A conversation with Joshua Ip, poet

19 June 2017 - interviews

Singaporean poet Joshua Ip wears many hats. On top of a full-time day job, he is the author of three poetry collections, including the Singapore Literature Prize-winning sonnets from the singlish (2012), a “collection of 44 poems on love, language and the pursuit of laughter”. Juxtaposing the classical form and colloquial Singaporean English, the poems are a witty and refreshing exploration of Singapore culture and affairs.

A passionate advocate of the Singapore writing community, he co-initiated a literary community initiative SingPoWriMo (Singapore Poetry Writing Month), which has seen hundreds of people from all walks of life share their poems and receive feedback in a public Facebook group. In 2016, he founded Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that runs community programmes such as manuscript boot camps.

The revival of the Singapore literary scene is in large part thanks to the mobilisation of the local writing community, with inspiring outfits such as Sing Lit Station and small press publisher Math Paper Press finding ways to make local literature more accessible and an integral part of Singapore’s national fabric.

We speak to Joshua about his life, work and the future of the local literary scene.

The Mindful Company (TMC): What did you want to be when you were a child?

Joshua Ip (JI): A missionary.

TMC: If you came with a label, what would it say?

JI: Does not drink coffee.

TMC: What’s a life hack of yours?

JI: Water is better than coffee for staying awake because it is impossible to go to sleep when you need to pee.

TMC: What trait do you value the most in others?

JI: Honesty.

TMC: How do you overcome self-doubt?

JI: By not having enough time.

TMC: What does success mean to you?

JI: Having just the right amount of time. Having too little [or too much] time is poor planning.

TMC: What would you tell your 20-year-old self that you wish you knew then?

JI: Date nice girls.

TMC: Share a quote that gives you strength or peace.

JI: “Be still.” - Psalms 37:7a

TMC: Name a book that changed your life.

JI: 笑傲江湖 (The Laughing, Proud Wanderer)

TMC: What are 3 things you do to lead a meaningful life?

JI: Lead more than one meaningful life, give to causes whenever I feel angry or discouraged, celebrate the successes of other people.

TMC: At what point in your life did you first learn about poetry? What called you to it?

JI: [At] English lit class [when I was] 13 or 14. Further developed in the Creative Arts Programme.

The music of the words.

TMC: What’s the best advice you received when you started writing? (Or a piece of advice you’re glad you ignored?

JI: “Everything meaningful or important has already been written by someone, somewherewe just need to go and find it.” – Kenneth Goldsmith.

I ignored this. There is still stuff left to write. Never underestimate the human capacity for random bullshit.

TMC: How do you balance your writing career and your day job?

JI: By neglecting my friends and family.

TMC: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your writing career and how did you overcome it?

JI: The desire to be loved by everyone.

[By] not [having] enough time [to care about it].

TMC: How would you describe the poetry scene in Singapore and where it’s heading over the next 5 years?

JI: A niche renaissance! Renichessance! Poetry is a niche everywhere in the world, so we are not unique. We are only unique in that we are undergoing a minor renaissance. What I call renaissance is maybe double or triple digit growth, from a tiny, tiny base. To be optimistic, at most 20 – 30,000 people read local poetry in Singapore—that’s less than a percent. It will continue to be a niche for quite a long time just because of the small base and the loss of literature in the school syllabus.

TMC: Name the person who has influenced your writing the most.

JI: Wendy Cope, who proved that humour and form can be taken seriously.

TMC: Who’s your favourite poet?

JI: Arthur Yap

TMC: What’s your favourite poem?

JI: They Are Not Long by Ernest Dowson, also known as Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam. I cannot remember that without Googling. I don’t know about favourite but this one has stuck in my head over the years.

TMC: What are the top 3 things someone should consider if they’re thinking of pursuing a similar path?

JI: The ability to find money from somewhere else. The scorn of your ex-lovers or anybody you write about. Weird looks from your bosses and colleagues.

For more about Singapore poetry, check out poetry.sg, an online database of local poets managed by Sing Lit Station. You can get Joshua Ip’s sonnets from the singlish here.

Enjoy reading interviews? Read our previous conversations with Fr Laurence Freeman, Benedictine monk and Yip Pin Xiu, Theresa Goh and Dipna Lim Prasad, Singapore Paralympic and Olympic athletes.

- The Mindful Company Team