedom and energy. It's the same way that resistance builds strength, collision propels speed. There's something in physics about this, I am sure. After all, humans are three-quarter water, not vapour.  Among poetic forms in English, the sonnet is probably the most popular because of its strict rules. The common ones are: within 1 line there are 10 syllables only, they are in typically iambic rhythm; the lines form sets of rhymes; it ends with a couplet; and whatever else changes, always only 14 lines. And so when these rules are broken, there is even more significance and purpose.  Perhaps because of the rules, those who love the Sonnet form keep writing them - as a kind of exercise and practice, as a discipline. So with the sonnet, the sense of writing as craft comes to the fore. Like a very technical traditional recipe you've inherited that you have to both perfect yet make person

Day 18/30 - to live and to dream

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After a week of really serious poems and a whole lot of serious meetings, I wanted to share a funny light TGIF kind of poem to de-stress. But I found myself drawn instead to re-read Jorge Louis Borges (1889-1986) Borges was Latin America’s literary powerhouse. He needs little introduction.  This is a person who held the universe in his imagination yet knew the limits of imagination, and in that, knew best its freedom. And in that he knew too the limits of man, however great the man; history, however exciting or correct its telling; and the realities we perceive in time, however real the experience or dream.  And in line with this, if there is one thing about Borges’ personal life you must know, it is this fact that is so literary it feels fictional. After the Peron dictatorship which he opposed fell, Borges was appointed the Director of Argentina’s National Public Library; and in that same year he became completely blind! In his poem “Poem about Gifts”, he writes: Let none think I by t

Day 17/30 - happy mid-year!

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So before the clock strikes midnight, let me share today’s poem: “the send-off” by Arthur Yap  (1943 - 2006). There is a gentleness about Arthur Yap’s voice, even when it is angry: at how the past is erased in the name of progress; at how those in authority seem dumber for their power; at how animals in the zoo are more human(e)....  The gentleness shows itself in his inventively ironic and humorous observations about an imperfect Singapore, because you feel he is laughing not at others without including himself.  Sometimes this gentleness can feel mournful, even defeated. You get a sense that his poems are not empty gestures because while "poetry/is the public transaction it must be. /& it must be private ultimately" (from the 1986 poem "in the quiet of the night"). So perhaps what I describe as gentleness comes also from an awareness of the private self. This is my sense of the man from his poems.   Below is one of his early poems "the send-off" from

Day 16/30 - bird with one wing

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I wanted to write about Arthur Yap today. But I ended up re-reading the poems by Goh Poh Seng instead.  In the 1970s up till his last collection of poems in 1986, Yap often bemoaned the pace of development in Singapore, and the people and places we leave behind - "there is no future in nostalgia" is one of his most known poems. Goh Poh Seng, on the other hand, simply just upped and left Singapore in 1986. While Arthur Yap led a very private life, Goh Poh Seng (1936-2010) was the man out and about our cultural scene! He organised a David Bowie concert in 1983; he ran a jazz bar that hosted readings; and he was involved on the committees of many arts and cultural organisations...all while he was practising medicine and writing his novels. How cool is that. Given the timing, I am assuming he left Singapore in the thick of disillusionment with the political landscape. You can tell from Goh's first poem below his free spiritedness. The poems he wrote while in Canada posits him

Day 15/30 - tomorrow

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Day 15. We are halfway through this "not-Lockdown" selection of poems. Today's poem is by the Sufi mystic Rumi again. It is very short, only 4 lines. But my reflection on the poem is pretty long. It was actually written for the online zine "Casual Days", started by photographer Rebecca Toh. In Issue 2, the theme was Night, and she had asked me to contribute a reflection on the theme.  So I reproduce below what I sent her for the online zine.  Quatrain 36 By Rumi (1207-1273) When I am with you, we stay up all night When you are not here, I cannot go to sleep.   Praise God for these two insomnias! And the difference between them.   We have romantic notions of night. “Night People” are creative. In the silence, we are alone with our thoughts. Set apart from the unimaginative “Day People”, we create. The same way the world is divided into “Cat people” or “Dog people”, “Night People” are justified in their morning grumpiness because how they have suffered for their w

Day 14/30 - what are years?

