Written for the last slam of Blu Jaz Cafè
Yes, allow me to grace you all with this glorious image of myself at age 16-going-on-17, fresh out of Secondary School, sporting bright red hair, a single fingerless glove and (in retrospect) horrible poetry.
This image in particular is a screenshot taken from the video recording of my very first poetry slam on 25 August 2016.
I performed in Blu Jaz Cafè for the last time last night for the Break-Up Poetry Slam, organised by Word Forward. As always, I stepped into the space – Empty, because I was too early – and there was something about it that struck me. For the first time, I’m able to take in the whole room, stained glass windows and all. And it hit me- This is the last time I’ll ever perform here again, unless divine intervention kicks in and the entertainment license is revived.
My beginnings in poetry can be pinpointed to the carpeted stage in Blu Jaz Cafè, too young to drink, too young to be in the space, and too young to understand that I will come to realise that the poetry is only a small part of why I was so enamoured with it to begin with. I was an anxious sack filled with self-righteous vigour, fuelled by the unending obsession with changing the world, thinking that poetry was the key.
And of course, it is. Anything can be anything if you strive hard enough for it. But I learnt soon enough that it was the people in the space who taught me to see the world for what it was, to realise that I cannot change the world with just a flip of a switch. I can only change myself, and if I’m lucky, perhaps one or two others. So I learnt to fall in love with Blu Jaz Cafè for its warm, dimly-lit atmosphere, the smooth jazz from the first floor travelling up the stairs to the third floor to spice up our slams. If anything, I ended up falling in love with the people, poets, musicians and audience members alike whom I’m honoured to call friends.
It is very easy to sink into the trap of writing a whole rant about the lack of support in Singapore for the local poetry scene, though it is true that there is not enough funding to the scene. And this is not to blame any one person or entity or society, but this is an honest, longstanding opinion shared amongst many in the scene, that it is still difficult to survive out here as a poet. We don’t write, or perform because we want to make money or attain fame – That’s unrealistic. We do this because we have something to say, because we want to be heard. That, or because we love the feeling of performance. We do what we do because we love it.
So yes, I’m upset that Blu Jaz’s entertainment license is gone now. It almost feels as if these 2.5 years has been a wild fever dream where at some point involved standing on stage to perform writing that will always be personal to me. The vanishing of a veteran space, after so much time, almost feels like displacement, and what remains for me is a real sense of loss as I departed the space for the last time. I felt as if I was leaving behind memories of messing up lines on stage, laughing with friends, grooving to good music.
In particular, I was recalling the “A Most A-Peeling Slam” where our dear host Ajay quizzed the audience on random Banana facts, giving away free bananas to whoever got one right. My friend Edwin was one of the lucky individuals who answered the question correctly, and so in true fashion danced his way up to the stage, received his banana, and took one big bite out of the un-peeled banana. Half the crowd was left baffled, in stunned silence, Ajay sputtering and trying to remain his composure while trying to find his words, while the other half of the crowd (and most of the poets) cheered him on.
And of course, Edwin then takes a second bite. And the crowd erupted in shocked, yet amazed applause. Ajay, our wonderful host with the golden voice, remained completely bewildered.
These 2.5 years, the wealth of memories I’ve amassed, have been extremely important to me and my growth as an artist. Blu Jaz has been monumental to everything I’d been through, things like polytechnic, toxic friendships (that I’ve since departed), and heartbreak.
It’s been a wonderful journey. This odd rant, is by no means an indicator of the end of the poetry scene. But it seems to be the end of an era, and so we will remember Blu Jaz for what it was, a home to all of us poets, brimming and already overflowing with words.
We remember our past, and live in the present. That, of course, is how we move onward onto the future.
As put best by Stephanie Dogfoot in their soul-wringing, heart-wrenching poem Tell Them It Was A Castle —
“tell them how the kingdom we built
is so much bigger than a single building
if they you ask about this place,
tell them it was gorgeous.”
I will be uploading my own ode to Blu Jaz Cafè soon enough, after I finish polishing the video recording of it. But for now, we will just have to wait and see where Word Forward will be hosting the slam next! Because this is not the end, of course. It will not end as long as poets continue to read, as long as there is a microphone and a venue, the music will never end.
The poetry carries on.
Que Sera, Sera.
— Alex Soh, Spoken Word Poet.