What’s a good book to kick off a social media campaign in celebration of NUS’ 110th anniversary? Well, finding one is akin to locating a needle in a haystack for a variety of reasons. One, you’re simply spoilt for choice. Two, I feel obliged to pick a book that highlights the English Language and Literature collection (ELL) since I am the resource librarian for this area after all, and three, I am still overwhelmed by the number of possibilities.
A little book of 44 poems, Sonnets from the Singlish written by local poet Joshua Ip, is entirely about Singapore. If you were born and bred in this country, you should recognize Ip’s anecdotes within his witty sonnets. It is a good book to represent the ELL collection because you could study the language used in the poems, analyze the iambic pentameter in the sonnets, or as Ip suggests, perform a reading of the poems using a Singaporean accent.
Don’t expect to read 44 poems written in Singlish, or 44 Singlish sonnets. In fact, Ip has described the book as “riffing off Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese (also 44 sonnets).” But Ip does better. He mixes pop culture — mostly local, and some international with a local twist — while discussing local issues, and subtly expressing his opinions about local affairs; matters that are often uniquely Singaporean.
I found myself turning the pages to catch on as many of Ip’s references as possible, and sometimes try to guess what exactly he is referring to in the poetry. One of my favorite poems is how he has transformed all four books of Twilight into a four-part horror poem about a female jiangshi, the vampire or zombie in Chinese folklore. Here is an excerpt tickled me:
i write your name upon the yellow charm
and press it to your forehead with a kiss –
come, we move by night. i dare not stop
till dawn. we have a thousand miles to hop.
I was able to catch some other references in his book, namely the local ice-cream man (not the owner of the fancy ice-cream franchise at the mall, but the guy ringing his bell at his mobile cart), gambling, BGR (boy-girl relationships), traffic conditions, online gaming, government scholars, wedding banquets, and of course, a token sonnet written entirely in Singlish just to satisfy readers’ expectation.
For those who are not local, fret not! Ip has kindly provided notes on the Singlish or colloquial terms he has used in his work.
Sonnets from the Singlish (call no. is PL5150 Ip.S 2012) is available at the Central Library at the main shelf and the Singapore-Malaysia collection.
ELL Resource Librarian
NUS Libraries 110C team