We are very pleased to announce the results of the 4th Singapore Poetry Contest. Open to everyone who is NOT a Singaporean citizen, the annual contest seeks poems that use the word “Singapore” or its variants in a creative and significant way.
We received a total of 111 poems, 36 poems more than in the last contest. We noticed an increase not only in the quantity, but also in the quality of the entries. The poems came from 20 countries around the world. The USA leads with 50 entries (New York 19, Virginia 5, California 4, Florida 4, Alabama 3, Connecticut 3, Pennsylvania 3, Georgia 1, Hawaii 1, Indiana 1, Kansas 1, Maryland 1, Minnesota 1, New Jersey 1, Ohio 1, Oklahoma 1, Tennessee 1), the UK follows with 10 (England 6, Scotland 4), Nigeria 9, India 8, Australia 4, China 4 (Hong Kong 3), the Philippines 4, Canada 3, Indonesia 3, Italy 3, Malaysia 3, Spain 3, Belgium 1, Estonia 1, Japan 1, Poland 1, Sri Lanka 1, and Sweden 1.
First prize (USD100) goes to "Letter from York" by Andrew Howdle (Leeds, UK).
Second prize (USD50) goes to "If Ines" by Louise Peterkin (Edinburgh, Scotland).
Third prize (USD20) goes to "Memory" by Grethel Ramos (Miami, Florida, USA) and "Lorca (6)" by Chris Huntington (USA/Singapore).
Congratulations to the winners! Enjoy their poems below. The Singapore Poetry Contest will return in April 2019.
Letter from York
by Andrew Howdle
To Charles Causley
I believe I saw you today
In St. Martin’s Church, Micklegate,
Your stooped back turned, in our shared chill,
Towards the blistering stained glass.
You were peering through spectacles,
Black, Testament rimmed, same as my
Father’s, as you watched some common
Detail in a well-chafed, stone floor.
Knowing it would not be good form
To disturb you, I settled for
An oblique view, noticing how
You knelt on an earless hassock
Rather than exert your backside
Against the rear of a dark pew:
“Too chapel”, you once wrote, mindful
That humility reached higher.
I wondered if you were listening
To mice or God, or to the sea
As it rose and fell in Cornwall
And the mind’s imaginative
Shell. Never one for the lordly
Sea-surge of Modernism, you
Were pleased by abalone mists
And an ear submerged in past years.
As set as a traditional
Hymn, you did not discountenance
The students at Raffles, when you
Performed in Singapore, during
Commonwealth Writers’ Week, and felt
No need to profess commandments
And appear with a burning bush
Torched by intellectual fire.
A poet of nursery rhymes,
They said, but somewhat deceptive.
Perhaps, you should have offered them
“Bugis Street” with its genuine
Complexity: an eleventh
Hour vision of a place lit
By jewels, labour and desire,
Where the authorized girls were boys.
You were a poet inclined to
Your own, inner rhythms, who could
Endure the “steam-iron heat” of
A country laundered and well-pressed,
But home was ever a land where
Cold stones wore narrative lichens.
By the strong, church door, you incline
Briefly, then are gone into light.
Judge's comment: The poem integrates references to Singapore in a deeply meaningful way into the architecture of a personal tribute to Charles Causley. The Cornish poet, himself belonging to the periphery of the British isles, does not try to act like a god to the impressionable students of Raffles Institution, a premier school of Singapore. Instead, in an original analogy between poetry and cross-dressing, the speaker wishes that Causley had read them his poem about Singapore's Bugis Street, infamous for its transvestites, as they were called then. In recognizing the interconnections, but also the uniqueness of individual persons and places, the poem constructs a true, because modest, commonwealth, based on fleeting moments of understanding.
Andrew Howdle is a retired teacher living in Leeds, which has been his home for 30 years. During his professional career he has been many things, but principally a teacher of the Expressive Arts. He is the co-author of Test Case for All: Equality and Empowerment in Education. Currently, he spends his time doing what he did before he left teaching. He writes critically, reads and writes poetry, and devotes himself to life drawing of the male form. He is particularly interested in Renaissance poetry and poetry that focuses on racial and sexual equality.
by Louise Peterkin
was in a fairy tale she would still have a good for nothing, dumbass father, ‘cept this one would be in some caca coloured tunic and hose, shoes with buckles big as toads instead of the Bojangles’ Famous Chicken n’ Biscuits t-shirt he got that one time from the Coliseum in Charlotte. Point being: he would forsake her in a heartbeat – maybe to save his own skin after trespassing in the garden of the Beast, trying to steal a cutting of Swamp Milkweed. You’re no lepidopterist! Beast would exclaim. No, her father would sigh, looking down at the steed-frayed ground, but I do have a daughter pressed inside glass.
