The Reality Street: Book of Sonnets



This anthology of linguistically innovative sonnets written by British poets and edited by Jeff Hilson (a senior lecturer in Creative Writing in Roehampton University, London) is one of the books available for loan at the Leaky Pot Poetry Workshop recently.

It is not just another modern sonnet anthology. It delves more thoroughly into the myriad ways poets have stretched, deconstructed and re-composed the venerable form: free verse sonnets, prose sonnets, offbeat takes on the sonnet tradition and even visual and concrete sonnets.

Some points for me to remember:

  • The sonnet has become a focal point for some of the issues surrounding the so-called poetic wars.
  • As a form the sonnet is fiercely guarded; to disturb the sonnet form (14 lines, octave & sestet, rhyming couplets, volta etc) is to endanger the foundations of the wider poetic tradition.
  • Some sonnets are objects of fear and wonder.
  • Milton “cultivates” the Italian sonnet.
  • Wordsworth gives the form “organic life”.
  • Gerald Manley Hopkins gives more to a consideration of content.
  • Sonnets written by women poets are engaged in lyric ideology, beauty and pleasure. For example, Bernadette Mayer’s sonnets come in all shapes and sizes and refuse to be bound by conventional forms, except for her repeated use of the couplet.
  • The different linguistically innovative sonnet especially in other cultures such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Fro example, Peter Minter and Michael Farrell (Australians) use the sonnet to extend and consolidate, practise innovating with inherited form.
  • A radical defamiliarisation of the form, to “make it new” in poems by E E Cummings and Louis Zukofsky.
  • Syntax becomes increasingly disjunctive, disturbed by punctuation (hyphen-dashes, question and exclamation marks, italics, parenthesis, ellipses, colons, semi-colons and so on).
  • Effect is the opening up of a traditionally closed form. Content is led not by the traditional lyric subject but by letting language go.
  • Form is a heightening of poetic artifice but which the lyric subject is not natural or given by a performance.
  • Popularity of the sonnet sequence like those written in free verse and prose sonnets.
  • Sonnets are beautiful, as things “irritating annoying stimulating”.

The Fall



I’ve come across this 2006 movie quite a few times, but never borrowed it because I saw that it is an adventure fantasy film and thus would probably not like it much. Somehow, perhaps of my boggled mind, I just picked it along with other movies on one of my recent trips to the library@esplanade. After all, the synopsis didn’t sound too bad: In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastic story of five mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality blurs as the tale advances.

I was also taken in by the claim that The Fall was filmed over a period of four years in 18 different cities (like India, South Africa, UK, Bali, Fiji, Italy, Spain, Prague, Romania, China, Argentina/Chile/Brazil, Turkey, Egypt and Cambodia). Wow, I thought there must be some great cinematography, special and visual effects.

Well, the 5-year-old Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is real cute, endearing and acts well. Some of the visuals are majestic (for example the stunning landscapes and  beautiful scenery, underwater scenes and lavish sets) but after a while, the novelty wears off and I was waiting for the movie to end quickly. I find the storyline more annoying than engaging. Even Beethoven’s Symphony No & in A Major has not been used to its potential.

Women on Men, Men on Women



I was attracted by the unusual design of the little palm-sized book called Women on Men, Men on Women compiled by Barb Karg – The front cover is in pink; flip it over and the back cover is in red. (It reads the same way – by flipping over.)

The first section (Women on Men)  contains quotes that show the battle of the sexes rages on as women continue to fight Napoleonic stigmas, such as

  • I resent men who are afraid of women’s strength. (Anais Nin)
  • Women are superior to men. I don’t even think we’re equal. (Barbra Streisand)
  • If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman. (Margaret Thatcher)
  • Men aren’t necessities. They’re luxuries. (Cher)
  • Personally, I think if a woman hasn’t met the right man by the time she’s 24, she may be lucky. (Deborah Kerr)
  • Men are irrelevant. (Fay Weldon)
  • A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. A woman must do what she can’t. (Rhonda Hansome)
  • Why are women so much more interesting to men than men are to women? (Virginia Woolf)

The second section (Men on Women) shows that the male species remains forever vexed by creatures of the fairer sex with quotes such as

  • Women are an alien race set down among men. (John Updike)
  • Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it contains primarily dealing with men. (Joseph Conrad)
  • A woman’s guess is much more accurate that a man’s certainty. (Rudyard Kipling)
  • What would men be without women? (Mark Twain)
  • The society of women is the element of good manners. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
  • No one knows like a woman how to say things, which are at once gentle and deep. (Victor Hugo)
  • You don’t know a woman till you’ve met her in court. (Norman Miller)
  • Despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, I have not yet been able to understand the great question that has never been answered: What does a woman want? (Sigmund Freud)

An interesting and easy read; good for relaxing the mind.


