in the quiet of the night

This was meant to be a post about Michel Faber's extremely well-written and pleasurable novel The Crimson Petal and the White, but the Singapore Writers Festival, a biennial event sponsored by the National Arts Council hijacked the review.

I've never been entirely convinced of the need of a writers festival. People who write getting together to listen to other people who write talk instead - and talk among themselves. All this had seemed unnecessary. As if writing itself was not vanity enough, there should be voices declaring.

But I looked forward to this year's Writers Festival. Not for anything but the names of 3 writers I recognised and admire. There was Goh Poh Seng who would be coming back to Singapore from Canada after so many years away, now ill, to give the opening address. Chinese poet Bei Dao, whose poems I enjoy (despite the appalling translations). And Arthur Yap.

Last evening, wheyface and I attended the Arthur Yap reading. It took place in a room of some 6-7 of his paintings. And since he had passed away last year, there was the sense of a belated eulogy about the event. Folks who knew him personally or was related to him in the 3rd or 4th degree read his poems, or their own which were inspired by or dedicated to the man.

The event was interesting for the people who attended as audience or who read - poets (the dignified, the excitable, the mediocre) and wannabe poets, academics (always fun to watch, Nabokov's Pnins), students, old girls, young boys... Ah, you could mine the evening for stories (invented, inspired or observed) and emerge terribly rich, these barely concealed gems for the eternally kaypoh.

And of course, the poetry itself. Read aloud, they speak as much of the reader as the poet. Writer Christine SuChen LIm read sensitively and musically - making you wonder if her prose would be equally nuanced. Lee Tzu Pheng, Arthur's fellow academic and poet, read steadily, assuredly - but conscious too of Arthur Yap's often playful ironic turns.

in the quiet of the night
in the quiet of the night
when alert ears pulse
i can hear again the words,
the poet i was earlier reading:
he is the one person i understand fully.
i understand he is a poet
& i understand his poetry.
i even understand my own knowledge
of this privacy which is public literary study.

the words will move on more swiftly
than tomorrow will be now. & i will
know, in reading again,
i do not know him
or any other, or myself, or that any poetry
is the public transaction that it must be.
& it must be private ultimately.
(from Man Snake Apple - 1986)

an old drawing, recycled here

All of his 4 collections of poems were dedicated to someone. His parents, his partner(?) Keith Watson, his brother Anthony and a Japanese friend Miyuki Nagaoka. Maybe the strength of his poems and his craft lie in this - their humanity - the relational, which extends easily to the relationship of poet-poem-reader in words.

in memory of) anthony
your coffin had no nails.
years i have lived with this nailed feeling,
every moment forgotten. & other moments,
larger remembrances, are also of you.
when all is said & not forgotten,
may it be known to me
& leave behind, not necessarily
even a need to understand
what you all along would know,
this long, long trail of quick, sharp sorrow.

P/S Arthur Yap published 2 of his more recent poems in QLRS (click to read).


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