Prior to Speechless, I have never worked with anyone on the team before, save for Francesca. I had no idea how to stake my place in the line-up of these poets, and yeah, sure, at that point, so far, we’ve just been playing games and hanging out for lunch, so when Mike said we’ll have to start sharing our commissioned pieces to the group so that we can start on shaping the show, I was both nervous and excited. Nervous that I wouldn’t measure up to these wonderful artists and I would be exposed as a sham, and excited to hear their wonderful works.

Anyway, backtrack a bit. Pooja was the last to arrive in London, so she missed out on all the fun we had over the weekend. First thing we did on the Monday that she arrived was share with her what we’ve been doing so far, including the activity where we went out to the market outside The Albany and got an item that we could take home to our homes as souvenir, and that item should express for us what “freedom” means, and it couldn’t cost more than a quid.

For my item, I got a set of coloring pencils because I thought freedom means coloring beyond the lines we have drawn around ourselves. Aoife got some bubbles liquid, and was it Malika who bought a mute bell? Wel, someone did bought a mute bell, and, not to be outdone, Yen bought a bell that says “Ring for Sex”. Priya discovered an album she really liked, more for the jacket, really, and Mike bought a bag of “English Conference Pears” and took home some old school wisdom about being a good husband from the lady who sold him the intriguingly named fruits. Jacob bought something cool, and smart, but I can’t remember what it is, probably a robot. Phuong didn’t get anything, but instead, she said she’ll bring with her the pound coin as a token of her stay in the UK, and currency is a form of freedom for her.

Ok, once we’re all accounted for, including Ms. Nansi who showed up for work straight from the airport after a 16-hour flight, we gathered our chair in a semi-circle, and one by one, shared our works.

This is Jacob Sam-La Rose. To read Jacob’s work on Speechless, click here. Jacob’s pieces didn’t change much from when he shared them with us the first time to our last performance at the Southbank Centre because his were the most polished of the lot. His pieces were so amazing that there was no more room for improving them.

This is that guy called Siege who thinks he’s all so funny and shit. To read his work on Speechless, click here. Anyway, I had a mug of ginger tea in front of me there because, as I’ve mentioned before, I choke so much everytime I perform that it’s no longer funny. Seriously. Of all the pieces in the show, I think, mine went through the most revisions. For some performances, I even affected a Southern accent, until Mike made me drop it, and I’m glad he did, because I finally felt more sincere without the accent. And I tend to improvise lines, much to the embarassment of everyone around me. Usually, when I’m bored with my own material, I throw a curveball (or as Mike puts it, “pulling a fast one”) to the audience, and at some point in the tour, I stopped improvising so much because I realized, I was dangerously bordering on being a stand-up act that the audience is getting distracted from the message. Anyway, enough about me, here are more photos:

This is Malika Booker, the woman who held my hand when I was about to choke to death on my own tongue. She introduced us to the wonderful world of Jamaican cuisine, and as you can she, her jewellry has cost hours of delay in international airports. To read her work, click here. Be warned. Her poetry is known to grab the audience by the balls, and cut them off with a kitchen knife.

This is Liu Liang Yen. He believes in the inherent kindness in each and everyone of us, but said kindness he refers to as “nymphomania” as well. So, when he calls you a nymphomaniac, you should take it as a compliment. I know I do. To read his work, you have to click here. He travels around with a plastic, 3-inch high model of Astroboy. Astroboy (or “Atomo” in its original Japanese title) is a bionic kid who shoots (pew-pew-pew!) lazer beams out of his ass. This is true. Click on the link to watch the OBB of the 1983 animated series Astroboy. You have to be Asian to appreciate the fact that a pre-teen kid partial to nudity is wearing rocket powered shinguards that let him fly, and blast death beams from his cybernetic anus.

Surprisingly, though, Hollywood remade Astroboy using CGI, and will be in theatres next year!

This is Priya Kulasagaran. She also goes by the name Priya K. To read her work, please click on this link. She’s a tough chick who knows more people in the UK than the average English person. You can drop Priya K. anywhere in the UK, and she can ring someone up to pick her up. Also, she’s really good for our male 15-45 demographics.