Unfree Verse



Unfree Verse: Singapore Poetry in Form is edited by Tse Hao Guang, Joshua Ip and Theophilus Kwek. Tse is the trainer for the recently concluded Leaky Pot Poetry Workshop series organised by the National Library Board. This book is among the first two recommended “texts”; the reason is quite clear:

The book deals with formal poetry and its development over time (the selection here is from 1937 to 2015) –

  • What is form? What is formal poetry? Poetry has a recognisable and repeatable structure, or that varies such structures for effect.
  • The two kinds of formal poetry are the Received and Nonce forms. The Received form possess a history of use and whose ‘rules’ have already been agreed upon, eg the tanka, the sestina and the ghazal. The Nonce form possess the potential to become Received, given time and usefulness; eg. ryhme scheme, regular meter, repeated syllables per line, concrete and shape poetry, the volta of the sonnet, anagrams, the liwuli‘s third questioning stanza.
  • Harmony between form and content (whether subject matter fits its repetitive structure).
  • Sound, especially fixed meter and rhyme.
  • Historical/ cultural value.
  • Humorous, political, lyrical meditations, religious devotions, avant-garde language poems; new content eg Malayan landscapes, situations, people and concerns, new/rediscovered forms eg Twin Cinema, the liwuli and the empat perkataan.

There is a Glossary at the end of the book. Some that I ought to note and remember are:

  • ABECEDARIAN (which is an alphabetical poetic form; the first line begins with the letter “a”, and the ensuing lines follow sequentially through the alphabet)
  • GHAZAL (A poetic form of autonomous couplets. Each line contains the same meter, each couplet rhymes, and the second line of each couplet repeats a refrain. The poet’s name is conventionally featured in the last couplet.)
  • HAIKU (A syllabic form consisting of three lines of five, seven and five syllables. the haiku is usually separated into two parts by a cut, which can be a “cutting word” or punctuation, across which there is sharp juxtaposition of images or ideas.)
  • SONNET (A 14-line form written in iambic pentameter and adhering to a strict rhyme scheme. The most common forms include the Petrarchan, which consists of and octet (rhymed abbaabba) and a sestet (rhymed cdcdcd or cdecde) with a turn in between; and the Shakespearean, which consists of three quatrains (rhymed abab  cdcd efef) and ends with a heroic (gg) couplet.)
  • TWIN CINEMA (A form originating in Singapore consisting of two separate columns of poetry of equal lengths. Each line of one column contains imagery relating to the corresponding line of the other. Variants are readable horizontally across both columns, as well as vertically down each discrete column.)
  • ZOETROPE (An abecedarian format originating in Singapore. It is a 26-line poem with each line comprising words containing a common letter. Words in the first line contain a, words in the second line contain b, and so forth, till the last line which comprises words with z in them.

The Leaky Pot : Session 6 (Form as Freedom)


Before a quick recapitulation of the last five sessions in this series of Poetry Workshop, four participants (including me) shared the translations we did for the Wang Wei poem Deer Enclosure

Today’s topic is Form as Freedom, during which a guest speaker, poet Yeow Kai Chai, spent about an hour on Twin Cinema and Zoetrope. Besides a short explanation of what these forms mean, several poems were read aloud and discussed. (For example, For the End Comes Reaching by David Wong Hsien Ming, which can be found at and poems from Yeow’s anthology Twin Cities.) Video clips of Pixar’s animation and the 1949 experimental film Begone Dull Care helped to explain the Zoetrope further.

There were of course exercises in which participants were expected to come up with a short Twin Cinema poem. I’m amazed by how quickly the young minds work (most of the participants are in their 20s or early 30s): I took the longest time to come up with some “rubbishy” 12 words!

