Sing Lit Station
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Our 2018 Hawkers

An impressive slate of experimental poetry from Vietnam dominates the inaugural edition of our Prize.

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The inaugural edition of the Prize received a total of 40 submissions; out of the 40 submissions, Sing Lit Station compiled a list of 57 poems published by 18 eligible literary journals / publications, to be read blind by our panel of judges.

Sing Lit Station is proud to release our full list of winners of the 2018 Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry. Special interviews with each of the winning journals will be rolled out between April and June to highlight their editorial efforts within the region.


First Place, $1500
“which orientation with sea” by Nhã Thuyên, translated from the Vietnamese by Kaitlin Rees

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Published by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop's magazine, The Margins, for the Transpacific Literary Project

she gives me a sense of place to go back to, your voice from last night flickering at the edge of my ear as two strangers together are finding their way to the sea, as if just she and no one else would lead the way, though whoever she is i don’t know, a vague pronoun, a distant presence, a gentle reminder, she’s never yet here, and more, is not here now, just she alone no one else knowing the way, google maps’ three hour walk from the hotel just a cheap trick is all, don’t worry, we’ll get to sea before dawnbreak in time to admire the sun, since the sky was still its velvety grey, stone paths still with untouched dew while half-closed horse’s eyes dream the wooden clomping of colonial hooves, while three-wheeled motos cast their gaze on a soundless bell tower, while death quiet windows hold traces of the ancient castle and sleepless morning stars, while gravestones pale the moon, my strange blind hand opens ready and is clasped in someone’s grip, as if that stranger were locating me in a possible place, a possible relation between me and sea, a possibility of sea, will be the sea before dawn breaks, will sun, the reasoning of eager steps, the breath of sea is rousing, the sea must be somewhere here, behind this slope, beneath that hill, left of me, right of me, on me, beneath me, surfacing me, descending me, facing me, far back behinding me, out yonder distancing me, right there alongsiding me, i’m backing to sea the way a cast away child hungers for home, i’m getting to sea as a city dweller thirsts for wild winds, i’m going to sea with the heart of a sailor, i’m coming out to sea with the kids who greet fishing boats, i’m entering into sea as a sleepwalker enters the abyss, i’m surfacing sea with deep dwelling mermaids, i’m descending sea following the steps of mountain goats, i stir bewilderment into my navigation by envisioning other possible relations with sea, other possibilities of sea, but the sea must be somewhere here, behind this slope, beneath that hill, left of me, right of me, on me, beneath me, surfacing me, descending me, facing me, far back behinding me, out yonder distancing me, right there alongsiding me, the breath of sea is rousing up a fragrance, now i need to know if i want to enter in or come out, be back or get to, surface or descend, if i step with the feet of homecoming or with the heart of a sailor, carrying dreams or street dust, as a guest who envisions belonging, who calls for tremendous immensity yet still dreads the strange water strange people, which sea is foreign, which people familiar, i reveal to you dear, in my land no one relishes in crossing the sea, plain no two ways about it, i reveal to you dear that i am here stricken with tremendous-immensity-indecision, a rare disease, scared and more wanting, shy and more electrifying, you must be somewhere here, behind this slope, beneath that hill, left of me, right of me, on me, beneath me, surfacing me, descending me, facing me, far back behinding me, out yonder distancing me, right there alongsiding me, the breath of you is rousing, now i need to know if i want to enter in or come out, be back or get to, surface or descend, approach or distance, be left or right of, be horizontal or vertical to, my feet still wanting, the firmament’s feet still there, illusory pedestal of sky, the horizontal line shaping the sea, the intercepting fence where tremendous immensity pivots, the innocent indicator of direction, the firmament’s feet still there, feet with an endless dream of moving while still fixed, the horizon sustains me upright, the horizon cuts me crosswise, the horizon fences me from falling into that further tremendous immensity, the firmament’s feet like my feet on earth’s surface, like my feet teetering on sea’s surface, a mattress teetering on waves, salt hunting skin, wind snapping face, the firmament’s feet still there, proper orientation, sure enough, she gives me a sense of place to be back to, she’s magically deceptive, or google maps’ not just a cheap trick after all, will come out to sea, enter into sea, get to sea, descend sea, surface sea, go to sea, be back to sea, be back with tremendous immensity, will sea before dawn breaks in time to admire the sun, i have seen the line at the bottom of sky crack glimmers of clear light, i pulse with tremendous-immensity-indecision, scared and more wanting, shy and more electrifying, the fear of not having a place to go back to is nothing compared to the fear of vanishing in the middle of that place, the angst of not being able to get to a tremendous immensity doesn’t touch that of being in the middle of tremendous immensity, getting to sea before dawnbreak causes much less misery than trying to resolve my relation with sea, to ease the heart, i should fabricate a bed out of sea, build a house out of tremendous immensity, even if the sea is just one tremendous immensity shredded on a map of belligerent corporations, am i in my region or your region, foreign waters familiar people, foreign people familiar waters, i have seen the line at the bottom of sky crack glimmers of clear light, i lift my gaze, your voice breaks across my ear, all at once a tremendous immensity is slit, i fear a false orientation, a misorientation with sea getting to river, my tremendous-immensity-indecision rises to a peak then softly shatters, facing me a river tiny as a stream, water choked with garbage glistening, google maps one huge cheap trick, or it’s the illusion of her disorienting me, making me non-orientational, in time for dawnbreak, tremendous immensity must be somewhere here still, behind this slope, beneath that hill, left of me, right of me, on me, beneath me, surfacing me, descending me, facing me, far back behinding me, out yonder distancing me, right there alongsiding me, the breath of tremendous immensity is rousing up a fragrance, now i need to know if i want to enter in or come out, be back or get to, surface or descend, approach or distance, be left or right of, be horizontal or vertical to, my feet still wanting, the firmament’s feet still there, the sun on whichever side it rises is still the sun, she whoever she is i don’t know, a vague pronoun, a distant presence, she gives me a sense of place to be back to, she gives me the illusion of proper orientation, who knows if this sea has ever been real, or if it has died, dried, began, concluded, had an orientation and was a disorientation, she had been the place to be back to and had been tremendously immense, two strangers have come out to sea, entered into sea, gotten to sea, descended sea, surfaced sea, gone to sea, been back to sea, or are still teetering on the bed entering into the abyss, still last night’s bed, the strange blind hands opened ready and clasped in someone else’s, teetering sea dream comes when the window cracks glimmers of clear harsh and dazzling light that ruptures the tremendous immensity of a black night, and i burst out laughing, hopeless, radiant, feral, i made it in time to break dawn surfacing the sea, i missed the time to break dawn surfacing the sea, in my ear, your voice still flickering, she gives me a sense of place to be back to, and i release myself into disorientation, tremendous immensity, but in fact, is that sense necessary?

