SOTA: School of the Arts Singapore

Literary Arts faculty clinches awards at National Poetry Competition

Published on Sep 28, 2021
Our Literary Arts faculty clinched several awards at this year's National Poetry Competition, organised by Poetry Festival Singapore. With the theme "Community", the competition saw students Isabelle Lim (Year 4) and Maegan Tan (Year 3) placing 1st and 2nd respectively in the Junior category, while faculty member Mr Ian Goh placed 2nd in the Senior category. Isabelle also performed her poem at the online awards ceremony held earlier this August.

Congratulations Isabelle, Maegan and Mr Goh! View their works below.

mother tongue
The remnants of your homeland still remain on my lips:
viennoiseries 2, salty-sweet, a lingering aftertaste, half-forgotten.
Yet, the aroma that permeates the crevices of my life are yours,
Maman. I still remember four years of French phonetics,
Alliance-Francais 2, learning to speak your syllables, learning to be;
un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit,
counting on my chubby fingers till it was muscle memory,
an identity eventually drowned out by a different set of characters,
a mother tongue that wasn’t yours, Maman, pre-decided for me
by faceless admin from a country not even my own,
但一个陌生人凭什么为我做出决定? 4

French, driftwood in a vast grammatical ocean, ghosting through my fingers
like sand, miniscule grains sticking to my fingers, inconsequential,
insufficient for neither a sandcastle nor sentence, bonjour, merci,
Maman, maison
. Arcachon, your seaside hometown,
briny ocean air, oysters on ice at the farmer’s market,
slow-waved, simple, nothing like this city of steel-plated structure:
home to you for 25 years, yet not home at all, frigid glass against
the warm palms of memory, the familiarity of tongues and fresh lobster.
You tried your best; mahjong club, chinese class clumsiness, sticky syllables,
vexing vowels, still, betraying a continent of difference, oriental secrets:
小时候,我为了上中文课而 5
摒弃法文时,你可曾埋怨过我吗? 6

I should have held every single ingredient, every little crumb
of your culture closer to my chest, all of it now buried in a locked fridge
in the pantry of a long-gone childhood, bittersweet brie festering before me,
time the ultimate spore, blooming grey-green between the milky layers of my life.
I’ll recite Jean-Paul Sartre by heart, sing Edith Piaf if the words mean something
to you; existentialisme, la vie en rose, do you understand me, Maman?
你的话跟法文的含义一样深吗? 8

I love you.
你明白吗? 9
Isabelle Lim
1 baked goods, puff pastries
2 a French centre in Singapore
3 In the government’s eyes, my mother tongue is Chinese,
4 but how can strangers decide my mother tongue for me?
5 When I was young, and took on Chinese lessons
6 and gave up French, did you ever resent me?
7 Whenever you talk to me in English,
8 do your words hold the same weight as in French?
9 Do you understand?
I hear the ferocious and unrelenting waves
as they crashed onto our weak
wooden boats, in Pa’s
thunderous laugh that holds the tempest.

I see the coconuts rolling around
agile feet that danced
off the ground, in my sister’s
nimble walk that mocks the turning fibres.

I feel the trembling of the women
when the Japanese stepped foot into
their stick houses, in Ahma’s
shaky hands when she digs out the buried memories.

I can taste the spices that searched
for an unknowing mouth
in the shop, in Ma’s
words that ride like fire off her tongue and into my throat.

I can smell the sour sweat
of the workers as they toiled
building the attap leaf houses, in Ah Kong’s
perspiring face as he fixes an Ikea cabinet for me.

I look around and I can see
The fire of the past burning
within these four concrete walls,
The tales of what once was,
echoing through our corridors.
Maegan Tan
Iyasu 1
When the tsunami came, it went
with street-lamps, two-storey minka,
wads of yen stowed away in bedrolls,
seven-year Mazdas in need of washing
and that sebun-irebun down on Route Six
I used to buy matcha kit-kats from when
I was five. Obāchan was in the kitchen
making mochi and pickled rice balls
when the forty-metre waves came for her,
and went, winding up mountain paths
to Suwa and Kobine before receding
like prayers unanswered. Today, her eyes
stare out to sea as though she’s somewhere out there,
like the man who twice bowed and clapped
his hands before leaping in as an offering
to Namazu, the Earthshaker. Shinchi, the
survivors called their new earth, layers of
raw memory steeped away like the pink,
salt-stung hide of a newborn’s, their bare
feet bathed in the still waters that came,
and went, and made way for the healing
yet to come.
Ian Goh
1 To heal