The next segment (by Tse Hao Guang, the trainer) is on Vers Libre (Prose Poem). Though it has its origins in 19th century France, it is a relatively new form. I’ll need to read up on Robert De Sousa (1912), 17th century Japanese Haibun and a poem titled On the Personification of Cumbersome Objects by Stephanie Bishop in order to properly digest what was discussed as my head was pounding furiously this afternoon.

This means I wasn’t able to complete the Prose exercise within the time constraint. Neither was I able to do the Nonce exercise, though I was able to enjoy those shared by five of the participants.

What I need to do first in the next few days is to submit a few poems for Tse’s comments and feedback.


19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei



19 Ways of  Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger is recommended by Tse Hao Guang (trainer, The Leaky Pot Poetry Workshop series) for the segment on Crossing Languages. The 19 translations are “individual translations that are relatives, not clones, of the original. The relationship between original and translation is parent-child. And there are, inexplicably, some translations that are overly attached to the original and others that are constantly rebelling”.

Of all the translations in the book, I like only the translated one by Gary Snyder in 1978:

Empty mountains:

no one to be seen.

Yet – hear –

             human sounds and echoes.

Returning sunlight

             enters the dark woods;

Again shining

             on the green moss above.


The last piece of homework is to translate the poem. Though I’ve already got one done almost two years ago (Deer Enclosure), I still came up with four versions in the last few days:

1) No one can be seen on the empty hills

But  people’s conversations are echoed

The shadows return deep into the forest

Reflecting again the green moss above

2) No one on the empty mountain

But sounds of voices echoed

A brightness re-enters the deep forest

Again reflecting the black moss above

3) Empty mountains, no one in sight

The echoes of human voices are heard

A brightness returns to the deep forest

To shine again on the green moss above

4) Nobody is seen on the empty hills

But conversations echo through

A brightness enters the deep forest

Reflecting the green moss on top


I’m not sure which version, or any, to share at the session tomorrow. To be honest, I actually prefer the one I did almost two years ago.


The Fortune Handbook


Riding on the new-found fame of Nathan Hartono, who emerged first runner-up in the Sing! China competition in the middle of 2016, the production team (I counted 16 executive producers in the end credits) of The Fortune Handbook got him to appear in a cameo in the 2017 Chinese New Year movie. I wonder how many of his fans went to watch the movie and were disappointed to merely catch a glimpse of him dressed up as one of the many novice-gods albeit with a guitar strumming a few chords and singing a few phrases of an unfamiliar song.

As far as the story goes, there is some semblance of a plot: Su Fu (Christopher Lee) is a good-for-nothing brother-in-law of Hao Xing (Li Nanxing). Hao Xing loves his sister Ah Zhen (Vivian Lai) but despises Su Fu who tries to steal the family’s secret traditional Chinese pastry recipe so as to sell it for a lot of money to pay off his gambling debts. An apprentice God of Fortune (Mark Lee) is eager to get promoted to a true Fortune God, sees Su Fu’s plan and decides to turn his life upside down. Until Heaven steps in to prevent a catastrophe.

Right from the opening scene, the moment the Grand Teacher (Marcus Chin) starts to give his disciples a pep talk, I knew it was going to be a waste of 90 minutes in front of the television, but since I was feeling sleepy and lethargic from the hot weather and a host of other reasons, I started gathering my Sudoku and Word Search puzzles on the ready. After all, this is supposed to be a comedy, and there may be some good laughs. I did not laugh even once, though I almost did when Hossan Leong came on as another of the disciples. I’d never heard Leong speaking so many lines in Mandarin, so naturally. He (Leong) is the only reason that I decided not to call this a horrible movie.

To be fair, Mark Lee’s performance is perfect for his character. Some of the other actors (mentioned above) also portrayed what they are supposed to do. However, some of the supporting actors are raw and unnatural, and I feel there are too many unnecessary cameos by too many Mediacorp actors (Dawn Yeoh, Sheila Sim, Ferlyn G, Dr Jia Jia, Hong Hui Fang, Edmund Tay, Lina Ng, Eelyn Kok, Allan Moo, Abigail Chay, Johnny Ng, Ho Ailing, Chantelle Ng) and even lawyer Josephus Tan and a boy I recognise from a recent piano masterclass but don’t know his name. Then there is the blatant advertising for the sponsors (Pokka, A1 Abalone Noodles, Bee Cheng Hiang, Murad cosmetics, Kangli Geomancy, StarHub, Qian Xi Group and more that I can’t remember).

