Literature Night 2015: Beyond the Wall of Sleep

2015 SOTA Literature Night Poster

Held on 6 March 2015, this year’s Literature Night is a collection of dramatic readings, musical performances and theatrical pieces which aims to present the bizarre and whimsical nature of dreams. These pieces explore what lies beyond the wall of sleep – how dreams shine as beacons of our ideals as forms of wish-fulfillment for our unspoken desires, and how nightmares confront us with our fears and anxieties.  Each of the performances takes us to a dream, in the hope of discovering these ambiguous underpinnings that weaken the line between consciousness and unconsciousness, between the real and unreal.

Linked by the theme of dreams, the performances take a variety of forms including songs, monologues, plays, musical extracts and adaptations.

Andre Chong & Nicole Tong performing Comatose 1

Sowmya Iyer & Leandra Ang & Joy Tan performing A Dream of a Thousand Cats

Kai Sundermann performing Paper_Draft One 1

Lin Xiang Ning performing Once Upon a Dream

A Sharing by Shirin Keshvani

Literature Night is always a productive and accessible means of showcasing student talents. I feel that because the literary aspect of the performances takes the focus of the event, the playing field is levelled for both students who are seasoned performers and others who do not take their hidden talents to the centre stage as much.

Originally, I had ambitiously planned (with my partner Khym Fong) to collect various “weird” dreams from students and teachers and act out the most interesting ones. Let’s just say this plan was better in theory.

We decided (as we had done last year) to perform a song. This time we enlisted the help of our cellist friend Adrian Schalk, to add more texture to our sound.

Shirin Keshvani, Khym Fong and Adrian Schalk performing Sweet Dreams

It may not have been obvious to the uninitiated but we were actually performing Marilyn Manson’s rendition of Sweet Dreams; hence the “whispering” and the discordant guitar. Manson added another dimension to the song, which made the song more eerie. I feel like this is reminiscent of the nature of dreams. Often, I cannot distinguish between a “sweet dream” and a nightmare. My dreams are always grounded in an element of my reality, which in itself is uncanny. And I always find it strange that it is pretty much impossible for us to recall a dream in its entirety and that the words are always on the tip of our tongues. It’s as if our mouths and memory have some tacit agreement that dreams should never be articulated. I know the theme of “Dreams” can be interpreted different ways, but I myself feel that dreams in a literal sense already carry enough meaning to be lyrical.

I sure am glad that Literature Night is integral to SOTA. The fact that students put aside time in their already hectic schedules to come together and pay homage to a beautiful subject that teaches us more than what we need to know – it teaches us how to be in touch with ourselves and how to empathise or at least understand complex emotions.

A Sharing by Odelia Teo

Odelia Teo performing Climbing Uphill 1 Odelia Teo performing Climbing Uphill 2

Literature Night 2015 is one of the most terrifying things I have done in my time in SOTA. I was definitely apprehensive about whether or not I wanted to audition, but it’s my senior year so I decided to just go for it.

Burying my head in school work and upcoming performances, it was hard to transcend the horizon of my immediate goals, and find a deeper meaning to the theme of Dreams. Using that to my advantage, however, I managed to harness the fear perpetuated by the daunting demands of IB in my life. This agonising fear of rejection, failure and dejection was (sadly) something that I related to relatively well when it came to dreaming. Through a friend’s recommendation, I came across a musical theatre piece that perfectly encapsulated such sentiments.

“Climbing Uphill” is a comedic musical theatre piece from the musical The Last Five Years which follows a struggling actress from audition room to audition room as she vocalises her dread of not matching up to the high standards of the entertainment industry. As a theatre student myself, such worries are not uncommon, personally, I think the authenticity of my own experiences extensively enhanced my performance. In retrospect, I realised that I was quite stiff on stage and my range of movements were limited but according to some audience members whom I conversed with afterword, it was presumed to be part of the performance, which came as a huge relief.

Literature Night offered me a platform not only to express myself, but to challenge myself outside the singularities of art forms. Despite the nerves and jitters, my confidence has definitely grown and I find myself more willing to try new things. This is a fond memory I will keep for years to come.

