Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cyril Wong, Bernice Chauly, Jerome Kugan and some girl at No Black Tie

Thank you, Kenny, for the poster! :)

More about the performers:

Bernice Chauly is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, actor and teacher. She is also former co-publisher of Rhino Press and has published a collection of poems, "going there and coming back" and is the author of 'into the ice', Malaysia's first woman's journey into Antarctica. Her work as a poet explores subjects including love, history and identity.

Jerome Kugan is a writer and musician. He started writing poetry since the age of 14 in 1989. He currently works as an editor for a local magazine. He is currently compiling a collection of poems to be called Imaginary Poems. Visit www.myspace.com/jkugan

Sharanya Manivannan is a writer, painter, dancer, photographer and actress, among other things. She is working on her novel Constellation of Scars and completing a book of poems. Her full-length solo spoken word show will be at No Black Tie on June 3rd. She can be found at http://sharanyamanivannan.blogspot.com and www.myspace.com/sharanyamanivannan.

Cyril Wong is the author of four collections of poetry. A winner of the Singapore Literature Prize and the National Arts Council's Young Artist Award in his country, his poetry has been featured in international journals such as Atlanta Review, Poetry International, Fulcrum and Asia Literary Review. He has been a featured poet at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, among others. He is also a renegade countertenor who has given solo-performances at the Seoul Fringe Festival, the Hong Kong Fringe Club and The Substation in Singapore.

Venue: No Black Tie, Jalan Mesui, off Jalan Nagasari (behind Hotel Istana)
Date: Sunday April 1st
Time: 9pm
Entry: RM15

Set Menu (RM108, includes show)
Crab Salad with Mango
Gindara Kimchee Soup
Nigiri Moriawase (assorted Nigiri Sushi) or Tuna Yaki Roll (seared tuna roll)
Green Tea Ice-Cream with Crunchy Hazelnut & Dark Chocolate

For reservations please call 21423737 or email noblacktie@gmail.com

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The First Cross-Causeway Poetry Slam

"Readings" and Word Forward (Singapore)

proudly present

The First Cross-Causeway Poetry Slam™


K. L. Poets:

Tshiung Han See
Jasmine Low
Fynn Jamal
Sheena Baharudin
Dato Shanmugalingam
Peter Brown
Sharanya Manivannan

Singapore Poets:

Chris Mooney-Singh
Marc Nair
Pooja Nansi
Bani Haykkal

Poetry Slam™ is the competitive art of writing and performing poetry.

Rules: contestants should bring 3 original poems written by the presenter. Each up to 3 minutes in length. No props, costumes or musical instruments are used during the slam.

“The Points are not the point, the point is Poetry” – Alan Wolf

For more information go to http://www.wordforward.org

Date and Time: 3.30 p.m. Saturday 31st march 2007
Place: Seksan's, 67, Jalan Tempinis 1, Lucky Garden Bangsar.

Map: see www.seksan.com/map.html

"Readings" is the love-child of Bernice Chauly, fostered at present by Sharon Bakar and made possible with the generous sponsorship of Seksan and La Bodega.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sole Searching

I am addicted to shoes. It started when I was thirteen and found the perfect pair for my needs at the time -- black, open-toed, four and a half inch heels -- in Komtar, Penang, for RM10. For years after, I returned every six months to get another pair, until they finally stopped stocking this particular model. I wore them everywhere; they were, after all, the only pair I owned.

But something happened when I could no longer get my footsies on those heels. A lust that would repeat itself in other moments of footwear-loss anchored itself in me. Even before I gained the power to buy, I understood the power and powerlessness of craving.

Now, I probably have two and a half dozen pairs. Maybe three dozen. Maybe... four. I will delight in counting them at the next opportunity, and delight in not telling you. Bags I have enough of to render even the most multi-armed deity insufficiently-endowed to carry them all. Jewelry I have enough of to put to shame anyone I have ever met (believe me, some have dared to contest). Clothes... let's not even go there. But these, with phases of exception, don't reduce me to a walking strutting, swaggering fetishist. I have never in recent memory been able to contend against the allure of a shoe shop, whether it's to enter it or swivel just to stare.

I have the flat feet of a dancer, broader at the toes, which the wrong pair of shoes can make scream murder (I've never been able to shake off the notion that my grandmother's chastising might have held true: my feet did grow funny because I sat with one leg crossed on the floor and one knee raised. She warned me the pretty shoes were going to be painful). The most expensive pair I have are black suede ankle boots from Nine West, a present. The least expensive, pointy-toed brown suede pumps, which I found in a bargain bin for RM5. The most unreasonable things I have done for shoes? Bought seven pairs in seven days to "overcome" the loss of a few thanks to a reckless/jealous ex-housemate. Convinced a friend to drive me to three different branches of a certain brand just so as to find that pair in that colour, my size. And I will not even mention the calluses that keep my toes constant company. I can't always have the world at my feet, and like anyone, I very rarely do -- but I sure can have some otherworldly beauties on them.