I’m glad I made the decision not to watch this movie when it was shown in cinemas.


The Sword with No Name


Curious about Korean films and dramas, I decided to watch one: the 2009 movie, The Sword with No Name. I thought that since it is based on a fictionalised account of Empress Myeongseong, it cannot disappoint more than if I just watched just any TV drama. I was wrong.

I have no quarrel with the story of how a Joseon dynasty bounty hunter becomes the bodyguard of the empress he secretly loves but do not understand the craze over Korean movies. The editing does not impress, neither do the actors. The cinematography tries to capture the authenticity of the countryside, the sea and fishing and there are even spectacular and majestic scenes, the traditional Korean music (especially the drumming) attempts to invoke the mood and atmosphere, the sets and props are grand and stunning, but these do not make up for my disappointment. The only time that a semblance of interest is sparked is the slight twist in the plot about three-quarter way into the story.

It would be a long while before I watch another Korean movie.




I’ve never been so dissatisfied with a movie that stars Nicole Kidman as Destroyer. Now I understand why the newspaper reviewer gave this movie a rating that is 30% lower than The Favourite; I would have too.

The story is fine,: Detective Erin Bell (Kidman) is called to a crime scene – an unidentified man has been shot three times. There are no prints, no witnesses and no ID except for a tattoo of three dots on his nape. She said she knew who did it. As a young detective working for the Los Angeles Police Department, Bell went undercover to infiltrate a gang. Now, she still has feelings of anger and remorse, and is obsessed with reconnecting with people in her past in order to deal with the demons that destroyed her.

However, the structure is unusual and complicated. The constant flashbacks are perhaps juxtaposed to provide more information, but the result is more weariness than boldness and interest.

What I didn’t like is the pace (rather sluggish) and atmosphere (sleepy). The constant shifting between the past and present, though well edited, actually makes the plot more convoluted rather than more convincing. What keeps me from falling asleep is Kidman’s compelling performance and the music. Though I did not recognise any of the more-than-a-dozen songs, I noted that relentless percussive beats, heavy chords, metallic sounds, crashing chords and sombre music are rather prominent throughout. The use of double bass in crescendos and the thrillingly shrill violins are an apparent attempt to give a sense of mounting momentum and excitement, but which failed.

The cinematography is decent, but I find some scenes rather irrelevant (if they were, I didn’t understand, so that becomes irrelevant). Some of these are the skateboarders and what I feel are attempts in using nature (like birds, wolf, snow) as metaphors.

Though promoted as an action thriller, there really isn’t much action (except for ducking bullets and some kicking, so stunt department is involved), and hardly any suspense or tension. I thought the Make-up and Hair departments could have done a better job; the same too for the visual and special effects departments.

Ravishing DisUnities



Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English edited by Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001; a poet from Kashmir who writes in Urdu and English) is one of the Recommended Texts for The Leaky Pot (a series of Poetry Workshops). The phrase Ravishing DisUnities is also used by the trainer of this series in his poem (line 16):



The ghazal is a traditional Arabic form of poetry. It has become popular among contemporary English language poets. It is widely misunderstood. Intricate and self-reflexive ghazals brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities.

Some points I gathered from the book:

  • A ghazal is a poem of 5 – 12 couplets.
  • It contains no enjambments between couplets. What links these couplets is a strict formal scheme; i.e. SAME rhyme and refrain.
  • Each line must be of the same length.
  • A ghazal requires internal rhyme, the inevitable refrain.
  • The scheme of rhyme and refrain occurs in BOTH lines of the first couplet and then ONLY in the second line of every succeeding couplet.
  • There is constant longing, immense lyricism, evocation, sorrow, heartbreak and wit.
  • Final lines (the last couplet) = signature couplet = invocation of tragedy; meaning an end is not in sight.
  • The very structure of the poem disallows closure.
  • Experiments must happen.
  • Introduce stability to a poetic form.

Tse Hao Guang (the poet’s first name, Hao, is blacked out in the poem above) has observed all these features in his Party Pooper Ghazal.