Rachel Yin & Rhyhan Astha performing Bohemian Rhapsody

Maya Viswa performing Something

Lim Shi-An performing Aedh Wished for the Cloths of Heaven

Gabbi Virk, Casidhe Ng & Odelia Teo performing School Play


Words In my Belly – Deborah Immanuel


Words In my Belly - Deborah Immanuel 1

On the 9 March 2015, the Year 1 students attended a talk by local performance poet Deborah Emmanuel. Performance poetry is a type of literary art that combines performing techniques, merging both the page and stage.

Deborah shared her experiences in life and her writing with such intensity that some students were moved to tears. She brought poetry to life and planted the seed of creativity to inspire students to write and perform their own poems. Her distinctive style of performance was sincere, lively and animated. Students were so spellbound that they quickly hushed the noisemakers in the audience.

Deborah is also an actor and educator who promotes different literary based art forms. The students enjoyed her melodious recital as she integrated theatre and music in her reading of the poems. They also found the themes of the poems such as identity, body image and love easy to relate to.

The questions asked by the students revealed that the students were enthused to want to recite performance poetry to their classmates.

Words In my Belly - Deborah Immanuel 3 Words In my Belly - Deborah Immanuel 2

Feedback from Year 1 students:

“This programme was really awesome. In fact, I think it should have been longer. I actually cried when she read her poems about her mother and her problems with body image.” – Vanessa Liem (R5)

“Deborah inspired me to write and perform my own poems. I also found out how powerful poetry can be.” –  Chloe Yeo, Eliyannah Gan, Kyra Poh (R2)

A Life on the Outskirts – One Man’s Journey to Poetry

Words Go Round 2015 - Kosal Khiev Talk 1 Words Go Round 2015 - Kosal Khiev Talk 4

Organised by the National Arts Council, the annual Words Go Round school’s programme features Spoken Word artist Kosal Khiev who spent the afternoon of 4 March 2015 with our Year Two students. Kosal Khiev shared with us how expressing himself through poetry helped him through the more challenging times in his experiences and how uplifting it can be, to able to resonate with the literary works of others.

Words Go Round 2015 - Kosal Khiev Talk 5 Words Go Round 2015 - Kosal Khiev Talk 10

Vandana Venkataraman of G1 shares her reflection

A poem is a string of words that conveys a message. A good poem speaks from one soul to another and makes hearts sing.

Such is how Kosal Khiev recites his poems.

Personally, as a passionate poetry lover, I really enjoyed this talk as I was able to listen to the thoughts of a person and be in their skin for an hour. Despite his intense past, Mr Kosal is now able to find happiness with writing and reading poetry. His enthusiastic, bold and powerful deposition while reciting his spoken word pieces really resonated with me on a personal level, especially during the poem he read titled “Listen” about being oppressed and “in chains” wherever one goes. I can relate to the feeling of ever being helpless and needing someone to listen to me.

Words Go Round 2015 - Kosal Khiev Talk 8

Most poignant to me was his critique of society for destroying the dreams of many through instances such as gun violence, police brutality and children caught in the crossfires.

I appreciate how Mr Kosal is able to weave multiple themes and real life issues and write them in a truthful and relatable manner. It astonished me that such a performance could tug at the heartstrings of another merely through words.

Mr Kosal also shared his insights on his poetry writing process. He explained that poetry can be written organically when you look back into life and assess where you are now and where you are headed. This really enlightened me about such a writing technique which I found interesting. His advice on editing verses of poetry was also very helpful to me as a budding poet.

Overall, I felt that this talk was highly memorable from which I have gained many insights and lessons.

Words Go Round 2015 - Kosal Khiev Talk 11

Geoff Dyer at SOTA

On 6 November 2014, SOTA students and teachers had the opportunity to meet with Geoff Dyer at a speaker session organised by SOTA and the British Council in conjunction with the Singapore Writers Festival.

