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Singapore is a country of many invented, transplanted, or self-made myths and fables, but one looms above them all. 1969 marks the famous declaration of the myth: "Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford." As our island nation approaches its 50th anniversary wielding extraordinary wealth and prosperity, it is timely to review the narrative that has shepherded us through the pas Singapore is a country of many invented, transplanted, or self-made myths and fables, but one looms above them all. 1969 marks the famous declaration of the myth: "Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford." As our island nation approaches its 50th anniversary wielding extraordinary wealth and prosperity, it is timely to review the narrative that has shepherded us through the past half-century. Indeed, it seems only poetic justice to examine this polarising mythos through the ballyhooed medium of poetry. To praise and appraise this most poetic of figures, 56 of Singapore's finest poets offer up 65 poems that promise to excite, exhilarate, and electrify, to a man.


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Singapore is a country of many invented, transplanted, or self-made myths and fables, but one looms above them all. 1969 marks the famous declaration of the myth: "Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford." As our island nation approaches its 50th anniversary wielding extraordinary wealth and prosperity, it is timely to review the narrative that has shepherded us through the pas Singapore is a country of many invented, transplanted, or self-made myths and fables, but one looms above them all. 1969 marks the famous declaration of the myth: "Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford." As our island nation approaches its 50th anniversary wielding extraordinary wealth and prosperity, it is timely to review the narrative that has shepherded us through the past half-century. Indeed, it seems only poetic justice to examine this polarising mythos through the ballyhooed medium of poetry. To praise and appraise this most poetic of figures, 56 of Singapore's finest poets offer up 65 poems that promise to excite, exhilarate, and electrify, to a man.

30 review for A Luxury We Cannot Afford: An Anthology of Singapore Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kellynn Wee

    Anthologies, by nature, are always a bit of a hit and miss. There were many poems here that I liked and others that did not connect with me. I think here I found the subject matter tiresome after a while--I grew tired of dwelling on Lee Kuan Yew, poetry, censorship, and the state; and it did not help that there was a repetition of that damned image of him crying on TV in black and white. I couldn't decide if I wanted him humanised, lionised, or damned; and maybe it just reflects my own ambivalen Anthologies, by nature, are always a bit of a hit and miss. There were many poems here that I liked and others that did not connect with me. I think here I found the subject matter tiresome after a while--I grew tired of dwelling on Lee Kuan Yew, poetry, censorship, and the state; and it did not help that there was a repetition of that damned image of him crying on TV in black and white. I couldn't decide if I wanted him humanised, lionised, or damned; and maybe it just reflects my own ambivalence about LKY in general, my desire to move away from this one-man show that does not define the outer limits of what I know to be Singapore. The final two lines, written by David Wong in a poem titled "Impossible Biography", sums it up: "For who among us have seen him? / Who among us treading water beneath his tower have seen anything at all?"

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Kellogg

    A superb, and superbly clever, anthology of poetry from Singapore, all in response to the statement that poetry is "a luxury we cannot afford" as made by Singapore's founding father back in the 1960s. The poems themselves range widely in style and approach, and the anthology groups them into sets roughly around the city, the life of that nameless, though fully known, founding father, and the statement "poetry is a luxury we cannot afford" itself. The collection is necessarily uneven in content, A superb, and superbly clever, anthology of poetry from Singapore, all in response to the statement that poetry is "a luxury we cannot afford" as made by Singapore's founding father back in the 1960s. The poems themselves range widely in style and approach, and the anthology groups them into sets roughly around the city, the life of that nameless, though fully known, founding father, and the statement "poetry is a luxury we cannot afford" itself. The collection is necessarily uneven in content, with some poems (the more traditional ones, in my view) less successful than others. But the elliptical call to action that the book has enabled makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts, and there are poems in this anthology I will return to again and again. A must for anybody interested in modern Singapore and the possibilities of literature in a benevolent autocracy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    I stumbled across this book by accident in a little shop in Joo Chiat the other day. What a find! It is an anthology of poems published last year, only months before the death of Lee Kuan Yew, reflecting on the nature and complexity of the man who called poetry a luxury Singapore could not afford. A fascinating honest daring moving creative mixture of respect and critique directed toward the man and his legacy. It marks a moment in history and is the sort of anthology you can pick up and dip int I stumbled across this book by accident in a little shop in Joo Chiat the other day. What a find! It is an anthology of poems published last year, only months before the death of Lee Kuan Yew, reflecting on the nature and complexity of the man who called poetry a luxury Singapore could not afford. A fascinating honest daring moving creative mixture of respect and critique directed toward the man and his legacy. It marks a moment in history and is the sort of anthology you can pick up and dip into many times over; I expect I will.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Angelin

    One book with varying views that offer different perspectives that truly got to me - both the use of the language of the poets contributing to this anthology, and also what each of these poems meant. Kudos to The Man who inspired these wonderful works.