Translator’s Note: “bottom of sky” is the literal translation of “chân trời,” which is commonly understood to be the horizon. With “chân” comes the concept of a base, directly referring to the leg or the foot, so that the space of the sky is seemingly standing on, held up by, this line.


Second Place, $700
“Kiwis” by Jenny Danes

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Published by The Kindling (Issue 3, June 2017)

When we’re apart again I find myself eating the things he fed me –
salami, cheese, bread, apples, kiwis – so many kiwis.
He bought us a whole carton, all of them rock hard still,
but we ate them anyway, peeled them with knives:
his ridiculous care not to waste the flesh, almost tender
with his blade, coring out the little white nub at the end.
We feasted on them like peaches, cupped the bare wet flesh,
the sharpness and the seeds and the juice
sudden in our mouths, the joy of it. At home
I sit a packet of six kiwis on my desk
and think of him. They are too ripe to eat this way –
I have to cut them in half and scoop them empty
with a teaspoon: so much sadder, more mechanical,
a process of start to finish, whole to half, full
to empty. Is it the lack of tenderness
of the chop and hollow, of their sad skins flopped
into the bin, or is it the lack of his kitchen table,
the breadth and freshness from Italian daylight,
of him setting a fruit down at my place, us sitting,
comfortably quiet, knives scraping careful as woodwork?

Editor's Note: This poem first appeared on The Kindling, and was published in Jenny's pamphlet Gaps (The Poetry Business, 2017), which was awarded the New Poets' Prize.


