The Last Slam of Blu Jaz Cafè

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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
can contain

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.

it must be the depression.

I’m not great at repetition.

When you are awake at 2.35am, feeling like crap
It must be the depression.
When you are making instant noodles to fill the void,
It must be the depression.

When you can’t tell whether you are happy with a poem,
It must be the depression.
When you can’t think of a good reason to skip school other than “I’m tired”,
It must be the depression.

It is easy to chalk everything up to the lack of a chemical in your brain
Just as easy as getting out of bed
When you aren’t able to find a good reason to wake up
So you say it must be the depression
Even though it no longer sounds valid.

When you are just so tired of trying to find a valid reason to live
Eat
Breathe
It is just so much easier to say that you are tired.

When your friends asks you why your eyes are puffy
It is just that much easier to say you watched a sad movie where the dog dies
Than say that you were watching said movie at 3am trying to feel something
And you weren’t crying because the dog died.

When you are too worn out to feel anything
When you are too apathetic to care if the house is on fire
When you are too fucking frustrated that you can’t just feel something while reading an emotional poem

It is easier to just say that you are tired
Even if
It must be the depression.

-End-

I Should Learn To Read Bus Numbers Better

 

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I took the wrong bus and ended up at your place today, dear.

The trees still look the same, even though it’s been a while since I last saw them. There is still graffiti on the walls and it still smells musty, like old lifts. But the diggers and aluminium walls weren’t here before, so I suppose some things have changed.

It’s not hard to just take another bus and get back on track, and I was already late after all, but it grew more enticing, more sensible, and perhaps a little more fun to wander around the block of HDB flats and pet a stray cat, hope that no cat-hater ever finds it. But the cat doesn’t really care, it just purrs as I scratch behind the ears. I left it sitting on the bench, and I watched as the cat yawned and went back to sleep.

You never liked to leave your house, but I’ve only noticed this in retrospection, from hours of Instagram-chasing. I’ve always been like this, too late, only remembering things in retrospection, realising things and noticing it, miles after something has passed me by. The person you knew before now wasn’t shielded by rose tinted lenses, just blind to things that weren’t reflective.

Do you remember that there was a frangipani in front of my block? The white flowers were always in a pile beneath it, like it never stopped growing and shedding, all at once. I never told you how when I was little, I used to watch my friends climb it, while being too afraid to ascend. But I wasn’t afraid of the narrow ledges, you held my hand as I tight-roped across.

It has never occurred to me, how much of me you never knew. It has never been like me to notice the lack of information we had of each other, and perhaps that was where we went wrong. I think it was where I went wrong- Not that all of it was my fault alone. But it seems to me that I never asked questions that were important, how the surface of our concrete ground seemed enough for the two of us.

Occurring to me now, is truth that remains buried deep under. Occurring to me now, only after everything is over, is the part where I went wrong.

Everything, in the end, became all about me, didn’t it? You know the answer- No one else will know the truth we hold within our bodies. Tell me if you know it, please, if I’ve finally gotten it right.

There are more important things, clearly. I know that now, and it’s far too late to tell you about everything I know. The fact that I know will never be enough. The fact that I’m different will never be enough. The fact that I’m sorry will never be enough.

It’s not that I want you back. I don’t, you never liked telling me that you didn’t want to go out and you left me feeling used. You gave me dog tags with our names engraved on it and I lost them, deep in my body where it became tidal waves of anger and sadness and regret, and I know it’s because of you.

But it’s not about me, or what I know, or who I am. It’s about you, what I turned you into, in poems and stories, it’s about who you were that I never took the time to know. I knew you then, but who you were was lost to my obsession with little things. You, who never let go of me, the tightrope walker.

A branch from the frangipani tree in front of my house broke a while ago. Some kid tried too hard to climb. Nothing will make that tree the same again. But it keeps growing.

I boarded the correct bus this time. I won’t look back again, so listen carefully, before the wind steals these words that will never be enough:

I am sorry.

And just like that, you were gone.

(in)Visible

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Poem for the closeted

If you can only watch Pink Dot from behind closed doors,
Remember that there is always a room outside.