This is Aoife Mannix. Recently, she launched her new poetry collection and her first novel. To read her work in Speechless, click here now. She’s getting married soon, too. She’s from Ireland by way of the U.S., and has a generous spirit that aims to teach the entire human race to say I-Love-You to each other in Irish. I have heard her pieces several times, and they’re consistently, all-year-long funny. There are different types of humor, and laughter comes from varied parts of the body; I’d like to think there are laughs that come from the guts, some come from the brain, and Aoife’s humor seem to draw laughs from the heart.

This is Stilleto Scars author Pooja Nansi, and you can’t stop this woman from shopping, or from going on a Jane Austen walking tour. To read Pooja’s work on Speechless, better click here. It’s difficult to tell when Pooja is being sarcastic, and when she’s being really sarcastic. I have several photographs of her and Priya doing weird poses with a coffee mug, and I’m planning on auctioning them off on E-bay in the near future. Ms. Nansi is in charge of the education of a group of Singaporean high school students who are mighty fearful of her not getting any caffeine in the morning. She loves a hot cup of Bombay Bad Boy late in the evening, and you can shake her all night long, but only if you’re AC/DC. Wait, that doesn’t sound right… or does it?

This is Da Thao Phuong. She usually performs accompanied by a Video Art specially created for her performance. To read her work and its translation into English, click here. She is a bottomless well of infinite  serenity. I have never seen her panic, except for the time when  it snowed right after we saw Toni Morrison live in the Southbank Centre, and I was almost hit by a cab while crossing the slick, slippery, slushy streets of London. She is the mother of a bundle of joy named Benjamin, who she fondly refers to as “Osama Bin Jamin”. Osama Bin Jamin, Phuong is proud to announce, has just recently learned to walk. I told her that within two years from learning to do so, children forget all they learned about walking and would be on a default speed of “Running Like A Little Bugger”, usually under the tables of strangers in a restaurant and head-on towards oncoming traffic.

Once everyone has done their piece, Francesca and Mike scheduled individual consultation schedules for everyone. As dramaturg, Francesca was in charge of guiding us with our re-writes, while Mike worked with us on the performance aspect of our poetry. Francesca Beard‘s songs were written especially to serve as links between the performances, and if you want to read them, they are available here.

If you have seen our show, you would notice that we had a thing going where one poet introduces the next performer, who in turn introduces the one after him, and so on. Those introductions you heard from us came from an exercise where we paired up and ask each other questions that Francesca Beard came up with. Here are the questions:

  1. What is your favorite time? When do you feel most particularly free?
  2. What is the place that makes you feel most safe?
  3. Talk about something which you are proud of.
  4. Talk about something which are ashamed of.
  5. What color makes you feel most free?
  6. What is the smell of freedom?
  7. What is the soundtrack of freedom?
  8. -10: 3 Questions that the interviewer is free to ask on his own discretion.

Asking ourselves these questions gave us surprising, enlightening, interesting answers. After this activity, it felt like we knew each other better, having opened up on the universal topic of freedom contextualized in the very personal lives of poets.

We were getting closer and closer to our first show!

Speechless Catford Contingent, waiting for the Southeastern Train by the New Cross Station.

Speechless Catford Contingent, waiting for the Southeastern Train by the New Cross Station.

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Continued from here.

Speechless wasn’t just about poetry, it was also a cultural exchange amongst the poets, and everyone involved in the production. With people coming from different nationalities, a spectrum of social and cultural backgrounds and experiences, and various degrees of dependency on the internet, we were running our very own United Nation of Poetry in the hallowed halls of The Albany.

Watch the video above where Aoife Mannix educates us on expressing one’s tender, magical feelings in Irish. As an added bonus to readers in this blog, I will now post instructions on how to make the most out of the video above:

  1. Click PLAY button.
  2. Watch video with the volume set to full.
  3. Repeat the phrase the group was saying over and over, until you could roll it out of your mouth effortlessly.
  4. ???
  5. Profit!!!

Actually, what we did was divide ourselves into two groups, and each group was tasked to learn each other’s lines. Since English was diplomatically the medium of communication for the program, we thought it would be fun to try out learning lines from another language.