Third Place, $300
“definition” by Nguyễn Man Nhiên, translated from the Vietnamese by Kaitlin Rees

Published by AJARpress (Issue 5, Fall 2017)

i read somewhere that darkness was a theme, a kind of abstract
name for the fall from grace, the suffocating color scale, like a sun-pocked mirror a dress’ stain and the body temperature get knocked from an apron pouch
a pretty little mouth with a wide open jaw its teeth gleam at me, menacing 

i read somewhere that power was the best way to deplete ideas
an excellent settlement, a voice of snakes or fate, like the way a poet speaks
something that will never have meaning is screaming, crying out, the warning or the limit a festival of roses where art is refused so the masses have enough space to pay the remaining criticized and condemned words 

i read somewhere that freedom was a cruel moon, an agreeable plan
something truly lost like the ugliness of the poor running in circles around the stage
a permanent address in the sky, an ancient faith, cheap beauty except for the weeds
i ask myself if i miss it, and with both hands i grab and fondle it with bleach scented love 

i read somewhere that silence was the rhythm or furious torment narrated by the dead some place between the fallen clouds and the birds trapped in plastic snares
a piece of fried bread a face frozen looking out in fear under the thin shell of night something lengthens my neck, marks my back, hollows out my soul and keeps me sleepless 

i read somewhere that truth was the slap of consciousness waiting over there a parable, a puzzle, a cocktail of every dogma abandoned ages ago in a coat a label hastily replaced until it is bleeding beneath a friend’s palm
a dishwashing machine lost in the night and a pair of shoes, as the bus comes


Honourable Mention (1/5)
“To Pay Attention to the Dead” by Subashini Navaratnam

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Published by Rambutan Literary (Issue Two)

before they leave us,
the scraps of consciousness threadbare
and flimsy, so clear you can see through it.
it’s how I listened to her breathing
towards the end and wrote out what came
in laboured heaving, the methods by which
one is supposed to conjure the wolves.
gather the last breath, smoke, and screams
and arrange them, a constellation. let the bones take
the lead, laying down the path towards
the boat that arrives on the river at the precise hour
when the moon eats the night and the trees begin to stir.
avoid the boat and plunge into the waters. the hound is by your side.
do not stop to search for loved ones, just keep going.
the problem is not the depths, or the dark, or the water;
the problem is looking back, and then, to stop moving. 


Honourable Mention (2/5)
“one by one the bodies died” by Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas, translated from the Bahasa Indonesia by Mikael Johani

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Published by AJARpress (Issue 5, Fall 2017)

one by one the bodies died. taking the history of their lives into a long sleep inside a box under strips of fine linen. sad stories happy stories dreams that turn into reality crumble into pieces frozen into stiff bodies. the body prays for the rain never to come and god grants the request. the body pretends to understand the words in english books. the body climbs to the top of a tree and watches kids playing football under its canopy. the body blows bubbles in a playground. the body rides a becak with mother and the becak flips over on a kerb. the body makes love in an attic there’s a hole on the roof where mosquitoes swarm in. the body endures rude calls from debt collectors. the body is bored with life. the body has given birth to so many children. the body loves and hates them in equal measure. the body spends hours and hours in a coffee shop writing poems that never end that nobody ever reads. the body endures insults for not lending people money. the body does secret work for the government. the body does not-so-secret work against the government. the body has never had a father or a mother. a child tries to give the body a full body massage and they laugh so hard. the body sways silently to the rhythm of a song in a half-filled bar. the body cries when she watches a detective series on television. the body earns fifteen minutes of fame from winning a national singing contest. the body watches a little girl as she stares at the window displays in a mall from inside a toy train. the body knows the girl is thinking i will never have everything i want from those shops. the body plants a starfruit tree. the body rides a commuter train and watches a beggar wipes the floor with his bare hands. the body feels useless. the body feels guilty because it is useless. the body feels guilty out of a sense of guilt since there are clearly other people with bigger problems. the body gets angry about little things when it is really angry about bigger things. the body’s parents left her. the body has become soft earth to be dug up again no one knows when. the body has become a pile of ashes kept in an earthen jar. the body is thrown into the sea and becomes one with the foam on top of the waves. the body rises up from a chimney and disappears below a cloud. 


