Jasmine Ann Cooray is a poet from London, of British and Sri Lankan heritage. She works with young people as a mentor and workshop facilitator, developing confidence through poetry and performance. She aims to create spaces for voices all of kinds to speak out. She is currently the writer in residence at the National University of Singapore, which is a yearly 6 month residency offered to international artists. She is also training as an integrative psychotherapist.Jasmine is known for her vivid images, inclusive performance style, and storytelling through personal experience. She is often moved to address the taboo issues through her writing, and has performed in a variety of spaces in the UK, Singapore and the Phillippines. Her debut poetry pamphlet ‘everything we don’t say’ was released with Tall Lighthouse Press in 2009 and awaits reprint with Math Paper Press in 2014. She is working on her first full collection. She never gives a substandard hug.
(I can definitely vouch for the hug!)
If you want to see Jasmine’s lyricism and warm hugs in person, you have many opportunities in the next few days.
Tonight, Jasmine’s exhibition titled “The Invisibility Project” opens at The Arts House. Jasmine has curated an evening of poetry and visual art that responds to the voices and people whose voices are unheard or unasked for in Singapore.
This weekend, Jasmine is running a workshop called WRITESingapore and is also performing at the We Can! Arts Festival, produced by AWARE Singapore. Despite being a resident artist, and not someone who lives here all the time, Jasmine has been here long enough to know everybody, to walk all around the island, and to drink warm wine on a rooftop with me.
So here is her Singapore:
What words do you think sum up your writing?
Honest, Raw, Explorative.
What drives you to write poetry?
I started to write poetry when I was an angsty teenager trying to exhume demons. Later it became a way for me to process life events, tell stories, and talk about issues that I’m drawn to.
What is your current and/or next project?
I am working on my full collection, and hope to have something pulled together some time next year. In the meantime, I need to go over my first pamphlet and make sure it is sound for reprint in Singapore early next year. I also have a loose plan to put together a storytelling piece with stories that anthropomorphise emotional processes in some way. In terms of development, I am setting up a youth poetry collective in Singapore called Burn After Reading, which is a sister branch of the same collective in London. I hope to make something where the members can support each other and grow over time.
What is your dream future project?
Too many to choose from! I’d love to work with younger kids to develop self awareness and confidence through writing and speaking. This is the idealist in me- trying to create a world where people feel better about themselves in general. I’m also very interested in looking at how poetry can be a springboard for connecting people- sharing experiences through work that can then be discussed in a group. I’d also like to develop a space where arts facilitators can come and skillshare – often artists who work in education are learning as we go along, and having a support network like that would be great.
I like to walk in the evening- it is so cooling and calm and the sounds are amazing. I also just love the wild places- the parks, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, The Botanic Gardens though they are more organised. I love the wet markets and the food courts with birds flying all over the place. I also have a guilty pleasure of sitting in coffee shops like Artistry or Working Title or Carpenter and Cook (I know, hipster) for ages writing, the trend feels a lot like home.
I’m not so into the vast spaceship-style shopping malls. I feel like there is no escape in some of them- you have to pass through an assault of neon just to get out. I briefly visited Sentosa and found it a very surreal Disney-like place, and unfortunately an environment of forced joy does not appeal to me.
What is your favourite arts venue in town?
The Arts House has some cool spaces in it, like the Play Den. I also like the small bars and café’s that host poetry nights like Home Club and BlueJazz, and the Substation always has a lot of stuff to see..
What is your favourite hawker centre?
There is one in Clementi that does the best Pad Thai, mmm it is so tasty, I have to be careful not to inhale it. And the Lontong at the NUS campus is really good too.
What is your favourite recipe to cook at home?
I recently learned a Filipina dish called kinilaw na talong that is really flavourful and simple- smoky aubergine, tomatoes, chilli and a vinegary coconut milk sauce. I had it in Bohol in the Phillippines and had to try it out.
But when I am going for comfort food I make a load of aloo sag, fish curry, dhal and rice let the carbs do their numbing work.
What do you think Singapore looks like in 20 years time?
No idea. It seems like it is in constant development so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was bigger, shinier, more imposing. I would be sad if it lost its natural spaces- they are a necessary respite from the rest of the island.