by Journal Watermark

After a sumptuous lunch and an array of student performances, we return to listen to four immensely talented writers, Cyril Wong, Gwee Li Sui, Tse Hao Guang, and Patricia Karunungan, as they share about “Using Narrative Poetry to Develop Writing Skills”.

First off, what is narrative poetry? Simply put by the panellists, it is a type of poetry that tells a story — examples including ancient epics and local favourites Missing by Alfian Sa’at and After Fire by Boey Kim Cheng. Having regular rhythm and metre (and hence considered more musical), the genre emerged from the oral tradition and helped tell stories through word of mouth.

Next, we come to the reasons we write narrative poetry. For Patricia, poetry’s ambiguity helps one claim territory as one’s own, since it is more tethered to art than truth; while and precisely because it may not be factually accurate and is less governed by a fixed set of rules, it empowers people who fall through the cracks and validates their subjective realities. Yet, it is not an easy genre to write, Gwee notes, due to the tension between poetry (which relishes ambivalence and uncertainty) and narrative (which usually has a clearer trajectory); hence, writers have to strike a balance between telling a comprehensible story while maintaining a poetic style.

We then discuss how we can develop writing skills through this form. On one hand, Patricia thinks a lot about the audience of her works to decide how best to convey a message. On the other hand, Hao Guang is more suspicious, believing that we should enjoy the writing process regardless of audience, a sentiment echoed by Cyril who urges youths to be less concerned with being a better writing, but rather strive to discover the form that allows one to best express one’s thoughts and emotions in a rich, authentic, and powerful manner. (As Hao Guang quips, prose is life in tension; poetry is language in tension.)

As the Q&A session kicks off, some audience members bring up the issue of the pressure on young writers to publish manuscripts, especially in a competitive Singapore. On this, all the panellists unanimously believe that we should be ready before doing so. In addition, Cyril encourages young writers to confront profound questions regarding why we write about a subject matter, separating such introspection from addressing the more audience-oriented worries such as whether one’s pieces cater to people’s tastes and preferences.

Another related issue raised was on when we should publish, to which Hao Guang believes it is important to decide after filtering the external “noises” from the crowded field, seeking professional advice, and once again being personally ready. Moreover, Patricia reassures us that nobody else has the unique point of view that you do, while Cyril believes we all have a choice between seeking influence by being a ‘famous and shameless’ industry player or truly finding out who one is.

Ultimately, the panellists hope that young writers will continue to see creative writing as an exploratory journey, enjoy the poetic freedom and learn from mistakes, while training oneself to be more detached and objective when evaluating one’s works. Don’t be too stressed to showcase if you aren’t prepared, but keep all your drafts that may inspire future works and allow you to connect with your past self. In this journey of self discovery, believe not (just) in yourself but also the process! And if nothing else, coming to terms with one’s writing and oneself will be the most valuable takeaways.