Ideal Spaces

Say what you like about the shortcomings of the literary scene here (and there are many) I think we have developed our own comfort levels on what is appropriate and what is acceptable.

Artists of all people appreciate the culture and milieu in which they work. I was moved and humbled by a fellow writer's comment once: that it was ok for members of the audience to rush in and out of reading events (as we are wont to do) because that's how we cope with busy Singaporean schedules and still squeeze out some time for poetry or art. I that realise we have been subconsciously adapting to our culture. For better or worse, our "scene" is a reflection of who we are as writers in Singapore. And the product of our work is no less vital for it, or so I'd like to believe.

Having lived with "urgency" for the past couple of years I think now there's a real case for letting things be to organically grow, and to fertilise the process through the authentiticity of our own work and process rather than some artificial hothousing approach or other. Goodness knows we have far too much of that in the system. The alternative is overcompensation.

We have to work with less than ideal spaces.

We can dream of sanctuaries with cushions and padded walls, green tea and sympathy like some I have known, where the work of the soul finds its proper timbre and fills the room. We can fantasise about selling out books at marked up prices to appreciative audiences like we did in Australia. We can imagine hoards of closet artists, their hearts held illiterate and mute by years of condition, waiting for a shot at 15 minutes of fame.

But that fact remains that we live and operate in Singapore, in some cases by choice, and have to work within its parameters. And it's not even the usual barriers of censorship or funding that are the most serious obstacles, but the fundamental distractedness of life here, the sheer thick air of daily living, making a living, making ends meet.

Each of us has had to live in our own way with the daily denial of our own secret heritage -- whether it be a matter of race, politics, sexual orientation, life goals, missed chances or thwarted dreams.

Much has been done over the past few years to give our folks as much of a voice as possible: Anthologies, the2ndrule, QLRS, mass mailers, Yahoo! groups and so on. They give hassled, distracted individuals a breath of art and wit wherever they may be -- whether a hassled workday at the office or some internet cafe halfway around the world. They are recognisably modern and quintessentially Singaporean and deserving of our pride. And we've clunked together a tiny community relatively free of the bitter politics of the previous generation (although all that might change once we grow up), and certainly relatively un-elitist in outlook if not in fact.

Without having been here for the past 10 years you'd not have know how much has changed, what has been added to the landscape esp since the past couple of years. We've gone from near-zero to 3 credible literary small presses, over a dozen published poets under 30, and over 100 anthologised. 6 Singaporeans have been accepted in a major literary global journal with a less than 1% acceptance rate and over 6000+ people are kept on the bleeding-edge of a guerilla-lit mailing list. T-Shirts. Not bad.

I guess the point I'm making is that individuals are going to have different priorities. Some want to focus on the craft of writing, others want to share it with an intimate group. Still others want to play impressario, activist, patron, whatever. All of these roles are I suppose relevant and probably we go through phases of wanting to do one or the other.

But we should not begrudge others their reluctance to do it all one way. I don't think a consensus is necessary in art.

Maybe you feel the need to do something for the scene. Go ahead and do it. But don't assume others will automatically share your values, or even do what they say they will, or appreciate that you did the groundwork. Do it for the love of it or not at all.

© alvin pang
clm : rvw : esy : rfl