The August edition of Sharpened Word was held on Saturday, August 26 at 22 Hale Street, Heritage Gallery, Ipoh. Five panelists from Singapore and Malaysia namely, Sim Piak How, Wani Ardy, Yong Shu Hoong, Paul GnanaSelvam and Bridget Eu Yoke Lin helmed the session. The talk entitled, “Same Same but Different” discussed the similarities and differences between Singaporean and Malaysian literature.
Sim Piak How was born in 1951 and graduated from Nanyang University with Honours in Economics in 1976. His first poetry anthology, “A City’s Story” was shortlisted for Singapore Literature Prize 2016.
Having Chinese as his first language, Sim writes poetry in Chinese. He recited one about the daily life of a white-collar worker, entitled “A City’s Story”. It was written in 1981 while he was working at a bank.
He mentioned that the education in Singapore then was very different compared to now. After 1984, they made English the main language in schools. During his time, they studied everything in Chinese, including subjects like geography and literature.
“Before understanding Mandarin, I only knew Teochew. When I was about five, a Teochew opera was made into a film. It lasted for three to four months so I followed my grandfather to watch it at the cinema. I ended up watching it numerous times, I was close to memorising it,” he said.
The lyrical content was what pulled him to begin exploring literature in depth. He expressed that he has not been spending too much time with Chinese literature and hopes to do so for the next 10 to 20 years. It is also his contribution to Chinese literature in Singapore.
Originally from Kuala Lumpur, Wani Ardy has been living in Ipoh since 2016. She quit her job as a lecturer to become a full-time writer. She has represented Malaysia with her band, Wani Ardy & The Guitar Polygamy, in Singapore, Australia and Indonesia.
She began writing short stories in primary school and has a collection of her own handwritten anthologies. Wani has been writing in English all her life until she reached the age of 18, when she met Abdul Ghafar Ibrahim, an icon in Malaysian literature.
“Writing in Malay feels like coming home. Sometimes I put in Javanese words to have a touch of my family and background. I don’t think there’s any difference between Singapore and Malaysia in literature,” said Wani.
Yong Shu Hoong is the author of five poetry collections, including ‘Frottage’ (2005) and ‘The Viewing Party’ (2013) which won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2006 and 2014, respectively. His exposure to literature came from his grandfather who used to tell him Chinese folklore at bedtime.
He did literature in secondary school and started reading works by George Orwell and Shakespeare. However, he only began writing after completing his degree in Singapore. When he went to the US to further his studies, poetry was his medium to document life and the things he experienced.
“Writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg made poetry look easy and accessible. There is a different generation of writers in Malaysia and Singapore. While our countries diverged into separate entities, the writing scene has also gone its own diverse ways,” Yong said.
“I don’t know enough emerging writers in Malaysia so the exchange would be very useful. I think Singaporeans are aware of Malaysian fiction writing,” he continued.
Ipoh-born Paul GnanaSelvam started writing poetry at the suggestion of a friend in Siem Reap in 2013. He realised that the Hindu culture and philosophy were very evident in the Cambodian lifestyle. He grew up reading English newspapers, Reader’s Digest and even Enid Blyton.
He infuses Tamil in his writings because he believes in language reflecting culture and vice versa. Literature, to Paul, is reflecting life and he finds that language is very flexible. Thus, the varieties of English like Manglish and Singlish.
“Using Tamil in my writing gives me an identity. That’s where you bring a little bit of yourself in your writing,” he said.
Bridget Eu Yoke Lin, an Ipohite, is a life member of the World Congress of Poets, World Academy of Arts and Culture, and the United Poets Laureate International. Her love for poetry started in high school, Main Convent Ipoh, as she was part of the literature society.
When she moved to England, she was mesmerised by the countryside which gave her a sense of humility. One of her first influence in poetry was Shakespeare.
“I’ve had the privilege of meeting both local and Singaporean poets and writers. I find Singaporean very modern while a lot of Malaysians can write the pantun and if it were to be translated into English, it’d lose its meaning,” she exclaimed.