On the literary scene in Singapore, the aesthetic form of poetry stands centre stage. At the launch of his latest collection, Spomenik, local poet Marc Nair shared his insight into the appeal of verse.
MN: I write a lot about popular culture, about quirky things. I like the little ironies of life and translating that into poetry. It’s a unique platform and I usually do those as spoken word. But travel poetry has to be observed and reflected, and those things exist more on the page.
SWAG: Why is poetry the right form for you?
MN: When I started writing poetry, it always felt natural. My mother read poetry as a small child and I memorized a whole bunch, but then I was more into prose. I came back to poetry as a reader and writer in my late teens, but there’s something about that very young age of three or four, when you get an influx of rhyme and nursery rhyme.
SWAG: Poetry is really popular in Singapore, with writers and readers, bigger than prose really. What’s going on here to make people so open to that form?
MN: My personal theory is that the pace of life in Singapore is super fast. Prose takes time. Few people can afford to take time out of work in a country like this, where the cost of living is so high. But poetry can be written while you have a day job, and that’s what most poets end up doing. Or if they don’t have a job, they freelance or have children, so poetry manages to survive or even thrive in the city. Whereas we have relatively few committed prose writers here.
SWAG: A lot of people are intimidated about writing poetry, but what you just said suggests that people here are not afraid of it?
MN: If it seems like poetry is popular in Singapore, it’s simply because we have a small, loud and active group of poets and readers who keep the circle going. A lot of events, dedicated publishers and active book stores. So there’s a modern sub-culture that keeps things alive. We use social media very well. So we see it growing, but the effective reach is still not massive, it’s still quite niche. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for.
SWAG: There are some topics in Singapore that are quite sensitive. As a poet, how do you approach those difficult subjects?
MN: You learn to work around the restrictions. One thing I use is satire or humour. For me personally, I don’t want to come across as anarchic. My work is more social commentary.
SWAG: But you have space to write what you want – within poetry?
MN: If you’re clever, you find space. If you want to be blatant, you could get hauled up for slander, that can happen in Singapore. If you’re a poet, then I trust you can be creative and you can find a way to navigate and negotiate these restrictions and boundaries.
Marc Nair is a poet and photographer from Singapore. He has published five volumes of poetry and has also been featured in a number of anthologies both print and online. In March 2016 he launched Spomenik, a collection of poems and photographs from the Balkans. Marc has been part of the poetry slam scene in Singapore since 2003, and has represented Singapore competitively at international slam competitions.
He was the 2015 Writer-In-Residence at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, and has performed poetry in over ten countries. He also writes songs and poems with his band Neon and Wonder, collaborates with musicians, painters and visual artists and is the co-founder of Mackerel, a culture magazine.