Honourable Mention (3/5)
“Love | Object | Treason” by She Who Has No Master(s), a collective comprising of Aimee Phan, Angie Chau, Anna Moï, Dao Strom, Hoa Nguyen, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Julie Thi Underhill and Lan Duong Thao P. Nguyen, partly translated by Genève Chao and Quan Tran

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Published by AJARpress (Issue 5, Fall 2017)


Honourable Mention (4/5)
“my mother thinks i dream in bengali” by Wahid Al Mamun

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Published by Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (Vol. 16, No. 4 Oct 2017)

that my dreamscapes, like hers, are flooded by
incontinent rivers that carry language and fish
downstream to a subconscious shore, to be
hung to dry by an ancient fisherman. she thinks
i am the swimmer i am not. that if i plunge
feetfirst into an open sea my ankles will not
break. instead i will break the surface with a beard,
rich and salted, tagore's or my grandfather's. 
my mother dreams i have her accent. some nights
she is right, with a prescience i put down to
maternal instinct. these are the nights when
language rises like air, the fish swim downstream. 
the land i stand on does not subduct under
my feet. these are the nights i do not instead
dream of falling from a skyscraper into an
olympic pool. i do not fall in a language that is
bleached to bone, neither english nor bengali.


Honourable Mention (5/5)
“The Experiment of the Tropics” by Lawrence Lacambra Ypil

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Published by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop's magazine, The Margins, for the Transpacific Literary Project

As a nest among the trees               As a garden among the bigger garden of sea

Mountain                     View             As a wish that were drawn to scale

So the idea became foldable                        a mere scaffold

Discarded                     For the long-lasting thing

That revivalist thing                Style                which was as the master

carpenter implied                 went beyond               road               port

Nut                 bolt                 wharf               a nail

In a railroad port                a pipe

that opened and closed

The central portico             the color and the texture of

A solid collonade               Inday’s silence

Which was her sense of water flowing       across the experiment

that was the tropics                A river bank made private

A theater of night guards                               A soda parlor

Of that foreign good                 whisky tractor

red tin can                 with the picture of a scarab                 and a quaker oat

Acquisition                               That American thing

The good old good

Cheese and grape

There was a tennis court in the club                           where you hit a ball

and nothing returned

We munched                 on its brandy biscuit.

We ordered two of it.


OUR 2018 PANEL OF JUDGES

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Bernice Chauly is the critically acclaimed author of six books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, which include the award-winning Growing Up With Ghosts (2011), Onkalo (2013) and Once We Were There (2017). She is an Honorary Fellow in Writing from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, currently teaches creative writing at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus and has served as Director of the George Town Literary Festival since 2011. (Photo: Daniel Adams.)

It is my hope that the Hawker Prize will bring recognition to the vibrant and necessary work that is being produced at the moment, and to the importance of contemporary poetry in SE Asia.
— Bernice Chauly
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Olin Monteiro is a prolific writer, feminist, film producer and publisher of women's books. She has worked extensively with women's rights organisations since the 1990s. She has  published 11 books through PBP Publishing and Art For Women, a feminist / educational non-profit publisher and arts organiser in Jakarta. To date she has also produced 5 documentaries focussed on women's stories and women's rights.

I have always believed that poetry could become a major highlight in our vast and dynamic Southeast Asian literary scene. I am looking forward to reading more women and LGBT poets who uphold human rights and gender equality in the increasingly intolerant and turbulent democracy that lies ahead of us.
— Olin Monteiro
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Ng Yi-Sheng is a Singaporean poet, playwright, fictionist, critic, journalist and activist. His books include last boy (winner of the 2008 Singapore Literature Prize), SQ21Eating AirLoud Poems for a Very Obliging Audience and Hims. Additionally, he translated Wong Yoon Wah’s Chinese poetry collection The New Village and has co-edited various national and regional anthologies. Every August, he co-organises the annual cultural and activist festival IndigNation.

I have hopes that this contest will open my eyes to a diverse range of new writing from across the world. I especially look forward to seeing fine translations of work originally written in the vernacular languages of Southeast Asia.
— Ng Yi-Sheng