Geoff Dyer at SOTA 2

Geoff Dyer shared his pathways to becoming a writer where he began with contributing articles and reviews before crafting a full-length book of his own. With wit and humour, Geoff Dyer related that the next step after having his published book in his hand, was for others to have his published book in their hands. Over time, he wrote a number of books; four novels and seven books of non-fiction, which have won a number of literary awards and been translated into 24 languages.

Growing up in a non-literary household, Geoff Dyer explained that books allowed for his horizon to expand beyond his immediate surroundings and also helped him to understand people and how they grapple with issues in ways that his sum of personal interactions would not have brought to light. Repositories of knowledge such as libraries are therefore invaluable assets that people should continue to use.

Reading extracts from Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush and Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, Geoff Dyer shared anecdotal insights from his travels that were at once amusing and brilliant.

Slamming Shakespeare by Word Forward 2014

Slamming Shakespeare (28 October 2014) 1 - Overview

Facilitated by Word Forward, the Year 2 cohort today had an exciting time learning more about the works for Shakespeare and in particular Macbeth. The three-hour programme was kick started with an overview of Shakespearean works and a 4-minute rap performed by Marc Nair that hauntingly encapsulated the entire story of Macbeth.

Slamming Shakespeare (28 October 2014) 2 - Overview

During the breakout sessions, the classes had a meaningful time unpacking with their facilitator how best they can grapple with the verses of Shakespeare and engage with the text by reading and acting. Equipped with the fresh knowledge, the students put what they have learned into practice by dramatising a key extract from Macbeth to convey its tone, mood and meaning while developing a deeper understanding of the excerpt’s context.

Slamming Shakespeare (28 October 2014) 10 - Breakout Session

Slamming Shakespeare (28 October 2014) 36 - Poetry Slam Original Work

Slamming Shakespeare (28 October 2014) 29 - Poetry Slam Macbeth

Additionally, other individuals and teams from each class also prepared an original work performed as a spoken word piece. The performance task encouraged the students to work tightly as a team and with a high degree of coordination and audience engagement. To the delight of all, what was displayed was an array of innovative styles with endless creativity and sprightliness. Ranging from friendship to betrayal and everything in between, the topics expressed reflected the students’ close and authentic engagement with spoken word and their fresh take on well-trodden themes.

Slamming Shakespeare (28 October 2014) 41 - Poetry Slam Original Work

Slamming Shakespeare (28 October 2014) 39 - Poetry Slam Original Work

The Craft of Writing by Gwee Li Swee

On the 27 October 2014, the Year 1 students attended a talk by local writer Gwee Li Sui. He is a literary critic, a poet and a graphic artist.

He shared his experiences on his writing and drawing of Singapore’s first full-length graphic novel ‘Myth of the Stone’ in 1993. He shared that the book was initially not well received as Singaporeans did not take to a book that looked like a comic. He also shared on how in the early days without the computer he had to draw his own visuals and persuade publishers to publish his novel.

The Craft of Writing by Gwee Li Swee 2 27 October 2014

The students especially enjoyed his readings from his popular volume of humourous verse, ‘Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems?’ The poems play on words, use Singlish rhymes and poke fun at Singapore social history and culture. He also shared his love poems from his book, ‘One Thousand and One Nights.’

The questions asked by the students revealed that many students are thinking of becoming writers. They had many questions to ask on the craft of writing and the editing and publishing of a piece of work. The students were also keen to know what inspired Gwee Li Sui to write in so many different genres.

The Craft of Writing by Gwee Li Swee 1 27 October 2014

Dhillon Raspal

2014 Creative Arts Programme

Three of our students submitted their portfolios to qualify for the prestigious Creative Arts Seminar held in June at the National University of Singapore. The CAP is jointly organised by the Gifted Education Branch, Ministry of Education and the University Scholars Programme (USP), National University of Singapore.

Our students, Bethany Tan (P2), Clarise Ong (P2) and Shermaine Lim (O5) share their experiences….


“I feel like I’ve used the phrases ‘step out’ and ‘comfort zone’ together a little too often in my time here in SOTA, to the point where it’s starting to become a little clichéd. But in all honesty, stepping out of my comfort zone is exactly what I did at CAP.

