Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore, where the annual Writers Festival (SWF) has just kicked-off, with a knees-up much enlivened by the presence of The Proletariat Poetry Factory. This wonderful literary initiative consists of 25 or so Singaporean poets who write poems for the masses. The poets sit behind old-fashioned typewriters, and the clicking of the keys as they tap out their words makes a distinctive soundtrack to their work. They dress in bright red jumpsuits, each stitched with a label reading Servile Poet. They write, or perform, at factories and flea markets, as well as at events such as the launch of SWF.
Those wishing to receive a poem from The Proletariat Poetry Factory suggest a kernel word, and hey presto some time later - usually about 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on the poets' workload – they pick up the poem sprouted from it in the mind of one of the servile poets. In return for their poem, they are asked to make a donation, the amount is up to them, and the money raised is used to pay The Proletariat Poetry Factory’s expenses.
Tonight, people wanting poems had suggested kernel words as various as ginger, nutmeg, Manila, love, peace….According to one of the servile poets the worst words for inspiring poems are Happy Birthday.
One woman I talked to had given the poets the made-up kernel word Numnums. This was her pet name for her husband. She was delighted with her poem: “I love it!” She said. But she seemed less sure what her husband would make of it: “I have no idea what he will think – but the poem is sweet and endearing.”
Naturally, Asian Books Blog asked The Proletariat Poetry Factory for a poem. I left the kernel word words, and here is the resulting poem:
So do you have any words to say to me?
I looked outside, the sun
Set with a tired pallor,
A beautiful glow to it.
I’d learned how to avert gazes
All my life, I thought,
As I navigated the rough
Liminal spaces, forgotten identities
And timid hopeful smiles.
In what must have been an hour to you
I looked out of the window
To find these words: forgive me
For I do not know what I want:
What I need or what I have.
Not bad, huh? I especially like the image of the sun setting with a tired pallor.