This week I’ve been re-visiting Singapore via my notes, photos and audio recordings. I was unsure how I’d manage the leap in my imagination, skipping back past the intensity of both Australia and Tokyo. Hearing the sounds again (birds, insects, cascading water plus my own commentary) was a revelation, whisking me right back to the sticky heat and lush exotic plants in the Botanic Gardens – which I was pleased to be reminded I was sorry to leave.
While I was there, I was reminded of the Malaysian poetic form, the pantoum, and I knew I wanted to experiment with that as a vessel for my impressions of the place. I’d never written one before and found its repetitions strained and awkward at first but once I got the hang of it, I’ve rather liked its strange braiding. Something about its haunted hesitations seems fitting for my disorientation when I landed in tropical, inexplicable Singapore from a very snowy UK.
In The Making of a Poem (Norton, 2000), Mark Strand and Eavan Boland write:
Of all verse forms the pantoum is the slowest: The reader takes four steps forward, then two back. It is the perfect form for the evocation of a past time….Since the pantoum easily enchants, the close repetition of lines sets up a tight, mesmerising chain of echoes. It is also a form that allows its listener to relax since all of the lines make a second appearance – what was missed the first time can be picked up on the second…And yet the form is certainly demanding for both reader and poet, with its strange twists of antinarrative time and its unexpectedly hypnotic repetitions.