It isn’t mentioned very often, but, in a sense, we SOTA students do live in a kind of SOTA bubble. I can definitely say that the prospect of being surrounded by students from other schools, all the while in uniform, was something that I didn’t look forward to at first. I imagined being looked at like I was some sort of rare species of bird, and hearing the phrase ‘you can do it because you’re from SOTA’, being used at least twice a day. That was pretty terrifying. Being split up from Clarise, the only other SOTA student I knew who was in the same division (JC 1), was also terrifying. In a sense, I feared that people would look at me and see some kind of full-fledged artist who had years of experience behind her, and that my failure to seem like one would result in me being shunned.

2014 Year 5 CAP - Bethany and Spoken Word group

But nothing like that happened. Everyone who I met at CAP was incredibly friendly and embraced the writing world with a kind of wide-eyed wonder that I’d rarely seen before. In the five days that I was there, my orientation group (OG) quickly became a kind of family to me, and Kent Ridge Hall became a home that I never thought I would have. My ‘CAPper’ friends were also full of enthusiasm for every activity we were presented with, and the divisions of school identity faded away probably within the first hour that I started speaking to them. The people around me always encouraged each other whenever we worked collaboratively, and even when we worked alone, the feedback was always concise and constructive.

2014 Year 5 CAP - Bethany and Orientation Group

Of course, the programme itself helped shape my understanding of writing, and what it means to be a writer. I was given the opportunity to speak to people like Cyril Wong and Haresh Sharma, and to listen to their lectures and workshops on their views as a writer, particularly in Singapore. These workshops really helped shape my view of the large spectrum of topics writing can cover and the way it can be used. Cyril Wong, for example, is a “confessional poet”, writing poetry that is highly personal, while Haresh Sharma said that he frequently aims to “write for the voiceless”. CAP allowed me to not only focus on my craft but to also learn more about the creative process of writing, which can be applied to creating art as a whole, and that’s probably what made me (and still makes me) feel strongly that the five-day programme was invaluable.”

2014 Year 5 CAP - Bethany and Haresh Sharma 2014 Year 5 CAP - Bethany and Cyril Wong

Note: My grandmother passed away the weekend before the camp. This poem is about her death and her funeral, where I had to fold paper boxes. – Bethany

How to Build a Destructible Universe

By Jasmine, Eden, Christine, Charmaine and Bethany

Step 1:
Take a piece of paper and fold it in half.
Eyes that have long since closed,
Now you see everything.
And as you bend, we will bend with you,
Tears sliding down the edges.

Step 2:
Fold each side of the paper to the centre crease.
Now we trace our bloodline
Back to its origin.
A symphony of silence thrown-
Now gravitating back to its core.

Step 3:
Fold the paper in half again.
Like a piece of me, buried,
Burned, only I’m still alive.
I take one step forward,
And two memories come back.

Step 4:
Fold each corner to the crease nearest it.
You embrace me and try
To fill in the spaces,
Although the cracks run
Far too deep.

Step 5:
Fold the flaps from the middle down.
When your heart stopped,
So did our clocks,
The silence, an invisible hand,
Brought us to our knees for a lack of words.

Step 6:
Pull up on the two flaps.
Finding a footing
While consuming a sadness,
I breathe in the banter
And surrender my regret.

Step 7:
The box is complete.

Repeat until satisfied.


“Smart schools,” “smart students,” “odd one out,” these were the first few thoughts that started popping up in my mind after finding out I had been accepted into CAP. I had honestly envisioned myself cowering in the corner surrounded by groups of students from elite schools, but to say I was wrong would be a gross understatement because my time at CAP not only allowed me to build strong bonds with people from all kinds of backgrounds and different schools but also pushed me to step out from my shell and be exposed to a plethora of literary genres.