By the end of alloted time we were given to learn each other’s lines, I was able to learn a stanza from Da Thao Phuong’s poem which translates to “Lighting a fresh cigarette from the dying embers of an old one.” I am proud to share with you that Phuong praised me for my (almost) perfect Vietnames pronunciation. I can confidently go to Viet Nam now and live there for some time, impressing the locals with my eloquent, and poetic catchphrase: “I light a new cigarette from the dying embers of an old one.” I just couldn’t wait till I save enough money for a trip to Viet Nam, pick up the habit of chain smoking, and delight a nation rich in culture with the one thing I know how to say in Vietnamese: “I am lighting a fresh cigarette,” I’ll tell them, gesturing to the stick in my hand, “using the dying ember of the one I have previously been smoking.”

Anyway, after learning each other’s lines, we presented it to Mike and the other group, improvising on the directions we were spontaneously being fed with. Everyone remembered Malika’s lines, except Malika, and I was really excited to play around with Phuong’s line.

“Now do Jacob’s line, mate,” Mike asked me.

There are silences I’ll break/ and be broken by,” I said.

“Now all together, but at your own cue, and whichever line you wish, and in the key of F minor through variations 50-59, in a vanishing crescendo,” Mike would have said, except he never did. On hindsight, I wished he did, though, because I wanted to try how “In 1983, these ghosts watched a president disappear” would sound like precisely in the key of F minor through variations 50-59 in a vanishing crescendo.

Someone from this line-up ate all the flapjacks, and Mike wasn't happy about it. You wouldn't be, too, had you been there.

Here, we listen earnestly as Aoifes group tenderly re-assure each other that they love one another.

Here, we listen earnestly as Aoife's group tenderly re-assure each other that they love one another.

After that exercise, we shufled the groupings and did a new exercise which, oddly enough turned out to be two different exercises on account of no one was properly listening, and we all did what we thought was most interesting from Mike’s set of instructions.

My group ended up with a new lexicon of phrases and words for concepts, ideas, and emotions that fell in between the cracks of language including:

  • topper – Someone who would top whatever story you’re telling, and would insist on being the best human being there is in the whole history of time and space. Always the topper, Dave made Blake feel sorry about complaining about paying for child support when Dave quoted the exact figure he had to regularly shell out for his wife’s alimony, and that’s just for his third wife.
  • topper diva – A topper who is not only the best human being there is in the whole history of time and space, but is also the most royal and pontifical Queen of The United Republics of Awesomeness and Brilliance. “Girl, I don’t care if your boy dumped you for your best friend; my man left me in the altar in front of 5,000 guests. He left me for my half-brother who’s half his age and twice my size,” Jessica, their group’s resident topper diva, said. “And the caterer has been paid!”
  • Tabanka – Heartwrenching misery brought upon by heartache that has a minimum shelf life of forever. Boy’s got a serious case of tabanka, and it shows in his poetry.
  • ex-capital – The material assets that a former partner brought into your estranged relationship, and are now gone, and more sorely missed than the mindblowing sex you used to have with them. She was so perverted that the only way I could satisfy her in bed was to let her fart in my mouth, but, damn if I don’t miss her CD collection!

These are just some of the wonderful new words we have crafted out of, well, need to please ourselves. We are thinking of compiling these nuggets of necessary new words, and releasing it in book form for the public’s use.

There are 6,000 languages in the world, but nothing could quite capture the emotion of that weird feeling you get when you invite some people to your show and they didnt show up, and you feel a little disappointed, but as an adult, youre OK with it, and they probably had better things to do than watch you do something youre really proud of, and hey, werent you there when they invited you to their kids stupid christening, and you were on time? So whats the deal, right? But its raining, so maybe its really OK, and youre not actually mad, but just a little, and Oh, forget it, youre just being childish, and mixing your pronouns now, arent you? that we had to work in a committee to try to figure it out.

There are 6,000 languages in the world, but nothing could quite capture the emotion of "that weird feeling you get when you invite some people to your show and they didn't show up, and you feel a little disappointed, but as an adult, you're OK with it, and they probably had better things to do than watch you do something you're really proud of, and hey, weren't you there when they invited you to their kid's stupid christening, and you were on time? So what's the deal, right? But it's raining, so maybe it's really OK, and you're not actually mad, but just a little, and Oh, forget it, you're just being childish, and mixing your pronouns now, aren't you?" that we had to work in a committee to try to figure it out.

