2020 Winners' Interviews 

English Category

Find out more about our winning poets and the inspiration behind their writing and works!

Arissa Kamaruzaman

Winning Poem:

"DINNER DIARIES: beginnings + the gods of flesh and meat + joy on the rocks + pat-a-cake + after?"

(10- to 14-Year-Old Category, First Prize)

1. What is your philosophy towards your poetry works?


My philosophy towards my poetry works is to write as creatively as possible, meaning to say that I want my poetry works to cultivate imagination language-wise, form-wise and theme-wise. In cultivating imagination in my poetry works, I am able to create more novel ideas. Poetry has limitless boundaries and that is why I choose to keep on coming up with new ways of writing each poetry each time I embark on my next poem. For example, the poems I write extend across various poem types, such as free verse, echo verse and villanelles.
Sticking to this philosophy has helped me to grow as a creative writer.


2. Where do you get your inspirations from?


I always take my inspirations from everyday experiences and things that I observe around me. Reality is what impacts each and every one of us. Hence, I take reality to be my pool of inspiration, using poetry as a tool to investigate about reality. Sometimes, I am inspired to write about my personal experiences (e.g. family life) because it evokes more emotion and thought into my writing, giving me the amount of perspective that I need to write a poem that is both emotionally evocative as well as thought-provoking. I think that good poetry is
one that can find links between the real world and language and so I will continue to observe real-time issues and events for future poetry works.


3. What do you wish for people to take away from your poem?


My poem, “DINNER DIARIES”, is about listening to the life stories of our loved ones and taking that as an inspiration to forge your own path in life. In the modern day, most of us are always busy with work or school and barely spend enough time with our loved ones. Not only that, but the prevalence of digital technology, such as smartphones, has impaired our ability to interact meaningfully with our loved ones. After reading my poem, I hope that others will learn the beauty of maintaining and strengthening our relationships with family and perhaps take the next step to learn more about their family members.


4. Do you have a favourite poet/author?


I am a really indecisive person so I rarely ever stick to one ‘favourite’… However, if I have to put my thumb down on it, I would say Alfian Sa’at. Ever since I started out the SingLit Unit during Literature this year, I have become very fond of his works, especially poems from his debut, One Fierce Hour. This poetry anthology has been hailed as a landmark for Singaporean poetry and I definitely agree. The honest writing style and the richness of language that comes so naturally through his works make me feel very engaged when reading his poetry, prose and plays; SingLit truly has many amazing works in store and one should not shy away from the genre!


5. If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?


Don’t be afraid. If you keep on fearing that others will judge your writing, you will not get anywhere. It is important that you write for yourself, not for others. Whatever you wish to express in words has meaning and you need to believe that you can create meaning.

 

6. Where do you see yourself in the future in terms of writing and poetry?

 

Ever since I was young, I always imagined myself as a writer. I really do hope that I will be able to pursue writing professionally in the future, even if it isn’t my main career. I ambition to have my works published one day so that my stories can reach out to more people, across the nation, or even the world.


7. What do you wish to see more in the literary world in Singapore?


I wish to see greater appreciation for local literature. The literary scene in Singapore is already rich and vibrant, with many authors and poets that contribute material of great quality and depth. The only issue is the underappreciation of local literature amongst Singaporeans, which is a pity considering the great talent and potential found in our Singaporean writers. We need to support our writers, so that they will be able to continue writing works that help to articulate the Singaporean story.


8. Describe what a poem means/is to you.


A poem to me is space, with no dimensions, no margins, no boundaries. In such a space, I can freely build and craft worlds of my own. This world is malleable and seamless, giving me the ability to shape it at my own will. In doing so, it helps me breathe as I put my heart and soul into it. When I feel upset, poetry is an outlet to drain away my sadness. Likewise, when I feel happy, poetry is an outlet to grow my happiness. This is why poetry means so much to me.


9. How does a literary success look like to you?


A literary success is when one is able to inspire others positively through his or her works. Literature is a means to connect and share, through conveying personal messages in one’s works. When others are able to identify with your message, and build onto discussing that message, that is when a writer knows that he or she has truly been able to make an impact in the literary world.

Alexa Ling

Winning Poem:

"kallang in waves"

(15- to 18-Year-Old Category, First Prize)

1. What is your philosophy towards your poetry works?


I don’t think I have a specific routine or discipline towards writing. To me, writing poetry is an outlet and escape. It is an art form that allows me to construct something meaningful out of my thoughts and feelings, regardless of how simple or complex they might be. I tend not to be particularly inclined towards structure and form. Often in writing first drafts, I make it a priority to simply get a specific mood or thought down on paper.