2014 Year 5 CAP - Clarise Ong 5
Initially interacting was a little awkward, somehow it seemed like I was speaking a different language from everyone else as I was constantly explaining terms like “HL” or “TOK” while they lamented about their “GP” and “CIP”. But as time passed, we eventually got past our “language barrier” and formed bonds over our common interest in the various lectures and excitement at the prospect of meeting writers whose works we admired.

Aside from the friends that I made at CAP, the lectures and workshops conducted definitely allowed me to synthesise my love for literature with the other humanities. Although admittedly I was initially resistant to the talks that I deemed as “not in my interest area”, I was pleasantly surprised especially when I had to attend a photo poetry talk by Professor Terence Heng. At first I thought I would be bored out of my mind, considering poetry had never been my thing and the rigorous CAP schedule had left me utterly drained for the day, but I found myself actually really relating to all the themes he discussed. Being a visual sociologist, he discussed with us the difference between “space” and “place” and how these themes were present in his photography. He defined “space” as a physical and material environment, for example, an empty parking lot. Space is simply a structural thing whereas “place” was defined as what we made of it, a place that becomes special over time and we constantly create places via our daily rituals. He then shared with us how as a boy he used to go to a particular library and how it was an example of a place as it held many fond memories for him. However, the library was bulldozed to make way for a highway and he felt that it was a great loss since a “place”, filled with memories and meaning, had been reduced to just a space – a physical structure with no significance. I could really relate to his lesson as I feel that these themes are prevalent in everyday Singaporean life, how I live in a concrete jungle that changes everyday.

2014 Year 5 CAP - Clarise Ong 1

After that talk, I realised the true value of documentation and photographing spaces around me – how even a simple building may hold a plethora of memories for different people, but to others it may just be a disruptive structure. This talk really influenced my writing as well as the art I still continue to make and I will forever be grateful for the opportunities CAP has given me to attend lectures that truly inspired and enlightened me.”

2014 Year 5 CAP - Clarise Ong 3


“This year’s CAP theme was “the paradoxes of life”, and it was about exploring and writing about the many paradoxes that we encounter in our lives everyday.

I attended many seminars and talks through the course of the 5-day program, and learned many new things, like different rhyming styles and the use of narration and plot in prose and poetry. Specifically, I attended a talk by Angelina Yap about the use of rhyming words, and a workshop by Ms Koh Xin Tian, in which we were given a series of questions in order to write a poem. I also attended a photo poetry workshop by Mr. Terence Heng, in which he shared some of his poetry that was inspired by pictures and activities. There was also a sharing session in which you got to share your own poems that were based on “Paradoxes of life” with others, and the rest would comment on your work. I feel that CAP was a very insightful and inspiring program, and it taught me how to develop my writing in different ways, and how to approach writing in a different manner.”

Heaven? By Shermaine Lim

Eye of a lamb, frost of the

Tongue and banter, phoenix torso

And groundless sheep, breathing doors

And splayed tunnels

Forcing eyelids, some abbreviation of

Fences and gates, counting clouds

The network, split ends and

Convex sheets and blanket cliffs

The cream eye, night’s eight, telescopic

Wanderer, undressed lake, then

Somewhere in between,

I will find you

Young, maybe

Sitting on a park bench 

With your head growing in

Some book, smiling as

Your tomorrow would not


The Ties That Bind

2014 Lower Year's Lit Afternoon 1 - Poster

On 14 May 2014, students from Years 1, 2 and 3 had a delectable afternoon of reading, listening and enjoyment of literary works penned by their peers. Sharing the theme “The Ties That Bind“, creative writing in the forms of both poetry and prose spanned topics from family, friends, place, home, nostalgia, loss and love.

Eleven students, whose works were selected from the overwhelming pool of creative writing responding to the theme, took to the stand to share their works. The full list of works can be found here.

2014 Lower Year's Lit Afternoon 5 - MC

2014 Lower Year's Lit Afternoon 7 - Andre Chong 1

2014 Lower Year's Lit Afternoon 10 - Hanae Gomez

Among those selected, Caitlin Tan shares:

The Lower Years’ Literary Afternoon was an engaging and fun experience for me. I was really impressed by the quality of the works presented, the dynamic presentations and the maturity in the writing. It was definitely an eye-opener. I would have thought that the theme, “The Ties That Bind,” offers only limited possibilities. However, I was pleasantly surprised the different writers’ take on the theme and the varied range of approaches.