Watch the video below as we try to use the words we came up with in a conversation that made sense only to us (but soon, the world!):

The other group came up with a totally different activity, as I’ve explained earlier. What they did was ask each other questions about freedom, and the interrogation went around. The same basic question was asked:

“Are you free?”

And the answer could either be “Yes” or “No”, right? But upon closer examination, the same person could answer “Yes, I’m free” and then begin to say “No, I’m not free” moments after.

The most interesting portion of this was that sometimes, the same aspects, objects, circumstances on our lives make us both feel free and not free at the same time.

Take the passport, for instance. It’s a legal document that grants you access to places, and yet, due to certain political arrangements and relationships, it could also restrict you from going to certain countries under particular regulatory laws.

I think, CCTV all over the England can also illustrate this point. On one hand, CCTV monitoring everything everytime makes you feel less threatened by the dangers of the world, but it also reminds you that Big Brother’s watching, and may even breath down on your neck if only technology permits.

Here, the Speechless poets ask each other about their relative freedom, while I try not to think about them discovering I was the one who wolfed down the last of the flapjacks.

Here, the Speechless poets ask each other about their relative freedom, while I try not to think about them discovering I was the one who wolfed down the last of the flapjacks.

To be continued…

Speechless was a unique program from Apples & Snakes, and the British Council, which brought together artists from Southeast Asia and the UK in a tour that spanned 9 cities, 4 weeks, 6,000 languages, and endless memories (mostly concerning tons of luggage through the railway system).

When we first got in the UK, we stayed in Catford, an area in Southeast London. A gigantic cat was perched quite confidently on an arch welcoming us to Catford. My, how thoughtful, I thought. The people of Catford erected a massive cat for people prone to drinking themselves dead drunk and waking up with no idea where they are. In Quezon City (the part of Metro Manila where I reside), I live in an area called “Diliman”, which, research and local history has told me, is short for “kadiliman”. That literally translates to “darkness”, I kid you not. Quezon City used to be one big hacienda/plantation, and “Diliman” was its armpits, an overgrowth where runaways disappear. I’m thinking, if the people of Diliman were tasked to come up with a huge structure similar to that fo the Catford Cat, we would draw a blank.

So, there was the cat, and I really should have taken a picture of it. I can not, for the love of me (and that’s pretty serious, coming from a self-aggrandizing narcissist), remember why we did not take a photo of the Catford Cat, but posed confidently, almost haughtily, inside a Tesco.

Theres a Tesco everywhere, and in everyone, is a Tesco. Also, theres some great bargains on Aisle 15.

There's a Tesco everywhere, and in everyone, is a Tesco. Also, there's some great bargains on Aisle 15.

For the first few days of the program, we would go to the Albany in Deptford to work with Mike Kirchner, our director, Jennie Bradbury, the stage manager, and Francesca Beard, who, aside from MC’ing the show, also served as dramaturg. Geraldine “The General” Collinge (Director, Apples&Snakes) and Rebecca Gould checked on us regularly to make sure we were warm, and kept the stock of flapjacks coming, and the tea flowing. (I had coffee mostly, though, having built a dependency on caffeine upon my parents’ realization that my lethargic nature as an awkward boy of 7 could be remedied with a regular regimen of government-approved stimulant.)

Siege Malvar stands by his lonesome outside The Albany. You couldnt tell it from this photo, but he just had some amazing curry from the Indian restaurant down the road. Or could you?

Siege Malvar stands by his lonesome outside The Albany. You couldn't tell it from this photo, but he just had some amazing curry from the Indian restaurant down the road. Or could you?

The Albany in Deptford is a wonderful art space/venue where there’s ALWAYS something going on ALL THE TIME. You can randomly drop by any time of the day and find the place buzzing with so much creative energy. A low building with color coded spaces, The Albany houses Apples & Snakes, the UK’s largest performance poetry organization (among other equally vibrant and dynamic institutions, organizations, and a cozy cafe run by lovely ladies led by a woman named Allison; “You have that American thwang going, you do,” she told me, at once assessed for me the status of my agenda, which was to acquire a convincing English accent, regardless of its regional unaccountability).

