Our tiny island is bursting with voices and words of established and emerging spoken word artists, itching to tell you their story from their point of view. Late Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was famously quoted as saying “Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford.” Ouch! Poetry should, in fact, be celebrated, encouraged and be an important part of our national tapestry. It can evoke sentiments through powerful words and force one to pause and reflect. Spoken word poetry is also different from the common page poetry.
As its name suggests, spoken word poetry is orally performed to an audience. Loud and clear enunciation, inflection, expressions, gestures and with the accompaniment of props like music are hallmarks of a spoken word poetry performance. It’s easier to listen than to read so if you’ve never enjoyed reading poetry then you might just enjoy the spoken form.
Where Are The Spoken Word Artists In Singapore?
Spoken word artists are also almost always page poets but not all page poets are spoken word artists. Spoken word artists in Singapore, though a rare species, are in fact well, alive and kicking if only you know where to look! Word Forward was one of the first few dedicated organisations that supported spoken word poetry slams in Singapore from the early 2000s. In fact, in recent years, it’s been conducting these slams at the iconic Blu Jaz cafe, but they’ll need to relocate soon since Blu Jaz’s entertainment licence has been revoked.
However, more and more spoken word artists are being programmed into art festivals such as the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF), Lit Up Singapore and more. With a consolidated database of Singapore’s poets on Poetry.sg, it’s now becoming easier to gain access to our talented Singapore poets and spoken word artists. If you’re unfamiliar with the spoken word poetry scene in Singapore, we’ve shortlisted some of the established and rising spoken word artists you have to lend your ears to in Singapore. Be sure to follow their social media pages and keep a look out for their spoken word shows.
1. Pooja Nansi
A crusader of minority voices, Pooja Nansi is not an unfamiliar name in Singapore’s poetry scene. She counts old Bollywood songs and rap music as her creative references and is best known for her poetry collection, Love Is An Empty Barstool. She is also Singapore’s first Youth Poet Ambassador (YPA) and founder of the monthly spoken word and page poet stage, Speakeasy — which unfortunately closed its doors in 2018.
As a part-time Creative Writing instructor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and helming SWF 2019, there might already seem to be a lot on her plate but trust us, this one is a force to be reckoned with. I personally last saw Nansi performing at Thick Beats For Good Girls and prior to that at a poetry reading in Arab Street. Her honest words resonate with both minorities and the masses and more often than not, forces you to think about intersections between ethnicity, femininity and the meaning of belonging, if there even is one.
2. Deborah Emmanuel
Deborah Emmanuel is a Singaporean poet, singer and multi-disciplinary artist. She is also a three-time TEDx Singapore speaker and has performed at international poetry festivals worldwide. While performing spoken word poetry, she’ll more often than not break out into a beautiful soprano, stringing together the words into a lyrical verse. More recently, she has been dabbling in visual art and performs her pieces without words but just through body movements — talk about mastering a whole new level of creative space.
Imprisoned at the age of 19 for a year, her words and stories are evocative of her unusual journey and touches on our favourite topic — Singapore. Did we mention she’s also part of the local band, Wobology and has worked on other diverse music projects? This is one spoken word artist whose words are music for the ears and food for thought.
3. Shivram Gopinath
As a spoken-word artist and performer, Shivram Gopinath has performed at SWF, Singapore Heritage Fest, Lit Up Festival and others. He was also the Singapore National Poetry Slam Champion in 2015 and 2016 and has published a photo-poetry book, I Know You’re Upset, co-created with photographer Panagiotis Kotsidas.
Shivram conducts the Spoken Word: Writing & Performing Poetry classes at Haque Centre of Acting and Creativity (HCAC) — yes, there’s a school that teaches the mechanics behind spoken word. But what caught our attention was his passionate performance video where he urges the audience to pursue their dreams and hopes with Achemelay (No Fear) and valour.
4. Stephanie ‘Dogfoot’ Chan
Stephanie Chan or Stephanie Dogfoot (a name she randomly chose for herself to be more anonymous on the internet) has an illustrious history of poetry experience to her name. She has won national slam poetry competitions in both the UK and Singapore, wrote and performed a solo spoken word show, Foreigner Go Home (With Me!) and was part of the local spoken word group, Sekaliwags — having run shows with them at Lit Up Festival and Singapore Writers Festival. She is also doing her fair share of ramping up spoken word efforts in Singapore and manages Spoke & Bird, a monthly open-mic night for new and seasoned writers.
Her first ever solo performance at The Merry Lion this month will touch on coming of age anecdotes. We’ve heard her poetry is known to be poignant, extremely witty while performed with a charming, beguiling smile. Catch this prize-winning spoken word artist in Singapore and see what the fuss is about yourself!
5. Marc Nair
Marc Nair is not only a regular spoken word performer but also a talented photographer and a musician in the local band, Neon and Wonder. This accomplished multi-disciplinary poet boasts nine poetry collections under his belt. His TEDx Talk video explains why poetry is so important in Singapore and is bolstered by a performance of his own spoken word act. We particularly like min 12:24 – 16:21 where he questions the suppression of creativity in our fast-paced lives in Singapore so much so that it needs to be engineered versus how it should instead be inspired, encouraged and made commonplace from the get-go.
6. Jennifer Anne Champion
Jennifer Anne Champion is no new name to the spoken word scene in Singapore. She’s a writer, spoken word artist in Singapore and also one of the gatekeepers of poetry.sg. Her published books; Caterwaul and The History of Clocks — comprise of both poems to be read and performed. Caterwaul, in particular, charts the dreams and challenges of the middle class suburbia population in Singapore.
You can’t miss this Singaporean spoken word artist’s sardonic humour and effortless style — Food Poisoning (below) is a good example of what we mean. Acclaimed poet, Cyril Wong has described her as “truly a unicorn” something which she has long been known to convince others she truly, actually is.
The next time you see a Facebook event page promoting some poetry event even if in a slightly dodgy bar or club, make your way there and you might just stumble upon a thought-provoking spoken word performance.