I'm the Imelda Marcos of spoken word, I told a friend recently. I've had audience members tell me they like my shoes while I'm onstage. I know exactly what Tori Amos meant when she said, "They're architecture, you know?": while I can't resist a pretty slipper, it's skyscrapers that are really my thing -- how else would I convince you I'm really five feet tall? Go on, tell me I'm perpetuating a throwback to foot-binding practices. I'll show you what my boots are made for.

This post was inspired by a few things. One, this guilt-lifting article by Lesley White (how could one not feel secure in their sanity in comparison to that "one smitten customer, a size 41, [who] buys her favourites in a neat 37 to display on a shelf, art works with potential investment value"?). Two, the fact that I found a tee-shirt the other day, hot pink with a sassy stilleto heel on it and the words Sole Searching emblazoned across it.

And three:

My solo show has been confirmed.

It was originally supposed to be called sizefoursandal, a sort of step-into-my-shoes invite. But I've decided that it's too cutesy. I'll be channeling Kali/Karna (as in Karna Considers Yuanfen) in the publicity material. And the contradiction doesn't work for me anyway, barefoot or not. I've got too many fangs to fool anyone. Weakness for shoes or not. So I did what I knew would make things fall into place. I went to my secret beach, and I found out. It will not be called sizefoursandal, although I may yet use that title elsewhere. It will be called something else, something I'm not going to reveal just yet. Everything comes together at my secret beach. It always does. And when that beach is gone, lost as it probably will be to the devastating expansion of the resorts, it will live on in my novel. My bolt-rope beach, sliver of paradise.

I must tell you about Karna.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Ringing of the Bards Poetry Carnival, March 24 2007 Edition

Bad prose from great poetry (hover your cursor over the passage to see the links): Her lover said, with a certain reverence, “It’s true. I never meant to hurt you.” Lucifer's whisper. An immortal garland of words, a language that admits no lies. The colour of a body turned inside out. Dancing, flaunting, ravaging: red as the dragonfly, red as rose petals burned by summer's heat to brown.

[Thank you bards! -- River, Patricia Low, Mad Kane, Neha Vishwanathan, Miss Fynn, Nicholas Wong, kG, Tiel Aisha Ansari, Cyril Wong, Faridah Manaf, Aravindh Natarajan, Maryam Ansari, Tiel again]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Updates Galore

So many, so many, so many updates.

I. Chennai
1. Photos will be up when I'm back in KL. Hopefully sometime next week.
2. Kitschy Kitten is not defunct! I couldn't afford to replenish my stock on this trip. But trust me, we'll be back on our paws this year! The original stock moved fairly quickly, leaving behind too few items to sustain a kiosk. I didn't return to India for a year after, and when I did, was there on serious personal reasons, not work of any sort. But worry not -- I won't let a cool name like Kitschy Kitten and a cool mascot like Neferkitty go to waste! I won't!

II. Singapore
1. Have been here the last few days. Met with bunch of litty folks including Zafar Anjum, Cyril Wong, Kenny of Books Actually, Eric Low, Terence of Literati. Convinced Cyril to come read in KL on April 1st. Lots in the works... including:
2. Two performances here in April. More details soon.

1. Solo show confirmed for June.
2. A favour for a friend: do check this out.
3. Slew of readings coming up, possibly over three days in a row. More, soon.

IV. Beyond Borders
1. I can't wait to tell you who the publisher is (seriously, I can't wait!), but I'm editing an anthology of young South Asian women's writing. Have had to keep my lips zipped on this for months, and will have to do so for a little while yet.
2. Have been invited to be a columnist for United Press International (UPI), the international news agency, so you'll be seeing some of my articles on their website, and possibly licensed to various different publications too.
2. Posted of woman torn by Suheir Hammad on Puisi-Poesy for International Women's Day.

More, more, more soon, soon, soon.

Calling All Scribbling Scribes!

Just a reminder for those of you who thought it might be cool but then forgot to submit: I'll be hosting the Ringing of the Bards Poetry Carnival here on March 24th, and I'll post it up late Saturday night (that would be my time, GMT+8!).

So if you have an original poem which you recently posted on your blog or will be posting in the next few days, and would like to get it linked up in the carnival, do drop me an email at sharanya(dot)manivannan(at)gmail(dot)com. Please send it in by Friday, my time (US folks - Thursday yours, to keep it simple!) :)

Saturday, March 17, 2007


I loved it, and saw it on Thursday, the same day it opened in KL. Jayani Sarala Kariyawasam (above) carries so much of the film: it's impossible to take your eyes off her. I believe that things happen for a reason, and maybe the reason why Water was years in the making was for her; it's difficult to imagine another actor bringing as much to the role. In fact, the cast seems so consummate as a whole that one could almost believe that they were all Deepa Mehta's original choices (they weren't). Seema Biswas shines with a quiet energy, John Abraham convinces us that he's actor material after all, and Lisa Ray in her unthreatening run-of-the-millness nuances a role that someone like Nandita Das, with her personal charm and persona, may have been too overwhelming for.

