by Myko Balbuena (15A01B)
Joshua Ip (RJC, 2000) is the author of two volumes of poetry from Math Paper Press: making love with scrabble tiles (2013), and sonnets from the singlish (2012) which won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014. His poetry and short stories have been published in numerous print anthologies and online journals. He won the Golden Point Award for Prose in 2013 for the short story The Man Who Turned Into a Photocopier, and was runner-up for Poetry in 2011. He has co-edited two poetry anthologies: A Luxury We Cannot Afford (2014) and SingPoWriMo 2014: The Anthology (2014). He is currently working on his first graphic novel, Ten Stories Below (2015). You can find his work at www.joshuaip.com.
Q: When and where were these written and how did you come up with the idea for the collection? Was it a deliberate choice or a collection of bits and pieces here and there that you added to make a collection?
A: sonnets from the singlish was largely written during a spurt of productivity in December in December 2011. My boss had taken leave for a month and I challenged myself to write a poem a day for 30 days. About five days into the month I realised I was only writing sonnets under the time pressure, so I joked with Kenny Leck of BooksActually that if I kept this up I could call the collection ‘sonnets from the singlish’ after Elizabeth Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’. He liked it and the name stuck.
making love with scrabble tiles was a deliberate attempt by me to write about love as a central focus for the collection. It was written in two big chunks—once in a 1-poem-an-hour for 24 hours challenge in September 2012, which got me 24 poems of varying quality; and once in a 1-poem-a-day for 30 days challenge in July 2013, which got me the rest of the collection.
sonnets was written in Singapore. making love was written in the UK (September 2012), and on a long train home from the UK (July 2013).
Q. Who did you read when you were young? Was there any school text which left a marked impression on you?
A: Lots of fantasy, sci-fi, martial arts novels and comics. The first poems I read were sonnets—‘The Soldier’ and ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est.’ I have a soft spot for Andrew Marvell.
Q. Whose influences were central to this collection?
A: My main inspirations for sonnets were: Outside Singapore, definitely Larkin, Frost, cummings, Yeats and Wendy Cope. Bits of Tennyson and Hopkins. In Singapore, probably Gwee Li Sui, Alfian Sa’at.
In writing making love, I was influenced by a bit more of Arthur Yap (not so much for his Singlish), Alvin Pang, Cyril Wong etc. I don’t think of Arthur Yap (or myself) as a ‘Singlish poet’.
Q: How did you come to writing? Did you decided on it at a certain age or did you stumble into it and realise only once you were waist-deep in it?
A: I always liked writing, but not poetry specifically—I only picked up poetry in school, and after being dragged into the Creative Arts Programme (CAP) by a friend of mine. I started writing parodies and joke songs, mainly, and wrote my first poems for a CAP portfolio. After that I was sucked into the CAP establishment—I went for the camp throughout secondary school and JC, was mentored twice, went to the RJC Creative Writing Club and was chairman, and so on. I was active in the literature scene. This declined a bit in NS and stopped completely in university, despite me doing a creative writing concentration for my English major—I went to a class called ‘Uncreative Writing’ by Kenneth Goldsmith, and another class by Charles Bernstein, that introduced me to uncreative ways of writing—found poems, Google poems, and all that kind of postmodern stuff that annihilated my idea of the author for quite a long time, ten years to be exact, before I found my way back.
Q: What did you do in school? Did anything you do in school or people have any huge lasting impact on you?
A: Chess Club, Debate (secondary school), Drama (two-time winner of RJC Dramafeste), Model United Nations. Also was on the first team to represent Singapore for Odyssey of the Mind. And Wargamers, where we played Starcraft in school. I was also in an ah beng Half-Life / Counterstrike clan for most of JC.
Creative Writing Club probably had a significant impact on my writing career, under the iron grip of Ms Ho Poh Fun.
Q: What’s your editorial style? Similarly, how do you read?
A: 1. Collect data (all the time) in Evernote. 2. Assemble it into poetry. 3. Send it to the internets for feedback before editing.
I don’t come back to it that many times, but I spend distinct time on each step. There are some cases where I do Steps 1 and 2 together in one breath, but its about 50:50 of that and the cases where there’s a big distance between 1 and 2.
I try to read stuff in a dedicated stretch of time, usually in days rather than weeks. I read a lot while walking, driving, and even in the shower. I read less these days because smartphones affect my attention span. I usually read novels for pleasure. For poetry I need to set aside dedicated time and mood, and I normally can’t read that on my phone.
Q: What would you consider your primary day-to-day failure?
A: Not writing regularly. Day to day. I have so many good ideas in my head, as do most people. Very few make it to the page, as it is for most people.
Q: In the poem ‘invisible men’ you say, ‘I still don’t get why people carelessly/ detail their private life in public sight.’ Is this mainly the persona speaking or you? Do you think your poems do this? Is it important for a poet to do this?
A: A gentleman never tells.
Regardless, all my poem/personas always include some element of self-mockery. I am an unreliable narrator. A useful follow-up poem to that is ‘poetry reading’ from making love with scrabble tiles. It is important for a poet to be honest in sentiment. People can tell otherwise. You can be honest in sentiment without being honest to every detail. But sometimes detail helps. Shrug.
Q: In your view, what is the most dangerous thing for writing/a writer?
Q: If you had anything to say to an aspiring teenage writer to help get them started, what would you say?
A: Learn all the skills now. Internalise them. Become a really, really good technical poet. Then don’t write. Go to university. Have as many relationships as you can. In the process, get your heart broken and correspondingly break a few if you can. Get a job, get shouted at a bit, make some enemies, either fire someone or get fired. Live alone for a bit. Meet new people of different color or sexual persuasion. Pick up exciting ECAs and follow them through to their natural conclusion. Then after a decade or so of that kind of thing—pick up the pen again. The skills don’t go away, but sometimes you need to wait for the stories to arrive.