30 September, 2016 (Published in TODAY Online)
By Reena Devi Shanmuga Retnam
SINGAPORE — A new Youth Poet Ambassador (YPA) will be appointed for the very first time by the National Arts Council (NAC), with the aim to engage and inspire more young people to express themselves through poetry, and hopefully nurture a pool of younger generation poets.
Announced on Friday (Sept 30) evening at the launch of the National Poetry Festival (NPF)’s Sg Poems 2015-2016 anthology, NAC said the Youth Poet Ambassador, who will be appointed early next year for a period of two years, will be a young poet between the age of 21 and 35 years of age.
He or she is expected to conduct at least six public literary programmes, such as workshops, poetry readings and mentorships for aspiring writers, and pursue at least two professional development opportunities, such as masterclasses and residencies, including one manuscript. The ambassador will also have access to resources to publish new work and will be featured at literary events such as the National Poetry Festival and the Singapore Writers Festival.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Baey Yam Keng, who was the guest of honour at the event, said: “Poetry can lend a voice to our youth to express themselves, to speak on contemporary issues they face and inspire them to look at the world from different perspectives.
He added: “As we explore how we want our future to be shaped, we look to our youth to be an integral part of that important conversation.”
May Tan, NAC’s acting director for literary arts, said the council hopes to elevate the profile of poets and the role of poetry in society through this Youth Poet Ambassador programme. “The two-year YPA appointment is targeted towards the career and artistic development of the poet, and whose ambassadorial role will entail advocacy work for poetry through public engagement among the youth.”
Applicants, who are expected to have written in any one of Singapore’s four official languages, will be shortlisted by NPF for interviews in late November to early December this year, with a selection panel comprising of representatives from National Poetry Festival and National Arts Council as well as industry experts such as academics and practitioners.
The ambassador will be selected based on artistic potential, strength of proposed public events, track record and ability to establish rapport with young literary minds, and will be awarded an honorarium of S$500 per month as well as a professional development and programming budget totaling S$18,000.
This new programme comes at the back of the rising popularity of poetry in Singapore.
Poetry events at the Singapore Writers Festival last year for example, saw attendance recording a jump of 33 per cent from the year before. Meanwhile, the number of poetry titles supported by NAC has increased by 2.5 times from 2011 to 2015.
The scene has also shown increasing vibrancy in recent years, with strong ground-up involvement such as the SingPoWriMo (Singapore Poetry Writing Month), which garnered over 2,800 writers since its launch in April 2014.
SingPoWriMo’s parent company Sing Lit Station — a non-profit that aims to promote the literary scene, develop the craft of emerging and established writers, and engage the wider community in reading and writing — was founded by young Singapore writing talents Joshua Ip and Daryl Qilin Yam along with UK-born Singapore-based writer Jon Gresham.
They are currently working on raising funds for Singapore Poetry on the Sidewalks, inspired by Raining Poetry, a public art project held in Boston, United States, where poems stenciled on the city’s sidewalks become visible when it rains.
Recognising young literary talents such as the founders of Sing Lit Station is exactly what this programme hopes to encourage.
According to Kamini Ramachandran, vice-president of the Storytelling Association (Singapore), YPA is a timely initiative to recognise young literary talents. “We often underestimate the importance of expression and communication for our youth. The YPA initiative will provide a channel for young people’s voices to be heard. Poetry is a perfect platform for the empowerment of the personal and public minds,” she explained.
Singapore Literature Prize Winner Yong Shu Hoong added that having young poets act as ambassadors to inspire their own peers on the power, beauty and other possibilities of poetry is a good initiative. “I’ll definitely be interested to observe how youthful vigour and imagination can perhaps make all of us, young and old, view poetry in exciting new ways.”
While Edwin Thumboo, Singaporean poet and Cultural Medallion winner for Literature, acknowledged the merits of the programme, he said he hopes the scheme can be extended so that there is an ambassador for each language. "Or at least have two, then you can circulate it among the languages," he noted.
"This (programme) will give a boost to writing and poetry, and that is important because poetry is the best form of any language."