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Sojourners: Poetry and Art Exhibition with Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal

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On 30th July 2023, Poetry Festival Singapore presented a multilingual ekphrastic poetry reading with artists from ARTS@Metta. Keeping with Poetry Festival Singapore’s 2023 theme of ‘Sojourners,’ multilingual poets read their poems inspired by the striking artworks created by special needs artists from ARTS@Metta across English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil, and Chin. The event was presented by Shilpa Dikshit Thapiyal and featured the poets Jennifer Leong, Henry Low, Fadhli Fadzil, Jonathan Chan, Mai Shalom Thar, Alex Chan (pen name Yu Fan), Vishnu Vardni, and Hui Hui Lan. Some of the poems and their corresponding art pieces are displayed below.

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Poets and artists

The Astronaut and The Juggernaut

Jennifer Leong

silent night, starry, starry night

smiling light burning bright

crescent cheese unspliced by mice

some say healthier, better than rice


it has holes 

is it whole?


is that the whole world

out there with its audacious swirls

each spiralling on its own

without a key to reach return?


it's a keyhole

is it whole?


if someone punches munches

the cheese through his lunches

is there too much space

for the astronaut to graze?


it's a black hole

is it whole?


you gaze in wonder

at the artwork the heart powers

what's in it keeps it floating

there is zero sugar-coating 


it has highs

it has lows


let's defy gravity's countdown

let no smiles turn into frowns

let spaceships and rockets rock 

beyond any kind of roadblock


it has highs

it has lows


the string insists it be strummed

to the heart's song that is hummed

to return to where it will always belong

no matter that such distance is long


it has highs

it has lows


it's not solely my fault

nor that of the astronaut

that earth's turf and surf

are getting together against love


it's a rabbit hole

is it whole?


where brothers forget

the deeds they regret

yet haven't learnt to give

forgiveness any chance to live


they have highs

they have lows 


it's the collective tares we've sown

blowing cold winds through our bones

a hand reaches for the lone near star

another stretches to mend the scars


they have holes

are they whole?


the astronaut has just met

a fellow sojourner who has no helmet

he wishes he too could try 

but he knows he would surely die 


he has highs

he has lows


he sighs as he clumsily floats

with the constrictive overcoat 

he clutches at straws

then finds that they are outlaws


they have holes

are they whole?


the astronaut juggles

the juggernaut of bubbles

threatening to disappear

hopefully, so will his fears


I have highs

I have lows


I see a constellation 

it's a great consolation

I take stock of my bearings

and ponder upon life's meaning


it has holes

is it whole?


does everyone concur

space is for us to conquer

so we get to be closer

or do boundaries expand further


they have potholes,

yes, and we are human


life's a journey she has realised

she decides what's to be prioritised

the legacy she hopes to leave behind

the kinder kind of humankind.

'Astronaut' by Qi Qi

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Jennifer Leong

'Butterflies' by Chee Meng





























Henry Low

Translated by Jonathan Chan

Even if it is with a rectangular frame

That someone seeks to contain my desire to fly

I will still try to break through

And display the beauty of myriad colours


A frame cannot halt the freedom of my flying

A net cannot ensnare my unrestrained spirit

A painting cannot limit the exploration of my antennas


I have a voice both original and instinctive

It lurks in my heart, trembling

A life that has been awakened

I search for a path on an uneven road

Breaking through every twist and every cage

The blue of the sky is where I soar


With my dexterous wings, I brush the pistils of this life

I knock on the doors of fate with the yearning of my desire

Perhaps I will stop for a while

Perhaps the wind and the rain will beckon

Yet the temperature and spirit of my self-awareness will remain

That sense of ease and comfort

Can make every fear dissipate,

Make every timidity timid.

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Henry Low

'Mushrooms' by Fadhil

Di Bawah Payung Ini

Fadhli Fadzil

di bawah payung ini

membulat melengkung;

menebal menggunung —

kusaksikan hujan menitik;

merintik di celah-celah


tersembunyi secebis kehidupan:

beralun bernafas lembut bergema

terlindung dari sentuhan mentari

terbendung dengan racunan azali

(redup, malap, redum, gelap)


tetap ia tumbuh melata,

tanpa mengucap sepatah kata

berdiri berani melawan sendiri

basahnya hujan teriknya mentari

begitulah cendawan di embun pagi

menawan langit menakluk bumi.