I learned something new with every piece. One of the works I really admired was Monologue By The Shore by Hanae Gomez. Based on The Pearl by John Steinbeck, the poem ties in themes of family, love and freedom while expounding on a woman’s role in that particular society. Listening to all the works honestly made me feel out of my depth, and it made me realise how much further I still have to go. This occasion has motivated me to improve my writing. I surmise that one of my shortcomings is my very simplistic view of things. I can learn to be more aware and more appreciative of the nuances in words and speech so that I can better understand what the writer’s intentions, are and his or her influences.

This event has caused me to reflect that in order to write something with more depth, I need to write with more polish. Although passing through the different stages of life will impact one’s writing, I would also like to recognise that there is still a certain charm about each phase of life as we see the world through different lenses.

Such public sharing is something I am not usually comfortable with. Previously, I have only shared my works with close friends and family. And even if I have had works displayed around the school before, I still feel anonymous since I am quite sure no one really knows who I am. As one of presenters at the event, the Lower Year’s Literary Afternoon has helped me to become more confident in presenting my work to others, and in sharing a unique piece of myself through my writing. I will endeavour to try to be more open with my writing and also to be more self-assured in my own skin.


On fragments of paper,

I would like to write poems

Folded into paper planes carrying

Pieces of me into the sky,

Where I will get a chance to fly.

2014 Lower Year's Lit Afternoon 16 - Caitlin Tan 1

2014 Lower Year's Lit Afternoon 8 - Isabella Ocampo

2014 Lower Year's Lit Afternoon 4 - Janice Yap Introduction

Before the event concluded, we shared one more creative writing piece in the form of the Year 2 Poetry Anthology. This Poetry Anthology is a sampling of what the Year Two cohort has produced over the first semester. They are the fruits of their labour refined together with their teachers.

Introduced by Janice Yap, she shared that “our creative writing lessons and exercises expose us to various types of poetry, written by a range of poets from times past and present. Through this wide exposure and interest-piquing writing tasks, we have come to apply creative writing techniques as we are challenged to give voice to our creative impetus and inspirations.

Several rounds of editing and revision were involved in putting together this Anthology and each round provided a platform of sharing and learning. Stimulating creative writing tasks followed each close-reading of a selection of poems so that can try for ourselves, our hand at creative writing. In this way, a balance of engaging with Literature with both our hearts and our minds is achieved.

Through the use of literary features and devices, poems dazzle readers with sensory imagery or surprise them with with the use of onomatopoeia in a “BAM”! Similes and metaphors creep into verses stealthily, as quietly as a cat on the prowl.

Although we might have responded to similar writing tasks, all our poems are unique. Sometimes, they reflect one’s conviction, and at other times, they are sentimental. Some have written poems about themselves introspectively, while others advocate for social issues. Still others adapt a poetic style or form in the fashion after a poem we read in class.

Having enjoyed reading the works of our peers, and now with pride, we would like to present to you our compiled works in the 2014 Poetry Anthology.”

2014 Lower Year's Lit Afternoon 20 - Year 2 Poetry Anthology

Literature Talks For Year One Students

As part of the Literature Department’s enrichment programme, two talks were organised for Year One students.  These were held in collaboration with the National Arts Council and in conjunction with the Singapore Writers’ Festival 2014

The first talk, on 5 March 2014 by British poet Ray Mather, was titled ‘Sticks and Stones: Making Social Issues Accessible through Poetry”. It dealt with bullying, the pressure to succeed and other social issues faced by young people today.

Words Go Round 2014 - Ray Mather at SOTA 1
Poet Ray Mather reading his poems

Words Go Round 2014 - Ray Mather at SOTA 2
Students keen to know more about the art of writing

Ray Mather also shared with the students a spoken word performance by Shane Koyczan put to animation called To This Day.