The cafe at The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford. A couple of years ago, Wi-Fi was developed by mad geniuses so that Ms. Pooja Nansi could check her Facebook in between our rehearsals.

The cafe at The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford. A couple of years ago, Wi-Fi was developed by mad geniuses so that Ms. Pooja Nansi could check her Facebook in between our rehearsals.

Pooja was getting good at randomly taking photos of unwitting poets enjoying the quiet bliss of checking their Facebooks.

Pooja was getting good at randomly taking photos of unwitting poets enjoying the quiet bliss of checking their Facebooks.

On our first day, what we did was play games, and worked on getting comfortable with everyone else. I have worked before with Francesca when she came to the Philippines, but it was the first time I got to join the company of the wonderful poets of Speechless.

First, we played a game which involves one player as “IT”, and the rest  creeping towards the wall the It was pressing his/her sorry face on before he/she turns around to call out anyone he/she caught moving. This game involves skills in the art of stalking, and is played all over the world through different variations, mostly in borders between adjacent nations, and involving patrol guards.

The key to winning is pretending Bulgarian gangsters will break your moms arms if you cant make it to the wall without alerting the guards. That, and impresive muscle control developed through years of walking for miles with a watermelon clenched between your thighs.

The key to winning is pretending Bulgarian gangsters will break your mom's arms if you can't make it to the wall without alerting the guards. That, and impresive muscle control developed through years of walking for miles with a watermelon clenched between your thighs.

As part of the plan to facilitate the development of a harmonious community of poets in a matter of minutes, we also played a game which can be summed up as the slowest race in history of human mobility. To win, you have to lose the race, and you lose if you win the race. This is the same basic principle governing the marketing schemes of some companies that call you while you’re in the middle of having your dinner to inform you that you have just won a ridiculously large amount of money, but you would have to first verify your identity by coming to their store and purchasing a new washing machine with your credit card. So, the slowest race basically involves the participants moving as slowly as they could, and aiming to finish last. We had a lot of realizations through this activity, including (a) the importance of paying attention to your body’s internal rhythm, (b) the concept of “winning” in the context of a deconstructed game, (c) contextualizing one’s space in relation to the progress of the adjacent participant, and (d) really, it’s all about muscle control and why clenching exercises will make you live longer, happier lives.

To Be Continued…

I have been performing my poetry for half a decade now, and I have stood in front of different types of audiences, but everytime I am about to go on stage, every single time that I have to wait backstage (or by the table near the stage, depending on the particular interior design of the space), I choke.

It’s a nasty nuisance, and it’s bothersome to other performers. I choke. I go on a coughing fit that at its mildest is an annoying distraction for whoever’s performing on stage, and at its worst is a performance in itself. Unseen talons of panic strum my vocal chords, and I worry just about everything. It’s weird, what seems to be one’s biggest concerns moments before going on stage. I seem to be particularly concerned about losing control of my bladder while I’m on stage. This is true. I mean, what exactly can one do when you’re onstage, and then your bladder bursts in front of an audience? I’m thinking, no one will exactly be saying anything, and the hardest part is breaking the silence.  And even if I don’t get into an accident involving my bodily functions, what if the audience hate me? What if, for no other reason than my existence in that particular moment and in that specific space, the audience realize that they don’t like my poetry, and that they could write better poetry than I do so they shouldn’t waste their time listening to me, so they’d just stand up and leave while I’m in the middle of a stanza I have carefully wrought and painstakingly crafted, and that would be a shame now, would it, because I never got to the punchline.

These are what goes on inside the mind of a poet about to bare his soul. Or a crackhead dealing from sewer fumes withdrawals. I’d like to think I’m of the former.

Anyway, imagine this: you are going to speak in front of an audience, and you are going to talk to them in a language you have barely mastered which happens to be their mother tongue, and you have no idea how they would gaze at you as. This was a nervewracking situation, and I was neither experienced enough to fall back on past victories nor young enough to be forgiven for being juvenile. Also, I was dressed like I was going to our high school prom, so that didn’t really help at all in pulling me away from the edge of the nervous breakdown I was about to drown in. I realized, at that very moment, that my hair made me look like I’m a founding member of the Disney-manufactured boy band The Jonas Brothers, and began to regret not having my hair cut for the past year. Everything I have done in the past 24 years felt like a bad idea, and I was having brilliant flashes of nihilism until I realized they were just the stagelights turning on.

