Meet an Artist: Alvin Pang

Meet an Artist: Alvin Pang

Alvin Pang is an award-winning poet, writer, editor, anthologist, and translator. Working primarily in English, his poetry has been translated into over fifteen languages, and he has appeared in major festivals and anthologies worldwide.

His new collection of poetry, What Gives Us Our Names made me cry over brunch, and can be purchased online.

Alvin also tweets very interesting things here.ImageI was lucky enough to have Alvin share his thoughts on Singapore, writing and food and here they are condensed in pithy excellence for you to enjoy:

What words do you think sum up the work that you make?


What drives you to make art?

Boredom, curiosity, surprise

What is your next project?

Several commissioned selections/anthologies of Singapore poetry for international journals and publishers, all at once!

What is your dream future project?

A book of fiction (either collection of short stories, or a novel.  A verse novel?!)

What is your favourite spot in Singapore? What is your least favourite spot?

Fav: It’s a secret. But it’s somewhere green and mostly uninhabited.
Least fav: anywhere crowded, really.

What is your favourite arts venue in Singapore?

BooksActually!ImageWhat is your favourite poem/play/film/artwork about Singapore?

I’m fond of Dave Chua’s Gone Case (novel), especially the killer closing paragraph.  And Yeng Pway Ngon’s startling novel, UNREST.   But no one single work does it for me, really.  Perhaps the anthologies I’ve put together: NO OTHER CITY: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry (Ethos:2000), or TUMASIK: Contemporary Writing from Singapore (Autumn Hill: 2009) simply because they suggest the diversity and range that is quintessentially Singaporean.  I like not having to choose 🙂

What is your favourite hawker centre?

This is a toughie. Telok Blangah rates highly, as does Maxwell.  Kreta Ayer used to be a great choice for newbies but parking is too difficult.  Adam Road is a favourite.

What is your favourite recipe to cook at home?

I don’t do it often, but I make a killer Roast Beef at X’mas.  Also my Teriyaki Chicken is a frequent fav.


Well, that was fun!

We found our voice.

Farewell, lovely youth participants of the Finding Your Voice workshop series. They have made beautiful work over the last 4 weekends, and I hope to share their final pieces with you soon.

We were also delighted this final weekend when Kim Ho, the writer and star of the short film The Language of Love, popped by the workshop to show his acclaimed film and talk to us.

Ellen DeGeneres thinks Kim’s film ‘amazing’ and we all agreed.

Watch the film, below.

kim and jess

Meet an Artist: Tracie Pang

Meet an Artist: Tracie Pang

It’s a new week, which means a new local artist to introduce you to!

I was delighted to have Tracie Pang take part in my Q&A this week.


Tracie is Co-Artistic Director of Pangdemonium Theatre Company with her husband Adrian. Their most recent play was a local production of the Broadway hit Gruesome Playground Injuries, playing at the Esplanade Theatre, and as we are propelled ever closer to 2014, Pangdemonium have an exciting new season to share.


The new season is an exciting mix of dark comedy, poetic drama, and a musical love story! You can read all about it here.

Here is Tracie’s Singapore for you to enjoy:

What words do you think sum up the work that you make?

Powerful story telling. We try to be wide ranging and varied in our choices but the core of the work comes from choosing good writing and stories to tell.


What drives you to make art?

It is just a passion, I can’t imagine doing anything else and being happy. I want my children to have access to expression, joy, heartbreak and all the fine details in-between. The theatre can be a magic space to get lost in for a couple of hours and my hope is to give people that opportunity to be a part of that magic and to learn something from that experience.

What is your next project?

My next project is a play called FAT PIG by Neil LaBute. It is a piece about self image and social conformity. Very funny and very sad.


What is your dream future project?

Oh I have a lot of dreams! I do hope that one day I can work with a writer on developing a new piece that I haven’t dreamed of yet!

What is your favourite spot in Singapore? What is your least favourite spot?

Hard to say, I love to be around the bay near the Esplanade, the view is spectacular and I love the energy of artistes constantly being around the Esplanade. My least favourite spot is probably the Tax office, although the route going up to the 2nd link (causeway) is pretty ugly!

What is your favourite arts venue in Singapore?

I love working in the Esplanade Theatre, it is so well designed back stage and front of house and the staff support is great. I am also looking forward to Victoria Theatre reopening after its renovations, it has been closed for years now, but it was the first theatre in Singapore that I worked in and it holds good memories.


Photo from Pangdemonium’s production of ‘Next to Normal’

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

I don’t think that I have one, I have enjoyed many pieces of film and theatre that has come out of Singapore but I am not sure that one stands out to me that tops the others.

What is your favourite hawker centre?

East Coast Lagoon – I can cycle from my home to the beach, the food choices there are fab, and I love the sea breeze mixed with the smell of cooking Satay on the BBQ’s.

What is your favourite recipe to cook at home?

