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Saturday, 13 December 2008

last boy (poetry collection) by ng yi-sheng - recent winner of the Singapore Literature Prize 2008

December 14, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

What joy in embracing the gilded assortment of poetry that lie strung together like jumbled ribbon bows, in last boy, so prudently and laboriously penned by 28 year old ng yi-sheng. What absolute enrapturement in ascertaining the forces of talent and bliss that swing on the grand dame of a slide floating somewhere down an obliging sunbeam!

In this elegant nifty number of changeable cascading thoughts and ephemeral enchantment shaped by the once student poet's many mentoring exercises; are where cherubs play.

Or perhaps funny black dolls slip-sliding from a tightrope and caught entranced if you may, like fireflies that once danced on a sleek white cover before they would be held forever encased - an eternal seduction for the lover of poetry and the collector of thoughtful, clever works.

And so...

I lay stilled in the dead of the night where only the moon shone and the rains fell against the window pane. Sheng's poetry held me afloat with its startled marked nuances of Sylvia Plath and with his romantic, liberal and tender exclamations on the philosophical joys that arrive with destiny's marked timeline. His poems talk endearingly if not somewhat recklessly of a journeyed philosophy and identity, of sureness and of possibilities. Unlike Plath, the sing-song narrations are far from bleak but glimmer instead, with hope and expectation; the glimpse of a lantern on a carpet of black or the warm touch of sun on a blank defeated star.

A mix of cordial and passionate poems hints of many things. For example, the poet feeding a beloved with transparent doughnuts, of matchmaking a samurai with an astronaut, of a strange, enigmatic woman who fled Berlin and of sharp-edged satellite imagery. Other colourful riddles make up the garland.

In winning this year's Singapore Literature Prize, ng has turned up as its youngest winner ever. His is talent bursting at the seams, calling out for a wild and willing inspection.

Of the other earlier four shortlisted nominees, I had the opportunity to read only three books. Suchen Christine Lim's The Lies That Build A Marriage, Elmo Jayawardena's Rainbows in Braille and Wena Poon's Lions in Winter. I was not able to read Aaron Lee.

Within the confines of this list, Poon is clearly the beginner writer. Her writing voice that shapes her 11 Singapore short stories, shouts its personality in fits and starts and is still not properly established, although it holds promise.

If at the end of the day, writing matters over profile, then ng commands easy mastery as the glib storyteller. His poems are consistent in pace and style, and his devil-may-care verses take pride in featuring a slightly punctured but notorious delight with which to thrill and surprise his unsuspecting fans. Yet, there are sudden hushed reverential tones. In ensuring a smoothness and satisfaction for the reader after all, the need for consistency to thread a collection of stories or poems, is everything.

I found the other nominees' Lim's writing for instance, to be sensitive, tender and kind when portraying controversial subjects laid bare in Singapore. Former Sri Lankan pilot, Jayawardena who writes for charity, demonstrates a well-equipped sardonic humour throughout his short-story collection; feeding his characters with a sharp dose of common sense to define morals and ethics. He also uses food themes and an eagled-eyed gloomy introspection to define the world's selfish conscience.

Ng's work is the least parochial of the four. His ability to show and not tell is what stays an inate gift; lost in the sphere of his animated art.

Hence, his words go before him and not the other way around. This moulds the hallmark of an artist. His art shapes him, his talent regales him. It is my belief that here is a poet who would be slightly taken aback at any mention of prizes or shortlists to start with. He has plunged head-first, deep into the immersion of his craft and is unlikely to be sitting around, twiddling fingers while waiting for success.

If you are too busy enjoying your game, you will never feel you have arrived, and that, even if you have.


I was especially glad to see that ng had for his mentors such fine and distinguished Singapore poets as Lee TzuPeng and Angeline Yap. I remember reading Lee and Yap with some fascination in the early 90s. I owned a slim little blue book by Yap who wrote of childhood things...of playmates, toys and the thorny angst of the memory. She had sounded spontaneous, gleeful, sad, girlish and womanly all at once. And then there was Lee who sketched intense thoughts on her sacred Catholic religion, seeing new worlds into the worlds that already lay with open eyes before her. ng yi-sheng's poetic gifts could not have been cradled by better hands.

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