Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Hamid Roslan
By Yong Shu Hoong
For some time, a buzz had gone around Singapore's literary scene that there was this excellent manuscript by a young poet about to be published – one that was worth looking out for. Then in July, that book was out. The author is Hamid Roslan, whose works have appeared in The Volta, Asymptote and QLRS. His debut collection is titled parsetreeforestfire (2019), a term made up of four words that incidentally are also the name of each of the book's four sections.
As the description on the yellow flap under the purple cover declares, this is "a bilingual book of poetry in which poems in Singlish occupy one side of the book, and poems in English on the other." Hamid uses the term "translation", but some critics may disagree as reading the English and Singlish versions side-by-side reveals nonliteral, highly creative, or even "transformative" (as one Singaporean writer puts it), relationships between the languages he navigates. (Readers, of course, are free to draw their own conclusions.)
At a literary event in August, Hamid revealed that the book started as a Yale-NUS College project under his advisor, Filipino poet and lecturer Lawrence Lacambra Ypil. In his blurb for parsetreeforestfire, Ypil says it constructs "itself out of the edges language makes when it chooses to wager against its own best interests." According to another blurb by Yeow Kai Chai, poet and one of QLRS's editors: "What a sonic thrill this stew of tongues is."
In an article published on the website of his publisher, Ethos Books, Hamid is said to have responded to an audience question in yet another event: "I don't think I can write the same book like this again because I don't want to do the same thing twice but also because writing this book was hard. There were periods when it was… so all consuming, like I remember spending like an entire weekend doing it and just neglecting everything else, and then there were times when it was utterly silent and I could not actually find my way back into the book."
Now that parsetreeforestfire is out, the silence is broken. The book speaks. And now the poet continues to speak…
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but…
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
I hate "else", especially when it's used at the beginning of a sentence.
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three words: farewell, joke, dissent.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. Singlish is featured prominently in parsetreeforestfire. How did you decide on this concept, and what are the challenges in the execution?
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?