by Jee Leong Koh
We are incredibly surprised and pleased by Monday’s news that Vijay Seshadri has won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Surprised by the timing, because Vijay was our featured reader at the second installment of the Second Saturdays Reading Series last Saturday. Pleased, so very pleased, because we know from hearing him just two days ago, that the win is so well-deserved. We agree with the Pulitzer Prize committee that 3 Sections (Graywolf Press) is “a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.” You can read “Light Verse,” a poem that makes a rhyming reference to Singapore, on singaporepoetry.com.
It was characteristic of Vijay’s graciousness that after his reading he heard the other readers with marked attention, participated gamely in a collaborative exercise, and stayed late into the night to chat. The home of Paul and Alphonse Rozario-Falcone, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, provided the lovely and warm setting for the evening of literature and friendship. The Second Saturdays Reading Series is a monthly platform in New York City for the reading of Singaporean and American literatures. Taking place in different intimate locations around the city, the series will culminate in the Singapore Literature Festival, a three-day festival open to the public held in New York City on October 10, 11, and 12, 2014.
After Vijay, other readers took the spotlight, ushered by the evening’s emcee, Paul. (The following is not in order of reading.) Colin Goh’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer into Singlish was hilarious, without being disrespectful. He and Damon Chua gave us a memorable foretaste of the forthcoming short-story collection Singapore Noir (Akashic Books) by each reading an extract from their contributions. The anthology, edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, will be launched in Singapore in May, and in New York in June.
Eric Norris, editor of Kin poetry journal, read two fine poems, one about Kyoto and the other after Horace. Poet and artist Jason Wee read from his collection of poetry The Monsters Between Us. Kenneth Lim, who is helping with publicity for the Singapore Literature Festival, read his well-turned poems about love. Christine Chia, a festival author, read a couple of new poems that strongly and evocatively linked political and familial separation.
The more theatrical among us were not to be outdone by the poets. Marcus Yi dramatized a satirical monologue about, what else, Singapore, and Teo Kiat-Sing rendered in her inimitable manner a darker and more personal piece by Marcus. Halfway through the reading, Teo Mei Ann led us in creating a piece of collaborative theater. We were divided into different stages of life, and told to write down one unforgettable thing that we had heard in that stage of life. Contributing one line each, we wrote a discontinuous but pregnant narrative about the course of an imaginary life.
The activity brought all of us, Singaporeans and Americans, together. Also present were Kimberley Lim and her father, who is visiting her for a week; Win Lubin; Wee Hong Ling, the NY-based ceramicist; and Woo Yen Yen and Yakuza baby. Good company, good literature and good food, all vital ingredients of a beautiful literary evening.