I'm a big crier when it comes to films, pretty indiscriminately too (I've cried at ones I hated, and not out of passionate boredom or irritation). But I know I've found a film that I will see again, likely many times, when I don't cry at the first viewing. When I want to cry, maybe do a little, but don't indulge myself the blinking. Needless to say, Water falls into this category.

It's an elegant and understated film and by itself, as a story, it is endlessly evocative. But it is as a polemic that I take issue with it.

Until the very last thing on screen before the credits appear, Water simply, well, flows. And then it jars. The film ends with text titles referencing the 2001 census figure of there being 34 million widows in India at present. It goes on on to say that many of these widows live under conditions sanctioned 2000 years ago.

How many is many?

I know that women in India's political ranks are no prototypes of the status of the common women of India, but Sonia Gandhi is a widow. As was Indira Gandhi at the height of her career, most of which developed after Feroze Gandhi's death in 1960. Both these women are exceptions in more ways than one: but in a society where the situations portrayed in Water are the norm, their status/success would have been totally impossible.

The statement with which the film ends suggests that millions of Indian women suffer today in the cloister of widow ashrams, cannot remarry, were child brides, are forced into prostitution, live lives of privation and must choose only between sati, self-denial or marrying one's brother-in-law -- all by virtue of the deaths of their spouses. For a period piece, a contemporary statistic like that is meaningless, unless it serves to illustrate contrast, likeness or continuity, the last of which is what seems to be the intention in Water's case. Sure enough, many widows do suffer in India, but chances are they suffer because of general poverty and the human condition, not the very outdated laws of Manu, which in the first place weren't rigorously followed, or even widely-known, until British colonialists decided it would benefit them to reinstate them. Widows in general suffer today just as widowers, the married, and the single do -- not necessarily more and not necessarily less.

What I find most ludicrous on the whole, just as I was appalled to discover about two minutes ago that there is an International Widows Day for the "husbandless" is this: defining a woman by whether or not her husband is alive is terribly reductionist, and assuming that her suffering is because of this fact is even more so. I know and fully agree that women in India are immensely oppressed. But as women. Not as their titles as per patriarchal categorization.

As a period piece, the film works beautifully. As a polemic, it not just falls flat with inaccuracy but comes across as extremely manipulative. All well-told stories and all meaningful art are imbued with the power of suggestion: they are potent enough in themselves to inspire the very questions they don't have to pose and the answers they don't have to provide. To have ended the film with Biswas watching that train chug down the tracks of destiny would have been enough: within that denouement is contained past, present and the future that is our present. Not everything needs to be a goddamn manifesto.

When will we, artists and ambassadors of all kinds, learn that our stories do not always need to be justified?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Send me to Chicago!

[Sticky-posted until I get some funds!!! The letter below was mass-emailed out, and I've decided to screw being discreet -- maybe you can help me? Get in touch with me via email, please!]

Dear friends,

I'm writing not to boast and not yet to share good news, but to sincerely ask if any of you have any ideas that could help me out with regards to a great opportunity which is just a little out of my reach.

I've been invited by Desilit, a US-based organisation for South Asian and diasporic literature, to participate in their 2007 Kriti Literary Festival in Chicago at the end of April. More about the festival is here http://www.desilit.org/kriti.html, and some of the panellists include Anita Desai and Shyam Selvadurai (I hyperventilated when I read this, as he's one of my fave authors).

Desilit will sponsor USD300 toward my travel expenses, and provide accomodation as well. However, USD300 is in no way going to be enough to cover my airfare (either KL-Chicago-KL but more likely Singapore-Chicago-KL, not including transit stops), and I simply cannot afford to shell out for the remainder myself. I don't actually know what the full cost is (I can find out in the next couple of days), but it will definitely be more than the RM1200 or so that USD300 works out to -- which would barely get me to Chennai and back! :)

Hence, I need to find an organisation (or individual, even) that is willing to sponsor the remaining amount for me. This needs to be done as soon as possible, because I'll need to apply (and get!) a US visa as well.

If you have any ideas as to who to approach, that would be fantastic. It's okay if I have more than one sponsor, too. The only thing is, it would truly have to be sponsorship and not a loan -- the only way I can pay them back is through acknowledging their assistance in my book when it is published, mentioning it in press releases for my future events, and a permanent shoutout on my blog sidebar. :) Oh -- if a publication wants to sponsor me so I can also get some journo work done, that would also be great.

As you can probably tell, I'm not familiar with how to go about this at all, and this dropped into my lap quite suddenly. I'm excited and grateful that Desilit has offered what they have already offered -- the icing on the cake of course would be to be able to attend!

Thank you!

Updates: 1. I've now been confirmed as a panel speaker.
2. Have received sponsorship amounting to RM2500, courtesy of Enfiniti Productions, Desilit's original contribution and private donors. Need to raise a remaining RM1500-RM2000.