Then there was no turning back.

Phuong, lovely and graceful as ever, lead us on stage. Her presence stilled the crowd like a realization on a basic, universal truth.

Malika followed her, strong and passionate, her dress, freely dancing around her, was a festive celebration of greens, reds, and yellows, as intense as the poems she was about to unleash on the crowd.

Behind me, Pooja walked confidently, sure of her every stylishly-shoed steps, her every cell vibrating with an aura of a challenge to the audience.

Then, Jacob. Cool yet fiery, Jacob’s mere presence demanded your attention. The word “FREE” was boldly written on the shirt he was wearing.

Finally, Francesca brought the rear. Like a stalking cat discovered by its prey, Francesca smiled at the audience.

“Welcome to Speechless,” she said, and so it began.

Hi, guys!

It’s me, BILLY!

First, I’d like to thank you all for your support!

Yey!

I won!

I won I won I won!

I know Jell-O’s dad has been campaigning really hard against me these past few weeks, and the whole process hasn’t really been that easy for me and my family. Yes, Angelo’s Dad, I have a family, you mean, old, jerk.

Anyway, while my staff and I settle into our new office, we’ve been going through some of the files that the previous administration has left. Some of them are still classified, but there’s a bulk of them that I, in my official capacity as the president-elect of Kindergarten Class Banana, shall mark declassified, and they will now be open to the public. Most of them came from the Homeroom Security program that was enacted earlier this year.

Please be patient as we organize these files for your viewing.

Meanwhile, we have discovered a file detailing a surveillance report on some individuals prepared by Homeroom Security. Here are some excerpts:

Aoife Mannix: Subject is launching a new collection of poetry, and her first novel on Tuesday, the 25th of November, at Loom Bar, 5 Clipstone Street, London W1W 6BB. The event will be hosted by another Speechless poet, Malika Booker. Intelligence gathered from subject’s site: http://www.AoifeMannix.com

Malika Booker: Subject is still enjoying her sweet time in Slovenia working on new pieces. She recently posted an update on her whereabouts and activities in her Facebook, which includes a very suspicious trip to the caves where she read poetry by torchlight.

Jacob Sam-La Rose: Subject made contact with the Americans recently under the guise of bringing his students to Chicago. Is currently working on hundreds of tasks that Homeroom Security suspects initial report may be true, and that Jacob Sam-La Rose may indeed be a technologically enhanced individual under the Superhero Act of 2006 (see Marvel, Civil War). Activities may be monitored via http://www.jsamlarose.com

Francesca Beard: Subject last seen in Porto, Portugal having a great time. By her own admission in her website (www.FrancescaBeard.com), she has been in a meeting with a former US military intelligence and strategic theorist, and later went on to the British Council office, thereby confirming our suspicions that the organization is involved, and must be placed under strict monitoring and surveillance. Francesca Beard is a known threat class Red for her fatal yoga mastery; agents are advised to exercise extreme caution in making contact with the subject.

The General: Known only as “G”, the General has been seen organizing and executing a “Security” program with Zena Edwards, a known associate of Apples & Snakes. Several institutions and individuals have been noticing this “Security” program, including Time Out. The General is truly a mastermind at world domination.

Siege Malvar: Subject back in his own territory. Local agents confirmed his involvement in the University of the Philippines’ upcoming Writers Night as MC. Otherwise, subject has been hiding in caves and underground lair, being all anti-social, working on several top secret projects which may include monopolizing and manipulating the world’s Wi-Fi resources in order to demand high prices for its supply. His website, SiegeMalvar.net, may all be fabrications to distract our efforts to keep tabs on him.

Priya K.: Subject began working in her new office, but this may all just be a cover, a legend created to throw off our efforts to tail her. Be wary of this one, she is a master mixer of ideas and words. Possibly hiding the preserved remains of Che Guevarra for future re-animation. Priya K’s been said to promise a local paper a detailed account of her days in Speechless, and we are all eagerly waiting for this tell-all.