If the barflies and busybodies asked he would justify his actions – who else would have her? There were those who thought Ines peculiar because she chose to engage in useful pursuits like counting the teeth inside her head with her tongue and troubling caterpillar’s parts till they turned into gluey accordions. In storms, she was prone to say things like Can a body be rained on to death? If Ines were in an old time novel this would be considered melancholy but as things stood the town’s folk eyeballed her as she daydreamed on the corner of Woodruff; the fawn coloured mutt at her side barking itself empty in the midday downpour.
Beast was never where you expected. If Ines climbed the staircase to his porch, he snarled from stage left in the heliotrope; teddy in an attic’s ebb, fuzzy wuzzy king of no see ums, glider-set, nursing his growls and a Singapore Sling. She watched his cowed bulk at garden’s end where the hybrid roses held their hands up, grooming his horse in circular motions like a boy buffing a car. He got down on one knee, held a smouldering hoof in his paw. Ines only cried twice during her stay; when she thought the wine poached pear for dessert was a squab sitting in a pool of its own blood. And when she thought Beast was going to produce a ring.
If Ines could pin a tail on when her feelings changed. She hated the house at first with its candelabras like weeping willows and mantle clocks mounted on lion claws; gold tainted with verdigris like dead crabs washed up on the shore. Beast didn’t care for some of her amusements like when she stalked little creatures through the halls in her stockinged feet or studied their smears in the traps she’d set. One day, he opened his mouth (it was black and plush like the inside of Firebird) and a wren shot out. Beast said I know that deep down there’s beauty inside you. Ines was touched, though part of her found it a bit rich.
If only Ines could decide what to do with her father! Her time with Beast had afforded her a new-found poise (look at her riding down the fold, side saddle!). The rust-whipped hold pogoed into view, overgrown with machinery like dusty, bloody rhinos. Ines tethered the horse and peered through the window. She saw her father throned on a lawn chair reigning over flayed chicken and bones – the sovereign of an obscure country whose name is not quite a palindrome. Forgiveness came like the rain.
Judge's comment: There have been so many renovations, in verse and prose, of the old fairy tales that it is incredibly difficult to produce something new. Louise Peterkin achieves freshness in her retelling of the story of the Beauty and the Beast. More than an enviable talent for figures of speech (grooming a horse in circular motions like a boy buffing a car), the poem displays a craftiness in looking askance at father-daughter relationships and in inventing a totally new Beast who is temperamental but who always enjoys a good Singapore Sling.
Louise Peterkin is a poet living and working in Edinburgh. She has had poems published in The Dark Horse, Magma, The North, New Writing Scotland and The Glasgow Review of Books. In 2016 she was awarded a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust in the poetry category. She is currently co-editing with Rob A. Mackenzie an anthology of poetry inspired by the novels of Muriel Spark.
by Grethel Ramos
You’re everywhere—in the sheer weirdness of the alleyways,
in the sleeves tasered by the dew, in the billboard ads,
in street markets, in the animated ghettos.
I see you every time a dog sneezes,
every time someone smiles at the jolly absurdism of life.
The smell of ketchup reminds me of that morning
when you were sleeping and I was playing
he loves me, he loves me not with my eyelashes.
Starbucks macchiatos remind me of your vulgar Marxism
of eccentric capital and cheap labor and parasitic land.
The small talk of women skilled at seduction and glitter
reminds me of that trick-or-treating night
when we dressed as adults and pleaded guilty
to not paying taxes on the condition of anonymity.
But little by little, as a perfume disintegrating in the sun,
my memories of you will start disappearing from the alleyways,
from other people’s laughs, from the smell of ketchup
and from the ghettos. And the smell of ketchup
won’t remind me of you, but of that
Singapore film about people who were detained
and tortured without trial for allegedly taking part
in a Communist conspiracy. And the street markets
will remind me of that night at my aunt’s funeral
where I was counting the people I loved and lost,
the ones I didn’t want but kept anyway,
the ones that come and go as daisies
playing hide-and-seek with the stars.
