1. What is your philosophy towards your poetry works?
I am not sure if it is a philosophy, but I tend to end up writing stories within the poems. Often, there are embedded narratives and references to human experiences. I generally prefer to keep the language straightforward and simple, and avoid abstract imagery, so as to have the reader resonate with my writing more easily, hopefully. I believe that constraints foster creativity, and am inclined towards structure and form. It is interesting that there are new forms created in Singapore, recently in particular, and I want my writing to possess such Singaporean-ness, if there is such a word.
2. Where do you get your inspirations from?
I tend to draw inspiration first from personal experience, and I think that because I grew up fairly poor, I have seen a slice of life quite possibly unique. Life was tough, and unfortunately, pain and challenge do make a decent muse. I happen to have a knack for remembering trivia and details, and many stories I come across whether by hearsay or directly from friends or family tend to remain in my mind.
There are also stories which I was part of while I journeyed with certain friends through difficult times. The winning poem I wrote was about what a church kid I mentored had gone through when his mother was fighting skin cancer, and much of the description in the poem was vivid because I was there for and with him in that challenging period of his life.
3. Do you have a favourite poet/author?
My personal journey into poetry began with Shakespeare, in fact. I was drawn to the sonnet form after reading some of Shakespeare’s works, and later to other poets who wrote sonnets, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Along the way, I enjoyed Wordsworth, Robert Frost and Philip Larkin. These became my primary influences for some time. I don’t think I have one particular preference among these poets to name a favourite in probably my teenage to young adulthood years.
In more recent years though, there is one poet whose writing I enjoy tremendously due to the humour, creativity and style. It is a significant departure from the style of writing of my early influences, but I think Brian Bilston is my current favourite.
4. If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
Stop being a stickler to form. I think because of what I read and loved, my approach and style became constrained to structured meter and rhyme. Without realizing it, I ended up forcing certain concepts into badly fitting pigeonholes. What jolted me out of it was a passing comment from a local poet in the SingPoWriMo poetry group which I was participating in, that made me see that I was not innovating when I wrote, and from that point, I became voracious in trying to understand how modern poetry is written and embraced the new forms that were introduced or created.
5. What do you wish to see more in the literary world in Singapore?
I think we are seeing a deeply engaged and passionate community that emerged through SingPoWriMo that snowballed into other developments in the poetry scene such as Sing Lit Station. When I was growing up, I was lonely in this particular pursuit because no one I knew in my social circle was trying to write poetry. Of course, it was also difficult to access resources other than through physical libraries. Yes, I am that old to have seen a world before the internet.
Right now, people are so easily connected through such groups over social media, forums, and so on, to share their passion for specific interests. With the internet, access is hardly an issue anymore. In my own journey, that sense of belonging to a like-minded community made all the difference, and I hope that this SingPoWriMo community will continue to grow and be nurtured. More importantly, I wish to see more of such interest groups form, ground-up, and gradually draw in more persons who enjoy writing to write. Correspondingly, I also wish to see more Singaporeans become interested in our local literature, which will hopefully encourage many more creative individuals to involve themselves in the literary scene.