 

2. Where do you get your inspirations from?


In writing, I tend to draw inspiration from the world around me -- from both personal, lived experiences and the stories I hear or read about that linger fresh in my mind. 


I find that I have an affinity for different kinds of people and their distinct memories and experiences. This, combined with an active imagination, leads me to explore different scenarios, details and possibilities after hearing stories, and so I’ve found that letting my thoughts run wild helps me a lot as well.

 

3. What do you wish for people to take away from your poem?


I wouldn’t insist that there are universal truths or meanings that have to be understood from reading my poem. I’d feel honoured as long as my writing speaks to the reader in some sense and evokes some feelings or perhaps reminds them of some long-lost memory. 

 

4. Do you have a favourite poet/author?


There are many authors and poets I look up to, and in recent years I’ve become more and more inspired by the works of those from our own shores, like Alfian Sa’at and Arthur Yap. As for international authors, my favourite author at the moment is Haruki Murakami -- the worlds he dreams up are incredibly enchanting.

 

5. If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?


Keep writing as much as you can, whenever you can! 


Stop being overly critical. Don’t worry so much about “perfecting” the poem with complex language and stylistics. Instead, focus on penning your feelings down; on coherence and stringing your thoughts together.

 

6. Where do you see yourself in the future in terms of writing and poetry?


Honestly, I’m not very sure of what the future holds for me in terms of writing and poetry. All I can say now is that I hope to explore and hone my literary capabilities further as I grow older, because writing has become something I hold close to my heart and turn to for comfort.

 

7. What do you wish to see more in the literary world in Singapore?


I’d really love to see this vibrant and passionate community continually reaching out to all those with an interest for writing, especially students my age, through exciting events like the Singapore Writers Festival and the Creative Arts Programme. I hope that this community remains ever warm and welcoming, offering unique experiences and opportunities to all budding writers.


Since I’ve been reading and writing, I’ve been so inspired by the wonderful literary talent we have in Singapore. I hope that more people will be inspired by our ever-expanding trove of local literature, and that schools will expose students to more of it. That individuals will be encouraged to pursue writing, be creative, and engage with our lively literary scene as it continues to grow and flourish. 

 

8. Describe what a poem means/is to you.


A poem is dreams, visions, and emotions stitched together in words. It is a window into the world which the poet seeks to portray.

 

9. How does a literary success look like to you?


To me, anyone can be a literary success. If a piece of literature manages to leave an imprint on someone’s mind and change the way they view the world, even by a little, I’d say it is successful.

Ruth Fung

Winning Poem:

"Non Omnis Moriar"

(19-Year-Old and Above Category, First Prize)

1. What is your philosophy towards your poetry works?

 

This is the first poem I have written in eons so it would probably be disingenuous to say I have any overarching philosophy.

 

2. Where do you get your inspirations from?

From imagining myself in someone’s shoes at a particular moment in time, and drawing from paintings and places I know. And sometimes from the online sphere. I wrote Non Omnis Moriar during the circuit breaker, after following one of my favourite watercolour artists on Instagram and wondering what his experience of the CB must have been like.  

 

3. What do you wish for people to take away from your poem?

I would prefer to let the poem speak for itself.  

 

4. Do you have a favourite poet/author?

I don’t as much have favourite poets as I have favourite poems, like Kenneth Koch’s One Train May Hides Another and Lucinda Roy’s Carousel. What generally appeals to me is writing with a strong sense of unity.

 

5. If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?

Read anything. And read more widely. Don’t let life get in the way of your creating.

 

6. Where do you see yourself in the future in terms of writing and poetry?

I am not sure yet, but this experience has certainly encouraged me to want to put aside time to write a little more, for which I am appreciative!

 

7. What do you wish to see more in the literary world in Singapore?

The last work by a Singaporean author I’ve been reading was Erni Salleh’s Java Enigma, with her very spunky Malay librarian protagonist, and before that, Balli Kaur Jaswal’s more sombre novel Inheritance. Right now I am really enjoying the diversity - both in terms of genres and experiences captured - in the literary scene and I would love to see more of that.

 

8. Describe what a poem means/is to you.

For me, the process of writing a poem is a little escapist exercise. And a snapshot of the things and ideas that captured me in that moment.

 

9. How does a literary success look like to you?

As a reader I try to leave a review for a work that has moved me, or drop the writer/artist a note, if I am able. I think you’ve succeeded when you’ve found an audience to whom your work speaks to, who identifies with the experiences contained within it. This is true even if the work is polarising, which much of art is anyway. 

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