Poet Grace Chia silenced into shock

From ‘Gender bias allegations over Singapore Literature Prize English Poetry results’, 6 Nov 2014, article by Corrie Tan, ST

Poet Grace Chia, whose poetry collection Cordelia was shortlisted for this year’s Singapore Literature Prize in the English poetry section, has strongly voiced her concerns over the apparent sidelining of women’s writing, saying that the results have left her “silenced into shock“.

The prize was awarded jointly to poets Joshua Ip and Yong Shu Hoong for their collections on Tuesday evening. The other poets on the shortlist were Tania De Rozario, who had previously won the 2011 Golden Point Award for English Poetry, Koh Jee Leong and Theophilus Kwek.

Chia wrote in a public post on the Junoesq Literary Journal’s Facebook page on Wednesday night: “The fact that the prize has been given to two co-winners who are both male poets is deeply informing of choice, taste and affirmation. A prize so coveted that it has been apportioned to two male narratives of poetic discourse, instead of one outstanding poet – reeks of an engendered privilege that continues to plague this nation’s literary community.”

If Ms Chia were indeed ‘silenced into shock’, she wouldn’t be complaining about literary sexism in a Facebook post. What does ‘deeply informing of choice, taste and affirmation’ even mean? Allow me to ‘poetise’ her sweeping rant with a poem of my own.

Cordelia didn’t win
Having 2 guys win is a sin
I’m stunned, I’m mute
Is it cos I’m too cute?
The pen is mightier than the sword
But mine failed to get me that award
Prose by ladies ain’t worth a dime
Especially if they were made to rhyme
Guys I challenge thee to a poetry slam
And make sure you say ‘Sorry ma’am’
I’m a women poet hear me roar
Imma call out this gender bias to settle the score

Though I have to admit I can’t for the life of me name a single female (or male) local poet, it’s probably unfair for Grace to claim that this bias ‘plagues the nation’s literary community’. Some of the best writers in this country are women, whether they be bustin’ rhymes or getting into trouble with politicians as a sideline (Catherine Lim). Poetry, however, seems predominantly male-dominated. A sensitive question to ask then, would be whether men are naturally BETTER at poetry than women. That would also explain why there are more male rappers than female, but it would incur the wrath of feminists waving the gender equality flag who think women are equally good, if not better drivers than men. Or maybe it’s a statistical fluke because so few people even want to venture into poetry in the first place.

I’d hate to think that poetry is a dying trade here. They’re probably more people listening to cassette tapes and gramophones than reading poetry, and I admire writers who have no qualms about introducing themselves as ‘poets’. Most people would imagine them as solitary bards strolling under the moonlight twirling their hands in long flowing robes creating sonnets on the go, or emo teens penning down melancholic verse on their blogs while contemplating suicide. The only thing more lofty-sounding than ‘poet’ is probably ‘sonnetist’. You can’t survive in Singapore without being a multi-hyphenate if you want to specialise in poetry. In Grace’s bibliography, she is credited with other publications, including Silver Kris, SIA’s inflight mag, and curiously, Success in Real Estate (Vol III).

There’s also this piece by Edwin Thumboo that’s apparently lauded as Singapore’s ‘MOST FAMOUS POEM’, called Ulysses by the Merlion. No I haven’t heard of it either. Ask a random Singaporean to quote a piece of poetry and they’ll struggle to come up with anything other than ‘Rose are Red, Violets are Blue’. Maybe we’re just too lazy to memorise anything lyrical outside of Kpop songs. In Korean.

Or maybe this is a ruse to get people to read ‘Cordelia’.  This is a sample of how the online blurb describes the poet and her work, some of the reviews by critics lively enough to be poetry themselves:

‘…EXCAVATES from the imagery of life..’: What is this, a manual for grave-digging?

‘(Her voice) lingers with a satisfying PIQUANCY long after it’s heard’: MMMM..Piquancy..

‘…the SYLVIA PLATH of Singapore’: Don’t go putting your head in the oven, dear

‘ …More seasoned arrows than gems, thrusting into the skin of pretense and complacency’: I don’t want to touch this deadly book, ever.

‘…Grace’s name in Mandarin is translated as “demure cloud”‘: …Crackling with thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening.

‘…These poems pull electricity up from the magmatic earth and down from an ether crawling with myth and dream’. Now THIS is just RIDICULOUS. Why don’t you just use the term ‘EARTH-SHATTERING’.

Fantastic cover art, by the way. Makes a good poster for the sequel to Annabelle.

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