Pooja Nansi: According to records gathered from her dentist, this femme fatale, who is lethal with a stiletto, has a hyperactive (possibly, bionic) tongue, therefore, agents are advised to deal with utmost caution when making contact. She has been immersed in “administrative work” lately, and we suspect that’s a codename for a top secret project involving weapons of mass destruction (or the distribution of glazed donuts, whatever).

Liang-Yen Liu: Currently isolated while working on several highly classified projects involving production evaluation reports, academic papers, and revising his new poetry book. Subject last seen in the company of a flying robotic humanoid referred only as “Astroboi”. Do not engage Astroboi, for Astroboi may be dangerous.

There is still currently no word from Da Thao Phuong. She may have outsmarted our agents, or she may have disposed them as soon as she discovered we’ve been tailing her. Very dangerous woman, she has been seen constantly armed with a very sharp object she likes to keep in her hair. All agents are advised to observe from a far, and request for clearance prior to making any contact. Repeat: do not escalate the risk, we cannot afford losing more agents.

Well, that’s all I can tell you for now. Stay tuned. I’ll be posting several declassified files soon!

Again, thank you for your support and trust!

It’s me,

BILLY.


Freedom of Expression
My editor tells me that
my poetry is illegal
not because I’m radical politico
or subversive siren
but because I’m a thief
of ideas
a grandmaster sampler of words
and my stories are laced with
Metallica lyrics.
 
My editor says that my poetry is illegal
but I can’t get no satisfaction
with the concept of copyrighting a memory.
 
This is a tribute
to all the thoughts and words
absorbed and recycled
for I’ve ripped up my influences
for mash-ups;
the jagged edges
are art
avant garde
intentional reaction
to political correction
– are you going to litigate my words?
 
No idea is original
every expression
is reverberation
of past and present
explosions
in conversation
 
No idea is original
it’s all in the mutation.
 
The critics say
that real writers are always original.
I am not a writer
I am resevoir of excavation
a sponge seeking collaboration
a DJ’s not bothered
about anything
but intuition
and the transmission
of blues singers
time travelling through techno beats
and I want to scratch up conventions
and remix sonnets
into relevance.
 
I’ve stolen punk energy
hip hop philosophy
Tagore sensuality
for my muse
is fused
my muse is fused
a collage of
appropriation,
my muse is fused
pasted upon
textured.
 
I steal your dreams to serve them up
I steal my lover’s heartache to feed my own
I steal your footsteps to create rhythm
I steal to contemplate and recreate.
 
This poem is mine, the words are yours, the idea is ours.
 
Forget free love,
I want free culture
where I can build temples of verse
grounded in legacy.
 
No idea is original
it’s all in the mutation.
 
Hello Mono

I am 14
and the slogan to my generation is
dare to be different.
 
Dare to be different!
 
Dare to be different?
 
I need a hero to model my difference after;
a rebel, a revolutionary!
A visionary to change the world!
Someone who can help me proclaim grand political power
through merchandising.
 
I am 14
and I sit in my room with my
Che Guevara mug, pulling on my Che Guevara T-shirt
before saluting the sweatshop silkscreen hanging on my door.
 
I imagine an army of us, a movement of 14-year old in balaclavas
marching to a grunge soundtrack
organic coffee in our Che Guevara mugs
lighting up of reefers of freedom
defiant in daring to be different
together.
 
*
 
It is 2005, and I am at my first open mike
in a room stale with nicotine secrets
and blooming literary heartache
crammed with moody hipsters, post-colonial intellectuals
and the lost parents of poets.
 
There she was onstage, the high priestess of words
bottling her cool in skinny jeans and turban wrap;
a poet slinging like a rockstar.
 
She screams into the mike
democratise poetry!
Merdeka puisi, merdeka rakyat
democratise poetry.
 
Poetry for the streets, poetry for the masses
let the poets lead the rebellion
cos we’re cool enough to rewrite the propaganda.
 
Democratise poetry
for the part-time dreams
of full time wankers.
 
I want to write about motorcycle pimps
shooting up speed to escape urban apathy
but I can’t find the directions to their broken streets.
 