  5. 4 out of 5

    mm

    A collection of poems in honour of Singapore's founding father who once famously said that poetry was 'a luxury we cannot afford' in building our new nation. How times have changed with poetry books being published each and every year now, mostly by local publisher Math Paper Press, which has put this beautiful volume together. All on Lee Kuan Yew. Poets recount historical events; go into his mind; tell of his love of his wife, his country; his pain?; his regrets?. We can only speculate. So many be A collection of poems in honour of Singapore's founding father who once famously said that poetry was 'a luxury we cannot afford' in building our new nation. How times have changed with poetry books being published each and every year now, mostly by local publisher Math Paper Press, which has put this beautiful volume together. All on Lee Kuan Yew. Poets recount historical events; go into his mind; tell of his love of his wife, his country; his pain?; his regrets?. We can only speculate. So many beautiful pieces that I cannot list my favourites. Just one, for a taste: 22*C / 19*C a curtain discloses light in the afternoon an air-conditioner prepares a room nightly his chamber is cooled for slumber the sky is ripe and round with crescents I am looking forward to reading the next volume, 'A Luxury We Must Afford'. & that we must.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    An impressive anthology of poetry about The Man, that displays the vast gamut of Singaporean literary voices in plain sight, showing over and over how poetry is, in the words of Norashiqin Toh, 'not luxurious. It is simply necessary.' [Review 1 - 16/05/17.]

  7. 4 out of 5

    Celeste

    Some hits and misses, but a meaningful collection exploring one of our famed myths, coinciding with Singapore’s 50th birthday

  8. 4 out of 5

    CuriousBookReviewer

    Curiosity level: Beautiful, honest, and enchanting "I know. What you meant to say is: we cannot afford poetry as a luxury, for poetry is not luxurious. It is simply necessary." - p.33 In this anthology of poems, 56 of our country's best poets dedicate poems to "The Man". He had raised a country from the ashes to beauty - but there were things that even great men like him can't never get away with saying. One was his (in)famous maxim: "Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford". Spanning 65 poems, these Curiosity level: Beautiful, honest, and enchanting "I know. What you meant to say is: we cannot afford poetry as a luxury, for poetry is not luxurious. It is simply necessary." - p.33 In this anthology of poems, 56 of our country's best poets dedicate poems to "The Man". He had raised a country from the ashes to beauty - but there were things that even great men like him can't never get away with saying. One was his (in)famous maxim: "Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford". Spanning 65 poems, these poet citizens lovingly (some cheekily) respond to His quote, to His rulership and life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Judith Huang

    One of the most coherent anthologies out there! Probably all thanks to one man...

  10. 4 out of 5

    jin jie

    Perspectives are essential in life, and I had the opportunity to read this after The Man has passed on. This gave me a wonderful chance to read the anthology in retrospect, rather than the original intention, being published in 2014. There is a whole plethora of ideas, some placed in uncanny juxtapositions, others in intriguing methods, yet perhaps these unplanned contradictions hint at a complicated portrait of The Man. I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology, of which I can quote the ending lines Perspectives are essential in life, and I had the opportunity to read this after The Man has passed on. This gave me a wonderful chance to read the anthology in retrospect, rather than the original intention, being published in 2014. There is a whole plethora of ideas, some placed in uncanny juxtapositions, others in intriguing methods, yet perhaps these unplanned contradictions hint at a complicated portrait of The Man. I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology, of which I can quote the ending lines of the final poem, which offers us another avenue to consider our founding father in. "For who among us have seen him? / Who among us treading water beneath his tower have seen / anything at all?"

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jericho Eames

    I now appreciate local literature. It's something to be able to understand the writers' and their lingo. It's something to understand things because you're Singaporean, it makes it a lot more relatable and a lot more raw. I feel connected somehow. There are really good poems in this collection, such as "Cut". It's one of my personal favourites. I feel a lot more optimistic about the local literature scene after reading this collection. Maybe we're onto something here.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shao Kai

  13. 4 out of 5

    Scissor Stockings

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  15. 5 out of 5

    cat k

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Ming

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sue

  18. 4 out of 5

    Francis

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elisa Lur

  21. 4 out of 5

    Daryl

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rosamunde F

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mickey

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I sped through this. This is an electrifying collection and very thought-provoking. It reads like a very intense examination of poetry as a "luxury we cannot afford" and a thorough questioning of Singapore's narrative of pragmatism. A whole gallery of poets and voices rotate before the reader to give their thoughts and feelings of poetry, pragmatism and the Man. Some are sympathetic to him, some are critical, some are contemplative, some are callous. It has made me reflect on the ways Singaporea I sped through this. This is an electrifying collection and very thought-provoking. It reads like a very intense examination of poetry as a "luxury we cannot afford" and a thorough questioning of Singapore's narrative of pragmatism. A whole gallery of poets and voices rotate before the reader to give their thoughts and feelings of poetry, pragmatism and the Man. Some are sympathetic to him, some are critical, some are contemplative, some are callous. It has made me reflect on the ways Singaporeans view him, from the overwhelmingly positive public to the very negative singlit minority.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jon

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tim H.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kenny Leck

  29. 4 out of 5

    Clin Lai

  30. 4 out of 5

    Soon-Tzu Speechley

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