Almost Spiritual Exercise
Susan Tsang watches a Roman circus
By Susan Tsang
It was with a touch of apprehension that I approached “Dreams and Portents - Beware the Ides of March” by 4 Crying Out Loud. Not because of any superstitious worry over the inauspicious date, but because performance poetry can be a tedious yawn when all the dressing is draped over a creative paucity.
I had no need to worry, however. In the arty setting of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, where a Chua Ek Kay exhibition was on the walls, the poetry of the Bard was combined with the very competent work of poets still extant, in an hour-long programme on 14 March that gave the audience a way of experiencing poetry other than as a reader.
Poetry-lovers here often only access verse from the printed page. We read it for ourselves in the privacy of home, with control over how fast we read, and the ability to re-read lines that defy easy comprehension.
The performance gave us a much more tenuous experience of poesy. When you only get to hear a poem once, elusive lines need not be delivered slowly, and cannot be re-read. This effect was amplified during the March 14 performance, with the range of accents involved, and different speeds and styles of delivery, including singing.
There was an American (is that a Bawstin?) accent by Richard Lord, and a slight Australian one from Chris Mooney Singh. Yong Shu Hoong’s delivery was thoughtful, whereas fellow Singaporean Julian Perry’s muscular, confrontational verse required a snappy recitation. There were also two guest performers, local poet Kensai and movement artist Lee Wai Ching, who not only performed poetry, but also served as “seers”.
Happily for the evening, the varied accents had good solid verse behind them. And while not every word could be caught in the mix of styles, there was still plenty to enjoy, be it skillful turns of phrase, quirky ideas, or clever associations.
Chris Mooney-Singh’s “The Boy In Jungle Greens” was a musing about how a young army conscript is set on a lifetime of uniforms and drills, while Yong’s “Talk Show” drew parallels between the TV entertainment and Roman circuses. Perry provided short, sharp phrases, and Lord amusingly tied himself up in a moebius strip of philosophy in “Reversal”, while playing with that famous conundrum of the butterfly’s dream.
But if the evening promised to simply let the audience’s mind skim over the poetry as it was performed, it developed (or is it degenerated?) into horror when the seers started picking out members of the audience and giving them poems to read out. Audience participation is one thing, but reading out poems that you’ve never seen before? And how would anyone catch the rhythms of Perry’s poetry on a quick scan before reciting? I kept my eyes averted from the seers, and cheered other victims on as they acquitted themselves rather well. Thankfully, the poems were short, and Perry’s work was not involved.
After the almost spiritual exercise of participation by listening, the evening ended with two more touches that could have happened in a place of religious worship — an offering, and wine. The audience gave generously, and drank deeply.QLRS Vol. 2 No. 3 Apr 2003