When you take your binder off at night,
Listen to the rumble of constellations in your skin
Where every burnt-out star wishes they could rework themselves
To wrap around you in a new shape, one that feels right.

If you must laugh at slurs in fear of repercussion,
Know that the world owes you safety, and they have failed you.

When you press powder into your pores at dawn,
Feel every molecule embrace who you have not become,
Where you have always been your loving reflection
As the vanity counter breathes “I love you” before you’re gone

When your Tinder matches feel empty,
When the cigarette smoke unclogs your tear ducts
When you feel claustrophobic in the dark confines of your closet,
When the words fall flat and you grow tired of explaining yourself, over and over again,

Know that the reflection in your mirror still thinks you are beautiful
And all the stars in the sky still shine just for you
And the world still owes you safety, but they have failed you.
And no matter where you stand, sit or lie,

There will always be room for you here.

Sonnet for Cold Showers

– Written for SingPoWriMo, Day 7’s Prompt: The Found/Fount Sonnet Prompt:

In this creative prompt, we’ll be working with a new version of a classic poetic form, quaintly named The Found//Fount Sonnet.

Yes, it’s one more thang to add to our expanding catalogue of Southeast Asian forms. The Italians have the Petrarchan sonnet; the English have their Shakespearean and Spenserian sonnets. Billy Collins has written “American Sonnet”, with Tomaz Salamun penning “Sonnet to a Slovenian”. And of course, from good ol’ Joshua Ip, we have his collection, Sonnets From the Singlish, which co-won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014.

Take the found//fount sonnet as a fresh, newfangled formal variation of our very own.

 

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I shiver under the icy shower and grieve for your peeling skin
While we wash away all our evening sins,
letting you scrub away all the dead cells from my body; rinse and repeat
Nonetheless, we scald our tongues on all that we eat
If I could put this moment, your hands on my body,
open mouthed kisses and sandwiches gone soggy,
in a picture frame, I would somehow be
whole, even while everything still tastes of clay
I would be home, on your bed while we lay,
watching an otter as it searches, frantic, for another hand to anchor itself upon
lest it floated away, into nowhere, under nothing.
I want to shiver under cold showers with you, where we could still be something
While we still have all the time; so turn the lights on
For our burnt tongues, lost skin, shivering bodies and please, say that you’d hold on to me.

Building Hope On Broken Things

– Written for SingPoWriMo, Day 5’s Prompt: The Speculated Fiction Prompt:

Imagine you open up and explain everything about your life today—your biggest fears, hopes, ambitions, habits, the technology– to someone who lived in the past (any time period before the year 2000– you decide!), and they went back in time and wrote a science fiction novel about you. They knew (know?) no one would believe it was fact, so they exaggerated and fictionalised some elements of it. You somehow find the novel and open it to a random page. This could be any page. You find a poem. Write that poem.

I wrote about an Immortal who fell in love with a Time Traveller.

1591, Berwick, Scotland
We met in an alley, I said I wanted to be something more
As you yawned on the stake, gone before you smoulder

1662, Port Royal, Jamaica
The soft leather of a necklace fell around my collarbones
And you lead me to the harbour, waiting for a storm

1781, Yorktown, A British Colony
You hand an empty gun to Alexander Hamilton, knowing,
And you tell me you will be waiting for me in

1890, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France
I cleaned the sheets where Van Gogh once lay,
The old ones wrapped around a stolen painting of a hill, your eyes twinkle

1900, An Unknown Village, China
The screams are earth-shattering, and I say something about life, birth and death
You push me into a muddy field and we run before the farmer gets us

1966, San Francisco, America
Your arrival was marked by pointed laughter at my outfit, and I hand you a banner
I bring you up to speed while we march, and I watch you lose time

1999, National University Hospital, Singapore
We stand in the hall and listen to your mother’s screaming
This is your time, your beginning, your past and present. The next time I see you, it’s

3020, Who knows, Wherever
The walls gleam as I wake up from a New Year’s Eve Party
Your arms wrap around my waist and you say hello, and I say you found me.

1509, Berwick, Scotland
A witch cursed me to an eternity to count the stars in the sky,
You, with stranger eyes haunted by what will happen, has happened, took my small hands, and told me to meet you in