And the dogs on the streets
will remind me of that stranger I saw once
on a subway ride
reading Émile Zola’ s Humane Desire
and thinking about the unattainable heterosexual man
who’s now in the kitchen washing the dishes,
fantasizing about the busty redhead
who is now bleaching her hair
while craving the real estate investor
who is now in bed playing with himself,
lusting after the stunning brunette
who rejected him several times
because she only likes people with hats
who would sell their souls to the devil
for something to bite.
Judge's comment: Was that Singapore film about political detention Jason Soo's documentary 1987: Untracing the Conspiracy? The reference buoys up unexpectedly, as memories do, in a poem about a love relationship that is multifaceted and all-encompassing. A vulgar Marxist may very well bring one to a film screening about an alleged Communist conspiracy in Singapore. The film itself provides a counterpoint to the poem's theme: people may be detained without trial even when memories cannot be retained without loss. The poem is charming in its litany of vivacious detail. Its charm should not obscure the winning largeness of its human sympathies, or its humane desire.
Grethel Ramos is a Cuban-American journalist, accountant, poet, writer and photographer. Her poetry demonstrates concern about the complexity and multidimensionality of human beings without neglecting the elegance in verse. She has been awarded the John Wolin SJMC Scholarship, the Abel Mestre Scholarship and the Janet Chusmir Memorial Scholarship. Her work has appeared in several publications, which include South Florida Poetry Journal, The Satirist and Burningword Literary Journal . She also likes cooking, listening to Spanish trova, and watching German Expressionist films.
by Chris Huntington
I walked out of a plane from Singapore and found your old house where you left it in Granada. I wish you’d been home when I came. I walked for hours under the Spanish half-moon you left me like a broken silver knife in the sky. Your words, not mine. In Dona Rosita the Spinster, you called the Alhambra “the jasmine of sadness/ where the moonlight rests.” Federico, in Singapore, jasmine is the tea I drink. I arrived at the Alhambra before dawn and walked from one end to the other beneath the long wall on the hill, but every door was gated and locked. When the sun came up, the moon pulled my shoulders and kissed me, which made me want to cry. Is this how you felt when you looked up at the sun that last afternoon? Before the bullets opened your chest? I saw a movie set in Andalucia, but they ruined it, of course, by making it look like something out of a video game. Everything was about three times larger than real-life, whatever that is. The streets in the movie were full of dirty laundry and dust. I preferred your Andalusia, so full of loneliness and the smell of flowers. The horses in this movie galloped too fast, carriages bouncing all over the sky. So many chases, unlike my own experience, which is that when we say good-bye, that’s it. In the movie, the Moors and the Templars were at war and it wasn’t clear whose side God was on, which was the only part I found convincing. Federico, once when I was reading Harry Potter, the characters passed a witch who was covered by a veil from head to toe. You don’t know Harry Potter but I think you must have known some witches. I imagine a dark-eyed woman wearing nothing but a veil; she is a shadow beneath a shadow but I know her shoulders must be hot to the touch. I would like to lie with a gypsy in a fragrant cave above Granada, the smell of roses and sweet wine on her skin. I would rather do that than read. But perhaps I’m boring you, Federico; you never cared much for women. Later in the book, it turns out this witch was a man in disguise. Life! A witch beneath a veil, laughter in a dark cave, the sound of a horse galloping and the shadow of olive trees beneath the moon? Everything true is like a dream and can’t be improved upon with art. I’m sure you would agree. Though we keep trying, don’t we? Because there are so many nights without witches or caves and all we have is paper and the moon.
Judge's comment: The poem flirts dangerously with the romantic clichés around Granada and Federico García Lorca, but pulls deftly back from the brink each time through its apposite references to Singapore, the bad movie, and Harry Potter. We learn some things about Lorca, but we learn much more about the speaker, as is appropriate in a confrontation with the Spanish master, who reveals in us our sense and loss of place, our aesthetic sensitivities, our longings and their limitations, our essential loneliness.
Chris Huntington is the author of the prison novel Mike Tyson Slept Here. His essays have appeared in The New York Times and numerous anthologies. His poetry has appeared in Rattle, Frontera, The Agriculture Reader, and elsewhere. He lives in Singapore with his wife and son. His work can be found at chrishuntingtononline.com.
Photo credit: Jon Gresham. Used with kind permission of photographer. All rights reserved by Jon Gresham. http://igloomelts.com/