Meet an Artist: Pooja Nansi

Part of my residency in Singapore involves the opportunity to hang out with a lot of very exciting artists – playwrights, directors, poets, musicians, and more – and learn about their practice.

It works like this:

  1. I meet an artist.
  2. I ask them a bunch of questions, which they answer beautifully.
  3. I share their answers with you.

Who better to kick off the series than a very talented poet and teacher, Pooja Nansi.

Pooja has just released a new book of poetry, which makes you either cry in the cafe where you’re reading it, or feel things that are inappropriate for feeling in a cafe (by which I mean: this is some passionate poetry), and we spoke about her practice, her relationship to Singapore, and more, below!

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Pooja Nansi is a teacher and poet, and also one half of a spoken word and music duo, The Mango Dollies. Her first collection of poetry, Stiletto Scars, was launched at Singapore Writers Festival 2007. She has performed and conducted workshops extensively in several educational institutes both locally and abroad. She has also participated in poetry projects such as Speechless (with the British Council), where she worked with poets from UK, Ireland, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, and engaged in a month-long tour of the UK to explore issues surrounding freedom of speech. She curates a monthly spoken word event at Artistry called Speakeasy  which has attracted poets from places as diverse as Burma and Botswana, and her second collection of poems Love is an Empty Barstool was published by Math Paper Press in November 2013.

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1. What words do you think sum up your writing?

Honest. Personal. Vulnerable. Fearless.

2. What drives you to write poetry?

I like the compact nature of poetry, how it forces you to think hard about what makes a moment significant or meaningful. How something which is a very personal moment to you, actually tends to speak universally to people who have had similar experiences. There’s always a challenge to articulate things that are hard to articulate, it’s a bit of a dance with words, exchanging partners till you find just the right one. I enjoy the puzzle solving. Also, one of my favourite poets, Anne Sexton said it the best. “The beautiful feeling after writing a poem is on the whole better even than after sex, and that’s saying a lot.

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3. What is your current and/or next project?

I just launched my second collection, but that was a sort of a ‘best of’ the poems I had written between 2006 and 2013. Currently, I am working on a series of letters to people, places,things, feelings, thoughts. That’s the best way I know how to describe it. It feels a little different from the poems I have written, and its a real labour of love which I want to take my time with. What I am looking forward to in the very immediate future is a small launch of Love is An Empty Barstool in London with my best friend singing the blues to the poems in the collection.

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4. What is your dream future project?

I fantasise about putting up a spoken word show with some elements of theatre and sound design, maybe even multimedia, with a star cast of my favourite contemporary poets who I think are amazing readers, getting a director to put it together and having it do a full run in a theatre space. I feel very strongly about making poetry accessible and debunking the myth that it is unapproachable or only for a certain type of intellectual. Poetry can make things happen. I also want to do something kick ass with you, Jess!

(BACK ATCHA!- Jess)

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5. What are your favourite and least favourite spots in Singapore?

Some of my favourite spots on this island are Haji Lane at night because it kind of organically sprouts into this mad, eclectic street party, Parkway Parade which is a mall in Marine Parade, but one that I’ve been going to as a child and very much feels like home, The MacDonalds at Liang Court because it’s where I’ve ended up with my friends after every amazing drunken night and of course BooksActually in Tiong Bahru which is the most amazing bookshop you’ll ever find.

My least favourite spot is Orchard Road on a weekend because it feels soulless and manic. I also hate the Marina Bay Sands building and the Shoppes at Marina Bay, mainly because they are called “shoppes” but also because nothing about it says anything about who we are as a country, it’s clearly catered to creating an idealised, sterilised luxury mirage of what Singapore is about to tourists.

6. What is your favourite arts venue in town?

Artistry Cafe at Jalan Pinang. I curate a monthly spoken word night there called Speakeasy, but besides that they are a lovely space with an amazing sound system, killer coffee, draft beers and a diabolical tiramisu. And Marcel and Prashant who run the place are the coolest most easy going, helpful and generous people you will ever encounter. They also host art exhibitions, singer-songwriter nights and play readings.

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7. What is your favourite play/film/artwork about Singapore?

I love Haresh Sharma’s “Those who can’t teach” which is a really honest take on the Education system and what it means to teach in Singapore. I also love Alvin Pang’s poem “What it means to be landless” which says so much about how our physical environment shapes us. There’s too many to mention, but these two stick out.

8. What is your favourite hawker centre?

Tekka Market! And also the little shop right next to it called KamalaVillas which sells the most divine ghee paper thosai and masala chicken.

9. What is your favourite recipe to cook at home?

I’m a pretty decent cook and I like experimenting a lot with food, I make a pretty mean risotto, but my all time favourite thing to make myself when I am in need of comfort and rest is Maggi Mee Curry Noodles. I am Singaporean after all.

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10. What do you think Singapore looks like in 20 years time? 

I couldn’t tell you. In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have thought it would look the way it does now this 20 years ago. But my wish is that we don’t become one giant mall and that we pay attention to the spaces that speak of our heritage, no matter how small or how inconveniently placed they are. An example is when they demolished the old National Library building to make way for a tunnel. Near broke my heart. So fingers crossed that my generation and the next have loud enough voices to make sure the places that matter, stay.

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Thanks Pooja!

See you guys next week for your next artist!

Photo on 17-11-13 at 3.11 PM

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