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Roses, they wilt so quickly! What are days?!   Today I wish to introduce the poetry of Marianne Moore. Marianne who? The thing with poetry is that it is full of men! Don't get me wrong, I love men, but why are the women in poetry still often seen as minor figures? Because they are not obstinate enough? Because they are not difficult? Because they are not "intellectual" or "political" but "domestic"? Because they are not... Or only when they are sarcastic and philandering - like bad stereotypes of men - or else, "neurotic" as one expects of women. Rant over. Marianne Moore (1887-1972) was a poet's poet: worshipped for her innovation, intelligence, rigor.  Her poetry is tough yet intricate. Her personal life was uncontroversial. She was friends with contemporaries Wallace Steven (insurance executive in the day) and Ezra Pound. She detested and spoke against the fascism he was drawn to, and was also vocal in the suffrage movement. She was a

Day 13/30 - Habakkuk's prayer

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Every Saturday night the BBC world service devotes a full hour or more to soccer commentary. I don’t understand a word of it and recognise none of the names. But I always leave it on and attempt to follow each episode like its own self-contained drama. It is like an alternative fiction to the usual depressing news of incompetent or downright evil governments, and squabbling nations.  Today being Sunday, I thought to share one of my favourite and very short books in the Bible - Habakkuk. Like many books in the Old Testament, such as the beautiful Psalms and the sensuous (or some say sensual) Song of Solomon, Habakkuk is written in unrhymed verse. And whether in biblical times or the present, the world is still in a mess and injustices prevail.  The book of Habakkuk opens with his first short complaint that God hasn’t heard him and is tolerating injustice. God replies with a quick terrible vision of Babylon rising up to destroy and torment all other nations. But Habakkuk complains again

Day 12/30 - my star

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Of course the view from this flat’s balcony was the main attraction when I first saw it. Previously inhabited by a couple, three young children and their domestic help, the flat was packed with lots of built in cupboards and beds and the general mess of family life. It wouldn’t be how I would do it up. And with three young children, it wasn’t in the neatest or cleanest state. But I thought, as I spoke to the previous owner and walked through the house, that it was loved. It was a happy flat. And so this was how I had described the flat to friends - the view is amazing and it was well-loved.  Today I share one of Robert Browning’s most popular short poem from his 1855 collection Men and Women . Browning had a long and serious career as a poet and writer. His long form poem “The Ring and the Book” is a standard text for any student of Victorian writing. But he was probably outshone by his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her time. She was 6 years his senior, and despite being semi inva

Day 11/30 - silence

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Friends have often asked if there was an artist or work I would really like to see on Esplanade’s stage. It is the second most popular question, losing only to “which is the best seat in the house”, to which I will smile coyly “Every seat in Esplanade is a good seat” haha. In similar “why you asking me to name my favourite child” way, my answer to the first question would always be, “you know I don’t make the programming choices!” But I know my answer would be Leonard Cohen, that Canadian poet, singer-songwriter, charmer. And since we cannot call up the dead, I may now answer Bjork, as well as share with you this poem by he who sings “I’m your man.” Gift by Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) You tell me that silence is nearer to peace than poems but if for my gift  I brought you silence (for I know silence) you would say This is not silence this is another poem and you would hand it back to me ( Video taken exactly this time 2018 during a rehearsal for a short piece performed by SYC ensemble,

Day 10/30 - online shopping according to Rumi

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Online shopping is like going to the supermarket and your eyes alone can cause that packet of chips to fall into the cart ... MAGIC! If our eyes are windows to our soul, then our soul must be riddled with desires, whether we recognise them or not. When I chat with my colleagues in HR, we often land on this one trait we know allows for growth, change and, eventually, leadership: self-awareness. And in that vein, a degree of self-doubt. It makes room for humility. It also helps keep you honest...because we can fool ourselves about our motivations. There's a lot of "be kind" mantras going around. But knowing and accepting what and who you are or can be, that allows for a more genuine kindness to yourself and others. It is a kindness built on the necessity for forgiveness. Rumi, that mystic Sufi poet, often writes of God in the language of a lover. He is enthralled, in love and worships this absolute God. So Rumi is commonly quoted, out of context, in celebration of romantic

Day 9/30 - unfortunate coincidence

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Last evening, a friend shared some relationship woes Not hers. But many have gone to her with such woes. Another friend had asked if it is indeed true that Covid would bring about more divorces and that question: “why must I tahan this person?!” I was blessed with a loving marriage - my only complaint, why so short! Haha. So while I really enjoy being alone, I now also fully appreciate the struggles of being single - having been on both sides! You don’t have that one person to run to for all of life’s mundane or deep or pleasurable or silly moments - that two-man banter in your head must stop or else find its way to a wider network of friends. And there are things that friends, however dear, cannot satisfy. So my response when I hear of Covid divorces are such - do you really want to get through this time alone? How much un-love must happen that a person’s presence would so repulsive? Where in the foundations of that relationship is the worm, the cancer? What is it that is lost you ha