Australian writer Kate Forsyth gave the second talk, ‘Re-spinning the Magic of Fairy Tales’ on the 6th of March 2014. This talk focused on the skills of a good writer and how fairy tales are still relevant today and can help shape the myths of our age.

Words Go Round 2014 - Kate Forsyth at SOTA 1
Writer Kate Forsyth from Australia captivating the audience with her story telling skills

Words Go Round 2014 - Kate Forsyth at SOTA 2
Year 1 students with Ms Kate Forsyth

Both talks were well received by the students, who found them interesting and meaningful.  Students keen to improve their writing skills asked thought-provoking questions while some also had the chance to get autographs from Ms Kate Forsyth and even a photograph with her.

Listen for Haiyan 2014

Listen for Haiyan - Felix Cheong, Colin Cheong Listen for Haiyan - Timothy Ng

On 11 February 2014, Year 5 SOTA students, Rachel Chew and Vanessa Guinadi, put together a Spoken Word event titled Listen for Haiyan to share their passion for this art and to raise funds for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Invited to perform at this event were also students from Raffles Girls School, Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution. Literature Teachers, Mr Mark Rozells, Mr Timothy Ng, Mr Colin Cheong and special guest Mr Felix Cheong performed their original works as well. In this post, Rachel and Vanessa share their thoughts of the event. 


Listen for Haiyan started off as a little dream to do something for our neighbours in the Philippines who had been affected by the Typhoon. Being able to do that through the medium of Spoken Word, something rather dear to Vanessa and myself, was a dream come true. It was a tiring process trying to put the event together but just to see so many people open up to Spoken Word and support the victims of Typhoon Haiyan made everything completely worth it.

I started writing my piece for Listen for Haiyan the week before the performance. Previously, there was a poem I liked but was not ready to share with 150 people, as it was rather personal. So in the week before the performance, I started on a new poem. This was the poem that I eventually performed.

Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly

Pull your knees as tight to your body as possible,
Curl in towards yourself,
Inch to the edge of your parents’ bed, a suspended cannonball.

You see, when I was younger,
I swear, that was how I flew.
It wasn’t so much flying
as a gentle bobbing through space.

Letting air run through the hollows of my knees,
Elbows, nooks in my spine,
Like a puppet doll
pulled up by invisible strings that
I could control myself.

Five-year-old marionette,
I am lifted
Off the bed, above the floor, above myself.
I can feel, or rather
I can not feel the weightlessness running through me

A slight tilt to the right sends me
Spinning through the lacquered doors,
Straight down the hallway,
I am racing, I am learning, I am flying

I am

You see, when you grow older,
People tell you, you cannot fly.
You are not a bird.

They tell us in science that
birds can fly because their bones are hollow.
My bones might be weighted with the expectations of being
human but I am hollow in other ways.

I am hollow,
in the way summer air filled with light is still hollow
I am hollow,
in the way laughing flutes echo their tunes
I am hollow, in the way that only a person who wants to fill her insides with the world,
is hollow.

I am full,
I am hollow,
I am empty,
I am packed.

Air runs through the hollows of my knees,
Elbows, nooks in my spine,
Like a puppet doll
pulled up by invisible strings that
I can control myself.

The next time anyone tells you you cannot fly,
Tell them they just don’t know you yet.

Learning to be more open with what I share with others is something I’m working on. Therefore an issue I struggled with when deciding what to write is the delicate balance to strike between the poem’s significance to me and the extent of vulnerability I could allow myself in sharing it with the world.

So as I thought, my childhood memories came to mind. Initially I started off with snippets of about four memories. The one that eventually ended up being the impetus for “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly” is a memory that I suppose some people might call a daydream but is 100% real for me.

I honestly used to float around my house.

Other than that, a number of other memories I had intended to include were that of climbing the door frames in my house and running through a wild daisy patch for the first time in New Zealand.

But eventually I settled on this particular memory. I don’t exactly know why but that’s just the way it flowed for me on a Saturday evening, at a desk facing the window. Within it, I managed to find the balance of something that was really real to me, something that was uniquely mine, while being ‘safe’ enough to share with the world.

