The Monthly interviews Singaporean poet, Daryl Lim Wei Jie – Part 1 – From Enid Blyton to Historian

What is your earliest memory regarding being attracted to writing as a form of self expression?

Growing up, my family was not particularly well-educated or literary. My parents started off as working class folk, but my mother realised the value of books, and would take my brother and me to the library all the time. My first memory is reading Enid Blyton books, which were all the rage at that time in Singapore. That is my first memory of being connected to creative writing, rather than say writing for purely functional purposes, or for commercial aims. After that I would try to write stories or poetry, although they were sort of fumbling attempts in working out how to express myself.

I think my first truly creative activity was not actually in writing. I would play games with my brother and invent mini-worlds for him to interact with, and there would be choices for him to make that would have consequences, and that was perhaps my first foray into creative storytelling.

Enid Blyton

Were you supported at home?

My parents would support me in terms of resources and an understanding that this was a creative impulse that I was undertaking. I am not sure they fully understand what it is that I do now even, but despite the fact that they aren’t literary people, they are interested in art. They are, in some sense, artistic.This was evident in their taste in design, particularly furniture and furnishings. They both have quite a pronounced sense of taste. And both my brother and I have ended up in the arts; he is a visual artist and film-maker, while I am a poet.

Were you supported at school?

Most of the support at school I received came from a teacher who was interested in writing and creative arts. There is a Creative Writing Programme in Singapore which is run by the Ministry of Education, but I was never part of that. I am strangely proud that I never went through the programme: quite a lot of poets and writers do go through it. I didn’t really get any formal or special support at school and I just happened to have very good literature teachers. I think they understood that I wanted to be creative and move in a particular direction. Beyond that, I did my own reading and I worked at developing my writing by myself.

Did you go on to further education?

I did a Degree in History and I also completed a Master’s in History. I did hang around a lot of English Literature students in Uni, and so I was exposed to a lot of ideas regarding literature. I was reading what they were reading: I was always interested in that area of study.

In this discussion you can see Daryl Lim Wei Jie at 27 minutes onwards

What gets you from history to poetry?

In some ways I was disappointed or perhaps dissatisfied with the approach of academic history where there is a sense of a very clear process of causation, the forces of history, and you are always told not to focus on specific events, or specific people, or even precise moments, as those events by themselves do not shape history. I wanted to approach history a little differently. I wanted to explore the counterfactual idea that those specific moments were indeed how change comes about historically. And in poetry you don’t have the responsibilities of being an academic historian. No one questions the veracity of a poem. You don’t have to conform to the particular standards of academic works.

An an example, there is a piece in the first book which looks at the idea of the mythical king of Singapore and what would happen if he came back to life to take his throne. The point of the poem is not so much that he comes back to life but more about how, when he returns how that undermines some received aspects of our history, some aspects of our national identity.

See more of Daryl Lim Wei Jie’s work here:

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