Under this Umbrella

Fadhli Fadzil

Translated by Nuh Isa


Under this umbrella

curved and twisted; 

tall and thick —

I witness the rain dripping; 

trickling through its gills, 

hidden is a smidge of life: 

continuously breathing, it echoes softly

protected from the sun’s kiss

swamped with natural poison

(dreary, bleak, gloomy, dark)


still it grows serpentine, 

without saying a word 

standing brave to fight on its own 

the wetness of the rain, the heat of the sun 

indeed the mushroom in the morning dew 

capturing the sky conquering the earth

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Fadhil and Fadhli

two butterflies

Jonathan Chan


two butterflies came in

to land, legs brushing

then gripping the small

buds, like red berries

of goji, bulbous


on the forking green

stems. the purple span

of their wings, crystalline,

glinting violet and

maroon, porous speckles in


folds of four. their feelers,

sniffing for the sweetness, the sap

of nectar. nocturnal creatures,

diurnal aberrations. the sky

is so dark. the butterfly projects


an ancient dream, a fluttering

of consciousness, a wingbeat

for a hurricane. time is silent.

time is empty. there is beauty

in the sound of living. there


is beauty in the sound

of leaving. 

'Butterflies' by Chee Meng

Jonathan Chan

Nauhak Nu Ih Tuarnak

Mai Shalom Thar


A lek duh nan a ngahlo,

Khui hmanah a vak theilo

A ning na rualpi a nei nawnlo

A nu a ko, a thei ban fawn lo


A tlun ah vanzam an zuang

Zirnak, beiseinak in an tlansan thluh

Zirhtu an hlo, tlawng khar

Lamzin tinkim an pit thluh


A tumtahnak ih nulepa cawm

Zato ah tuan ih mi na hlawm

Asinan, a kut ke an bul thluh

Harnak zate in a nun an khuh


Nauhak nu ih tuarnak le ruahnak

Tlunvan ih thlapi in a theih sak

A mithhli cu Arsi an hnulsak

Ngaidam a dil hnu ah, Ni khal a suak


Zo ih ruangah a tuar

A nu ih ruangah a si maw

A kiangkap ruangah teh a si maw

A umnak rampi uknak ruangah a tuar.


A umnak ramah doawknak hlir

Nitin mi tampi nunnak liam in an thi

Mifim in ram an hruai lo, milian pawl lawng

Zangfahnak neilo rampi ah a cang


A sunmang zaten an cem

A san le vang kan thei thluhlo

Zo ruangah, zoih mawh ruangah

A umnak ram uktu țhatlo ruangah


A tuartu nauhhak,a hlawktu midang

A tuantu mipi,ei ru tu hruaitu thalo

Kanta kan ti theimi pakhat hman a um nawnlo

Thih phangin, thih tih loih kan tuansuah mi tiang.

Cem lohli seh, nauhak nute ih tuarnak.

The Little Girl's Life

Mai Shalom Thar

A girl wants to enjoy her childhood

But has no friends or siblings to play with 

She calls her mom for help

No one hears her voice


She wants to study, 

Instead of playing alone,

But the school and roads are closed

Everything is shut, once again.


The girl's dream is to support her family

But now she has no hands and legs 

She cries and looks up at the sky

It is colourful, light, and bright.


Her only hope is up in the sky

The moon listens when she talks

The stars wipe her tears

The sun says sorry before it rises


Who is all this because of?

Is it her mom’s fault?

Or, is no one around

when she needs a shoulder to cry on


The ground she is staying on is messy

Every day people die

The nation is controlled by the wrong authority 

There is no sympathy in the city


Her life is crazy and messy  

She is a girl who always sacrifices

And she lives life in a cubicle

But, she is still, fighting for her life

From inside a war zone!  


She then asks,

"Until when…?"

'Astronauts' by Namira

Mai Shalom Thar.jpeg

Mai Shalom Thar






















Yesterday’s Moth

Yu Fan

Translated by Jonathan Chan


They say you’ve come to visit because you miss me.

You stopped in the shadow of my door and window,

spreading out like snow, and you looked at me,

like a dream that had passed in a hurry the night before.


I was too late to say a word

for it had already melted into dew.

A life that seems like an illusion,

I thought no one would remember.

Only that window pane,

where the heat of your body once rested.

I’d read the marks you’d left behind.


If you visit again someday,

please stop and rest in my hand.

Spread your wings.

Fly over the intersecting, frigid lines of my palm.

Give me a line or two of the little poem you've spit out.

'Butterflies' by Chee Meng

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Yu Fan




















The Elves in Hats

Yu Fan

Translated by Jonathan Chan


Unexpectedly, I stopped upon a forest,

from which emerged both the good and bad.

Some were happy,

some bore an ineffable sorrow.


Many children were born

and many lived lives of bliss,

each day waiting to be picked,

each day singing amidst the rainstorms.


Each person wore a hat.

They did not fear the blaze of the sun.

