Opening Speech by Guest-Of-Honour, SMS Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Education, at the Opening Ceremony of Poetry Festival (Singapore) 2019, at the Arts House’s Gallery II

Published Date: 19 July 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. A very good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me to the opening of this year’s Poetry Festival. I am delighted to be here tonight, and to have this opportunity to experience and enjoy the beauty of poetry in Singapore.

THE POWER OF POETRY

2. Two recent phenomena add to the growing popularity of poetry in Singapore. First, spoken word or performance poetry is taking place in school auditoriums and city bars. This takes poetry back to its historical roots: when the village or kampong used to gather around a fire at night to listen to a story-teller sharing epic tales.

3. The second phenomenon is the publication of poetry and autobiographies by migrant workers in Singapore. Stranger to Myself, for example, is an award-winning collection of diary entries and poems by M.D. Sharif Uddin, a Bangladeshi construction worker in Singapore. His book reveals the hopes and fears of migrant workers who have come to Singapore to work, to earn some money, and to support their families back home.

4. These two recent developments highlight how poetry can promote reflection and understanding within our society. The faster the world changes and the more technology we use, the greater will be the desire for us to retain the human need for emotional wellness and the connection with others in society.

5. Poetry, or rather, all literature, can play an important role in helping gain a better understanding of the world around us. We read to expand our imagination, to build new worlds, to put ourselves in the shoes of others who may be completely different from us. We use words to express our feelings and thoughts. We read and write about our experiences, aspirations and dreams. For special occasions, when simple, everyday language is just not quite enough to convey the strong emotions we feel, we can better express them through poetry. Indeed, poetry allows us to connect on a deeper level with one another.

SUPPORTING POETRY IN SINGAPORE

6. Ladies and gentlemen, for multilingual and multicultural Singapore, I believe that the unique interactions between our different races, cultures and languages can lead to a fascinating metamorphosis of artistic and literary ideas and forms.

7. In the poem “Another Place”, written in 1992 by poet Boey Kim Cheng, he describes how the trajectory of time could elicit in travellers and readers a longing to make sense of their journey. Please allow me to read his poem to you.

Another place, another life, another book,
we go on without a return ticket, on the trail
of the vanished song, the elusive lines unlocking
a whole library of meaning, our lives shelved
in comprehensive order, for us who will arrive
clothed in dust and dusk, to sit at the appointed desks
and pore over the pages, search out the thread
stringing together all arrivals and departures
which our hands will tell, over and over
as if in prayer, as if in peace.

8. We have found a common thread, based on our shared values and desires, and expressed through our poetry. We need to continue working as one society so that we can better engage one another to build a more inclusive and harmonious Singapore.

9. I studied Engineering in school, but when I started working I realised that very often you need to persuade other people. You have to reach deeper and connect with people at an emotional level because what you want to do is to win hearts and minds, and not just persuade with logical thinking. That’s where I think literature, poetry, and language becomes a very useful medium of communication, to connect with other people, to persuade others, and to be able to bring society together.

10. I wish all of you a wonderful evening ahead, and many fruitful and pleasurable experiences with poetry throughout the festival. Thank you.

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