The Monthly interviews Yong Shu Hoong, two-time winner of the Singapore Literature Prize and host of the literary event, subTEXT.

What is the history of subTEXT?

I started subTEXT in Singapore in 2001 and between that year and around 2008 it was a regular event. The event, a literary reading showcasing different writing genres, took place on the first Thursday of each month and over the years it would be held in different locations. We started off in The Gallery Hotel, and then we moved to The Book Café and then later we moved to the Central Public Library which is part of the national library system.

Central Public Library – Singapore

What happens after 2008?

It became a little more ad hoc after that. There have been events at The Arts House and various other places. Recently it has started up again and now the events take place in venues like Haw Par Villa, which is a theme park; it is very kitsch and has Chinese culture and folklore throughout. We called the event “Poetry from the Underground” because we were reading in a cavernous indoor amphitheatre which was effectively part of the basement area.

We have also held events at the Singapore Art Museum, which has a space near the port area, it is quite industrial. It is a temporary space while the museum’s main building on Bras Basah Road is
being renovated.

What is the aim of subTEXT?

In 2001 it came out of a period of time when there was a resurgence in interest in Singaporean poetry. Lots of new poets were emerging and there were book launches and events happening regularly in places like Borders bookstore and the Substation. There was a sense of a new breed of poets emerging at that time.

When I started subTEXT some of those events had started to run out of steam and I thought we needed an event which would maintain the situation as it had been going on up until that point in time.

Around 2008 there were new types of poetry events emerging like poetry slams and spoken word events, there was another new group of young poets jumping in to organise events, and so it didn’t feel as essential as before, to continue running subTEXT. I thought it was more important to support those new young poets by attending their events rather than cannibalising the audience by competing with each other.

Is it an event for literary poets?

No, it is a multi-genre event and we have had all forms of poetry, spoken word, slam, as well as people who read fiction and creative non-fiction. We also invited musicians who would come and perform a few songs.

It is an underground or a more mainstream type of an event?

It tends to change depending on the venue. If we are hosting an event in the Central Public Library then it will feel much more official, much more mainstream. But if we host an event at the theme park or in the Arts Museum space in an industrial area, then of course that will feel much more underground.

We are not officially funded and everyone reads or performs without receiving an honorarium. So I’d say subTEXT is really just an independent event which offers a space for a wide range of writers to participate.

Haw Par Villa – Singapore

Can it be found online?

Not so far. We have a Facebook page but as yet we haven’t organised any ZOOM events or filmed the events. It is quite a relaxed affair, and sometimes very famous writers drop by too, to read at our events, like Paul Theroux and Alexander McCall Smith. If they are in Singapore and they are available, we are very lucky to have them when they drop by. I like to think that we have an open-door orientation and writers of different genres and backgrounds read or perform their works to an enthusiastic and attentive audience.

Alexander McCall Smith
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