I love to cook a good roast chicken, there is never anything left over once my boys have devoured it.

What does Singapore look like in 20 years?

Assuming that we avoid any major calamity, I think Singapore will go from strength to strength as a major player in the region for business and also the arts. I think it will be at the forefront of development in many areas, it is quite a resilient little red dot.


Thanks so much for taking part, Tracie.

You can follow Pangdemonium on Twitter, and their website holds all the details of their 2014 season.

Write Way Home: a workshop about Tiong Bahru


What makes Tiong Bahru feel like home?

The architecture? The wet market? The Monkey God Temple? The bookshop? The fishball noodle soup?

Join your neighbours and Grey Projects resident writer Jessica Bellamy for a free workshop exploring what makes Tiong Bahru so unique. For ages 16+

Jessica Bellamy is a playwright from Australia currently in residence at Grey Projects week residency, part of which involves offering this workshop for the community (and for fans of Tiong Bahru from outside of the estate).Whether you’re a budding writer, or just interested in a day of creativity, come and engage with your home and your community for a day of writing workshops

When? Sunday 8 December 2013

Where? Tiong Bahru Community Centre

How much? FREE

To express interest and reserve your place, contact

The City that Eats

The City that Eats

Welcome to another week in Singapore, where again, nothing stops.



Singapore really is the city that never sleeps…not only because there’s so much to do, but because 8 hours of sleeping is 8 hours where you could be eating.

Food is important here…if you haven’t already got that vibe from my previous posts and Tumblr page.

Singapore is also an incredibly vibrant city in which to be an artist, because it feels like there’s always something new and very different happening.

For example, in the last week, I went to:

  • A night of playreadings of Checkpoint Theatre‘s Huzir Sulaiman’s graduate playwriting students, where a group of peers performed each other’s new writing to a warm crowd and, oh yes, a group dinner.
  • The gala night of W!ld Rice’s Jack and the Beansprout, where instead of the normal Australian post-show event of a few nibblies and gallons of wine, the audience was treated to a swanky buffet dinner. Furthermore, the entire cast came out into the foyer in their costumes, to take photos with over-excited audience members (that is, children and visiting Australian playwrights). It was a great opportunity to see how companies like W!ld Rice facilitate post-show conversation and natural networking. (Read my interview with Jack and the Beansprout scribe Joel Tan, here).

(the goose character makes this face when it is laying eggs. It made sense to all do the same face for this photo. IT DID)

This past week was also the beginning of my series of workshops with writers from Singapore.

Firstly, a workshop for slightly older writers with the aim of forming a support network to create work and learn new generative techniques together. We had a very fun workshop in the Grey Projects library, where the writers were asked to respond to the current exhibition of works in the Grey Projects gallery space.Image

I realised what a special opportunity it is to be a resident writer in an arts space; to find the links between visual art and text, and to see if different forms can complement each other.


Yang Jie’s “Mechanical Arm” in Grey Projects

To continue my story, I’ll need you to follow me down Kim Tian Road, past the art deco apartments, wind your way along the fringe of the green space, and pass Hua Bee Coffee Shop on your way to my next appointment.Image

Hua Bee has been around since the 1950s, but closed recently due a combination of factors. The spiralling rent in these areas as the hipster value of this suburb hikes up is a major concern for the elderly store owners. But with these challenges has come a strain of creative thinking from the entrepreneurs of Tiong Bahru – the idea of a “two-faced” restaurant has emerged.

By day, Hua Bee is a traditional fishball soup cafe, and by night, a swanky yakitori restaurant named Bincho. Another café down the road, TwoFace, has done just the same: noodles by day, pizza by night. It’s inspiring and a nice human compromise in the face of inevitable development here. The old and the new can live side-by-side.

Keep walking, passing the Resident Centre where I got to watch some senior citizens cut loose to Chinese karaoke songs last week, and make your way to the Tiong Bahru Community Centre, a buzzing open space full of ping pong championships, basketball playoffs, and a community of people sharing a table and that morning’s breaking news. Here is where I’m hosting a workshop for teenage writers called ‘Finding Your Voice’.Image

This workshop is an introduction to dramatic writing with the aim of creating a monologue by the end of the 4 sessions together. Situating the workshop in my current base, Tiong Bahru, has offered us the unique opportunity to respond to our surroundings. For example, a casual “scavenger hunt” in the Tiong Bahru hawker centre has generated some great material for next week’s workshop.

It has been a lot of fun to work with smart and creative people of a variety of ages and to see what sort of work we can create together. I look forward to seeing what our final project looks like.ImageSee you next time to update you on things seen, things written, and obviously, things eaten.

Meet an Artist: Pooja Nansi

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!


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.


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.


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.

pooja 5

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!


pooja 1

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.

pooja artistry

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.

pooja 4

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.

pooja 3

Thanks Pooja!

See you guys next week for your next artist!

Photo on 17-11-13 at 3.11 PM