I was actually rather apprehensive about performing and it wasn’t until I wrote that poem did I decide I was going to perform it. Prior to this, I was leaning more towards not performing. However, I eventually felt like if one of the main reasons why I was doing this was to spread the love I had for Spoken Word, then I should at least share a little bit about what it means to me, through my own work.

This was only the second time I’d performed any sort of Spoken Word at all and the first time I’d done it on my own. The first time I did Spoken Word was for Literature Night in 2013 with a friend. The theme was humor and we did a piece about jokes and the memories we had about people linked to the various jokes.

The tones of these two poems were rather different and the nature of performing alone is also vastly different from performing in a pair. So performing for Listen for Haiyan was overall a very raw and new experience for me and while I did stumble a little, it was still a rather empowering experience in a sense because getting what you want to say out really is quite cathartic.

In the words of Mr. Rozells, “That was very nerve-wrecking and exhilarating at the same time, I see how people can get addicted to doing this”.


Let’s Be Honest by Mark Rozells

Let’s be honest.
I don’t care about the place I can’t pronounce
I know I can’t,
I won’t
make a difference.
If I want to feel warm and fuzzy,
I’d watch a warm and fuzzy video
about dogs or cats and babies,
And rabbits. Yes,
Furry rabbits.

Save me from your images,
images of toppled trees,
broken bridges,
crates of corpses next to crates of
supplies that arrive one month,
one week, one day,
to them.

Save me from your in-depth analysis,
Your up-to-the-second updates
Of how there’s no food,
No water, no shelter,
No cure, no hope.

Because it’s okay.
It’s okay.
I can always change the channel,
And wait for the next blockbuster disaster.

Listen for Haiyan is a fundraiser in the wake of a natural disaster that has well… toppled trees… broken bridges… crates of corpses… Such images along with the victims of Typhoon Haiyan’s cry for food, water, shelter, and medicine have been presented to us.

The persona in Let’s Be Honest exposes several important things and difficulties that we too were contending with when organising Listen for Haiyan.

I understand that it can be a challenge for people to connect with victims in another country. And I am aware that they actually have no obligation to help.

But isn’t it disappointing when we have become so desensitised to the suffering of the people around us, so used to these pictures of widespread calamity that we feel absolutely nothing at all? That we feel bored even?

I found this to be true when we were promoting Listen for Haiyan. One friend came up to me after we publicised the event during assembly, and ever so lightly, commented: I would help, but I’ve seen too many of these pictures before.

Such was the battle we faced when organising Listen for Haiyan. After sorting the logistics and finalising the line-up, we still had to actively work to counter this mindset. This indifference, while may be subtle, hovered in the minds of the people we tried to promote the event to.

It was through this process that I started to understand the work that most NGOs such as Mercy Relief and Red Cross face – trying to raise awareness of something so grave within the hearts of people; trying to make a difference while facing indifference.

Should we not help when we have the means to do so? We as organisers chose to do something and not just “change the channel.”

We’re constantly taught to look beyond the boundaries of ourselves, to make a positive difference in the world, to be students of the world. It was only through Listen for Haiyan that I really understood why caring for the world is important enough to be one of the main objectives of the IB.

Shouldn’t this be instinctive, I thought. However, with more interest in “furry rabbits” than in international aid and an increased sense of self-centredness, I am convicted to encourage in others an understanding of global issues, and the need to educate ourselves on its importance.

Hopefully through Listen for Haiyan, we have managed to heighten the sense of concern we should have for others beyond our comfort zone. I hope that our efforts in putting together Listen for Haiyan will not fade away in the hearts and minds of those we have reached out to or be dismissed as one of “these fundraisers”, with our “images” and “in-depth analysis” or as just another “channel” proclaiming yet another disaster not to care about.

Listen for Haiyan - Gabbi Virk Listen for Haiyan - Sabrina Dzulkifli

Click on the pictures to view the Spoken Word item by SOTA students Gabbi Virk and Sabrina Dzulkifli

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