They did not fear the unrelenting rain.

Their hats rattled in the wind,

and gave rise to a city of many good thoughts

'Mushrooms' by Fadhil


Huihui Lan

Have you met our favourite grandma?

Her nickname is Fernana

She cares for her jagged lush ferns

Just like her many children

And our homegrown special purple banana!

One day with a big shovel nana dug the ferns up,

“Look, bub!”

No matter where the shoots,

You can track them by their roots…

They are joined by light bulbs!

Three nodes to root,

Three months to shoot,

She said, “Growing in peat and sand, 

Soil and sky in hand

Stems of green life are continued…”

Have you met Fernanda?

She is our favourite grandma!

The one with caring angel eyes,

Through her blessed wisdom,

Look how The Light shines.

Her bubs have grown through rainbow cocoons of metta

But we will always remember our purple nana!








On The Rays Home

Huihui Lan

Translated by Huihui Lan

Infinite streams of warm reminders

Warm as spring blessings

The grateful and gifted moon and sun do not distinguish between you, me, them, him or her

A child with grandma has roots at home

Blessed with light in your step, fly, my child, fly!

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'Fern' by Fadhil




Artist and Artist Trainer

Muhammad Fadhil Bin Abdul Jalil is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his family's seven cats. Fadhil is a patient and meticulous artist. He is a calm observer who attentively follows instructions. He is a huge fan of manga and robots, and you can often see him drawing these characters.

Nur-Qamariah Binte Haji Kamal graduated from LaSalle College of the Arts with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours). She specialised in Graphic Design, Batik Painting, Watercolour Painting and Pottery. After graduating from LaSalle, she began her profession as a Graphic Designer. After a few years of her normal 8-5 job, she wanted a change in her life.  She aspires to use her art knowledge to contribute to society by supporting those with special needs. With her guidance at Arts@Metta, they have groomed many brilliant artists, providing them with a path to use their abilities to contribute back to the community. Qamariah is also a plant lover. Using her passion, she taught the artists another skill, horticulture. All of the potted plants in ECO@Metta are grown by her and the artists.


Jennifer Leong is an advocate for hope who posts poems as Soy Avocado on social media. She is mesmerised by the variety of poetry forms in the world. Her poem ‘Hills’ won the Spirit of the Festival Award at the Frances Browne Literary Festival Multilingual Poetry Competition 2022 in Ireland. Through divine inspiration, she invented the ‘duatrespentastep’ form of poetry in April 2022 during Singapore Poetry Writing Month.

Henry Low is the Vice-President of the Singapore Association of Writers and is the Chief Editor of Singapore Chinese Literature. He has published 3 poetry collections and is the author and editor of several other books. He is also the recipient of the Young Artist Award for Literature in 1999.

Fadhli Fadzil is a penultimate student from the National Institute of Education, majoring in Malay Language and Literature. He started writing at 16 and has published a poetry collection in 2020. Writing is his outlet of expression, especially for topics he finds great interest in, such as identity and culture. He landed First Place in the National Poetry Competition 2022 for the Malay category.

Jonathan Chan is a writer and editor of poems and essays. Born in New York to a Malaysian father and South Korean mother, he was raised in Singapore and educated at Cambridge and Yale Universities. He is the author of the poetry collection going home (Landmark, 2022) and Managing Editor of He has an abiding interest in faith, identity, and creative expression. More of his writing can be found at

Mai Shalom Thar is from Myanmar (Chin). She has been working in Singapore for 12 years and has been writing since 2014. She has been a member of the Falam Christian Fellowship Singapore Literature Committee since 2016. Her writing has been printed in many magazines. Her writing and work can be found on her Facebook page “Len Lai Par”.

Alex Chan (Yu Fan) is the Vice President of the Singapore Literature and Art Association, editor of ‘Singapore Literature and Art Newspaper’, and has published eight collections of poetry and one collection of prose poems. He is the winner of the 2022 Singapore Literature Award (Poetry), the Fang Xiu Literature Award, the Taiwan Poetics Creation Award for Prose Poetry, and the Taiwan “Chinese Modern Poetry 5th Anniversary Poetry Award", among other accolades.

Huihui Lan 藍慧惠 or KairosL is a poet and interfaith occupational therapist based in Asia and Australia with a focus on artivism -- art in activism. Having performed for the Commonwealth Games and been featured on Mother Tongue Multilingual PoetryAustralia, Huihui has also snagged Best Lyrics Awards in national and XQRJ regional songwriting competitions. Born on the tropical equator of Singapore, she is looking forward to publishing her works in the coming year centred on regenerative living arts x health. (Instagram @nilioren)

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