I want to write poetry about racial riots
but I can’t bring myself to rape my mother’s memories
of Malaysia’s forgotten history.
 
I don’t need democracy
I need honesty.
 
*
 
Last night with a blank page and a mass grave of cigarettes, I can’t find the words to explain why London’s bright lights make me blink obscure. I can’t find the words to explain why I’m flickering ashes of anger.
 
I am angry with you.
 
You with your black and white rights, ignoring the pigeon gray of my country’s parental control.
 
You think you know me because you approve the tang of my curry.
 
You with your anti-imperialist guilt, too middle-class to realise that I was born into mental colonisation.
 
Fight for my right, the oppressed Asian
and correct my grammar while you’re at it
teach me your tongue
because you can’t wrap yours
around my last name.
 
Dare me to be different
and then sell my identity,
globalisation is a bitch, baby;
Cos I can’t win a Booker
till I prostitute my culture
for I’m an Indian novelty.
 
I am angry because I am a coconut – my white insides a betrayal to my brown skin.
 
*
 
I’ve been told to write
in my own language
to litter my plain voice
with saffron words
peacock feathers
and quaint magic.
 
You want me to sing one song?
 
My soul is a barricade of ghazals
My heart’s tuned into
Hendrix, Clapton, Zappa
My feet pay tribute to
the Bobby Marley legacy
My voice is rolling Irish green
grunting ballads
into my morning coffee.
 
Can I be the song to my own truth?
 
They tell me to write in my own language
but I think in stereophonic colour
seeping through the corner of lips
dribbling dynamite pools
of nonsensical beauty
leaking onto paper
slithering into formations
of schoolmarm penmanship.
 
This is my own language
of colour, light and sound.
 
Dare me to be different.
 
I’m just daring to be myself.
 
 

 

Love Song (to music)

 

I would say anything for you.

I would tell any lie and love would make it true

Oh yes, the witness that I bore could be as shifting as the shore

Beneath the ocean blue.

 

 

I would say anything for you.

If what I said could set you free,

I’d use my words as keys,

Open every door to let you through,

Even though you travelled far from me.

 

I would say anything for you.

I’d make my mouth a cave for wolves.

I’d twist my tongue into a fist

Turn each breath to sticks and stones

Break my word like breaking bones

I would do this.

 

I’d sell my speeches for your bread

Tear my talk into a pillow for your head

I’d burn my books to light your way

      Teach the holy men to pray,

      Contradict the night and call it day

I’d act the fool and play against my reason too.

 

If words can keep you safe and free, 

I’ll give my words and throat and tongue.

Take my breath,  strike me dumb.

 

 

 

 

My name is Francesca – it’s an Italian name and it means Free Woman.

I’m mixed race, British, I was born in Malaysia.

Sometimes I’m free because no-one can tell where I’m from.

Sometimes I am not free because I don’t know where I’m from.

 

Do you know the meaning of your name?

 

Do you think your name suits you?

 

Do you have a passport?

 

If so, have you used your passport in the last year?

 

Is there anywhere you feel you can’t go because of your passport?

 

Do you like your passport photo?

 

Do you have a simple answer to the question ‘Where are you from?’

 

Do you consider yourself a free person?

 

Who do you think is most free, men or women?

 

Was there a time in your life you felt most free?

 

What freedom would you gift your children that you don’t have?

 

Where do you feel most safe?

 

If you could speak another language, what would it be and why?

 

What would your superhero power be?

 

xxxx

 

 

 

 

Song 2.

 

6,000 languages, all of them genius,

mirror the universe different to us,

One of those languages dies every fortnight,

the world that it spoke to was not big enough.

Where does the idea of a wild tiger

Go when the tiger becomes an idea?

Imagine the magic of speaking a language

Where naming an object makes it disappear.

 

 

I say what I mean and I mean what I say

And I use the same words that I hear everyday.

If I use the same words used by everyone else

Do I feel the same things?

Do I speak for myself?

 

When I was a child and had space in my brain

Where I didn’t have words to describe and explain

I swam through the colours I heard in the rain

And the animals spoke and the trees knew my name.

 

All of the statues on Easter Island

Witness to silence, huge and serene.

Watching the aeroplanes cross the horizon,

Freedom’s a Dream.