News @ AsiaOne

S'poreans' passion sparks rise of online lit journals

Singapore needed to have a presence in the sea of international online literary journals. -myp
Sarah Chang

Thu, Oct 20, 2011
my paper

TEN years ago, one brave soul decided that Singapore needed to have a presence in the sea of international online literary journals.

Toh Hsien Min, a bright-eyed graduate from Oxford University, then 26, took the path less travelled and plunged headfirst into creating Singapore's first online literary journal, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS).

There were earlier outlets for creative folk: The Poetry Billboard; The 2nd Rule; and The Flying Inkpot. But QLRS is the first full-fledged regular journal.

Aside from Toh, the founding editor, it is helmed by a non-profit volunteer collective comprising Cyril Wong, Yeow Kai Chai, Yong Shu Hoong and Alvin Pang, who also started The Poetry Billboard.

Looking back, Toh, who is a poet and a risk analyst, said that if he had known it would be so tough to keep the journal going, he would not have started it.

"I was young and foolish. Now, I am slightly older, but still slightly foolish. That's why I'm still on it," he said wryly.

The journal will celebrate its 10th birthday on Tuesday at the Glass Hall at the Singapore Art Museum, as part of the Singapore Writers Festival.

Toh is modest when it comes to the success and longevity of QLRS, saying that it was the Internet's wide reach that propelled the journal forward.

"The moment you put a review or short story on the site, you've essentially reached an unrestrained, massive audience. Your cultural production is no longer restrained by physical distribution," he said.

Modesty aside, QLRS has paved the way for a slew of online literary journals. One of them is Softblow, which is devoted to poetry. It was founded in 2004 by QLRS co-editor Wong.

The 34-year-old operations manager at The Substation recalled the years running the site alone - he now has a co-editor - as stressful and nerve-racking.

But he feels that it's his duty to keep the journal going. "There are so many voices in this part of the world that need to be heard," he said.

Fast forward to 2011, and two more writers have hopped on the online-journal bandwagon.

In January, Lee Yew Leong, a poet and video-artist, founded Asymptote. The 34-year-old pitches it as an international journal, as he wants to move away from the idea that a home- grown journal must promote Singapore works exclusively.

Asymptote has featured writers of international acclaim, such as Haruki Murakami, and local politician Chen Show Mao. It focuses on translations of works from all over the world, and has recently moved its base from Singapore to Taiwan.

"Singapore is still not a country (which) values its writers, let alone sees the value of literary journals," he said, citing the lack of institutional support as a reason for the move.

When asked if Asymptote can help carry works of Singaporeans forward, he said the journal has a simple aim: to gather the best in contemporary literature in one place.

Another new journal to look out for is Unswept, started by Nicholas Liu, a rising poet and a postgraduate student at Singapore Management University.

Liu has made his name in the literary circle for his incisive reviews of Singapore works for QLRS. Unswept, which aims to critique other literary works, is currently in production.

The 26-year-old, whose poetry collection Versions From The English is coming out early next year, views it as an avenue for writers like him who are just starting out.

He said: "It can be very disheartening that it's the same big names getting published."

But he doesn't think that his journal should and must be a vessel to carry Singapore literature into the international scene.

"This idea that we want to promote ourselves to the world is immature. It's based on ideas that our works are not good enough, that we need foreigners to validate it. That's not healthy," he said. In the meantime, QLRS is all set for its 10th-anniversary bash.

Toh said: "I cannot imagine that it has been 10 years, and that I am still doing this. But I guess we will keep going, as long we are still relevant."

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