Second Saturdays Reading Series #5

Written by Jee Leong Koh, Photos by Win Lubin and Paul Rozario-Falcone

“A Room with a View” would be a more descriptive title for the reading on Saturday, July 12. Perched on the 14th floor of a building at the northeastern corner of Central Park, Win Lubin’s apartment offered bird’s eye views of New York City. Win and Damon Chua were the gracious hosts of the fifth installment of the monthly reading series. Like Lucy Honeychurch, the heroine of E. M. Forster’s novel, we traveled from different parts of the city—our featured writer A. Naomi Jackson coming from as far as Philadelphia—to enjoy their hospitality and to see a new country, mostly of the imagination.

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In fact, travels and views were very much the theme of the evening’s reading. Jeremy Tiang brought many of us back to Singapore when he read from his short story “National Day,” first published in Ambit magazine. It was, however, a Singapore that those of us who had not returned recently had not seen, full of surprisingly dingy-looking luxury homes on the shores of Sentosa island. Damon, our host, followed with a reading from his book Traveler’s Tales and Other Poems. If the first two poems “Waiting for a Supernova” and “The Quiet World” directed us outwards in its imagery, the third poem, which was also the title poem, brought us home, where tea is offered, or “even a bird / for a song.”

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First-timer Gina Inzunza read from her collection Inside Voices at the Girl Aquarium. Written in the voice of a teenage girl, the humorous poem “Tonight I’m Going to My Boyfriend’s House to Lose My Virginity and I’m Bringing…” was about an imaginary trip. For the sake of balance, Gina read another poem “Fun in a Box,” this time in the voice of a teenage boy. It was also Ling E. Teo’s first appearance at Second Saturdays, though she had been eager to join her fellow Singaporeans since she first heard of readings. She read from her Pushcart Prize-nominated short story “In Transit.” A linked story “Handicap,” also published in Crosstimbers, completes the arc from loss to healing. Up next was Christine Chia who read three poems from her forthcoming second book Separation: a history. In the poems, she made views into verse by having the photographs of Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku Abdul Rahman speak.

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We were fortunate that A. Naomi Jackson was in town for the Harlem Book Fair. Her novel Who Don’t Hear Will Feel will be published by Penguin Books next year. The extract she read gave a wonderfully vivid picture of life in Barbados as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl raised in Brooklyn. Barbadian life, it emerged, revolved around food as much as Singaporean life. The reading certainly whetted our appetite for the novel. In the meantime, you can get a taste of Naomi’s writing in her short story chapbook Ladies, which won the 2012 BLOOM chapbook contest.

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After the reading, Damon, who is in charge of fundraising for the Singapore Literature Festival, spoke about the Kickstarter campaign and played the campaign video to the room. No one, not even writers, can travel on an empty stomach. Food was again plenty at the reading, thanks to everyone who brought a dish to share. There were roast duck, homemade laksa, dumplings … and all kinds of mouthwatering dishes. The deserts were a highlight. There were at least three different kinds of cakes. Everyone stayed after the reading to help polish off the food. Like the poets of old, some climbed up to the roof deck to view the full summer moon.

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About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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