A poet learns to roll with the punches
Singaporean poet Loh Guan Liang is also a martial arts aficionado. (Photo: Loh Guan Liang)

A poet learns to roll with the punches

One would think that martial arts, a form of combative sport, has very little to do with poetry, but Singaporean writer Loh Guan Liang begs to differ. Loh says: “Both genres actually share these in common: they require discipline, practice and wrestling.”

“Think of poetry writing in terms of fighting, with the blank screen staring at you. How will you approach the fight and what’s your game plan? When we speak of a writer’s craft, we are essentially talking about techniques to wrestle meaning out of language and thoughts,” explains Loh.

Both pursuits have come a long way from being mere pastimes, and have helped him work through the messy, difficult life stages. The fruit of that was Bitter Punch, his second collection of poems published in 2016.

Of his twined passions, he says: “I like martial arts and writing because both are beautiful forms of self-expression: The body moves through space to deliver devastating damage while the word travels across the page to captivate.

“Both art forms are ways of being and take many hours of practice. You can’t sit around talking about how to punch, or just attend seminars for writing. You have to work the punching bag and put pen to paper.”

He will share more about his love for the art forms, and demonstrate martial arts moves and show how they are in sync with his approach and philosophy towards writing poetry at an upcoming talk titled Deep Cut: The Poetics of Martial Arts. It is organised by homegrown publisher Ethos Books and held on Friday (19 Oct) at Littered with Books in Duxton Road. The A List catches up with him ahead of the session to find out what keeps him inspired.

Where do you look for writing inspiration?
I look everywhere and anywhere. I don’t actively search for inspiration because I believe that a life lived to the fullest and best of my abilities provides ample fodder to create and keeps me grounded too.

Which Singaporean writers do you look up to?
It is a toss-up between Felix Cheong and Gwee Li Sui. Both continue to encourage and inspire younger writers to improve their craft and be true to themselves. They are also big-hearted in sharing their wealth of creative experience with others, and I find their generosity of spirit admirable.

What are your hopes and dreams for the Singapore literary scene?
That Singapore’s literary and cultural production can be varied enough to have something for everyone to enjoy. Imagine, a supermarket cashier aunty recalling fondly a local short story she read in school. Not for exam results or any KPIs, but for the sheer pleasure of discovering a local work that speaks to you. That would be amazing.

What’s next for you?
More martial arts training. I am also trying my hand at writing short fiction, with varying degrees of success.

Details on the Deep Cut: The Poetics of Martial Arts here.

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