By Wong Zi Yang (19A01D)
Photos taken by Aiken Lee (18S06G)
The comma: a simple punctuation mark, used by everyone in their daily lives (especially those who write essays upon essays. When will it end?). We almost never appreciate its existence, beyond its ability to differentiate between ‘let’s eat, grandpa’ and ‘let’s eat grandpa’. But no longer is it overshadowed by the long lines of text that flank it; Writers’ Guild shone a spotlight on the comma, featuring this often-overlooked punctuation mark as its theme in their Writers’ Guild Anthology Launch on 30th April.
This is an ode to the comma. Neither the start nor the end, the comma invites readers to enjoy an oasis on a trade route. This simple pause, in the right context, weaves a world of layers within the space of a sentence.
– Writers’ Guild, foreword
You may wonder, how would anyone think of utilising such an inconspicuous punctuation as a theme for an entire book? To delve deeper into the conception and execution of this anthology, Press interviewed the 2018 Writers’ Guild batch on their insight on the process of creating this anthology.
When asked about the origins of the conception of the comma as a theme, Writers’ Guild acknowledged that the comma is indeed an unconventional theme, yet was chosen precisely because it could demonstrate their quirky nature as a batch.
Through the characterless comma, they reinforced their vision as a batch to be a ground-up initiative that creates spaces within the school where anyone can share and enjoy creativity, to conjure up something weird and unexpected to emphasise that meaning is not restricted to the “heavy” and “pretentious”.
We started off with the idea of the comma’s basic function within an utterance: to provide breathing space. This was important to us because the audible pauses in a line of dialogue, for example, are so instrumental in creating a moment of tension or changing the meaning of a phrase. From there, we branched off into various interpretations of breathing space. These can be found in the categories of stories in our anthology.
– Writers’ Guild 2018
The insights to be found within the book also worked on readers on a more subliminal level. The book was broken down into several sections; break, pause, separation, between, moving on and ‘and on’.
Guild member Nicole Goh (18S02A) shared her insights on the fleshing out of the theme, such as how the six sections of the book were crafted to be reminiscent of human relationships, and to create a sense of progression in the book according to the overarching themes. The nuance of the technique employed reveals the level of intricate thought put into this book, with each section meshing into one another to form a coherent progression while still encompassing the theme of the comma.
Even in the illustrations, a great deal of thought was put into it: the cover illustration of a puppet hanging by strings from its limbs and a comma separating its torso, for example, was meant to be a pun on how a comma separates a BODY of text.
It reads a little like how human relationships begin and end – hesitation before you begin, a time to breathe when you’re together, a pause when you realise that something is going wrong. A break. And then a sense of limbo as you’re in-between, followed by a transition, where you move forward a bit and compare your life to the way it was before – and finally, moving on and on, your whole life stretching endlessly before your feet.
-Nicole Goh, 18S02A
To reinforce the profound meaning behind the ubiquitous comma, Writers’ Guild put in even more effort into ensuring that it would not be lost on their readers, presenting a spectacular show at the anthology to engage and allow the audience to better appreciate the stories.
The event began with a brief aside introducing the theme of the book- commas. Introducing it as ‘The Holy Grail of passive-aggression’, Harshini Rayasam (18S06B) foregrounded the upcoming performances that ‘encapsulate the meaning of a comma- be it in the form of a pause, or a transition, or a sense of moving on’.
The first work featured was a poem titled ‘This City, My Home’ by Jovan Lim (18S03O), who laments excessively fast-paced and unfeeling nature of his country, yet decidedly taking pride in the fact that this is his home – a commentary on the stagnation of society, it is a rousing piece that left the audience silent and thought-provoked. Certainly, it was a great way to kick off the anthology.
Following this was a recital of ‘A Roof to Live’ by Harshini; a moving piece following the speaker’s daily routine of housework, ultimately ending as she falls off the roof in a ‘temporary escape’. The pace of this poem was set by the speaker’s voice, slowing down at appropriate moments and enhancing our appreciation of the poem at the right pauses (just as commas do), as the audience moved in tandem with the speaker in the poem.
To inject some levity into the already lively recitals, the event featured dramatic performances of some of their stories, beginning with a fusion of Three Short Pieces, by Morris Yang and Limbo by Marcus Low, performed by Samuel Yaw (18S03B) and Loke Jee Kuen (18A01E). The story follows the protagonist, a recently deceased man, being tested on his worth to enter heaven or hell. The performance was spiced up with flannel and prop guns, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.
Riding on the wave of hype, the event followed up with ‘Conversations with Myself’ by Joie Liew (18A13A), presenting the subject, a comatose man in the form of a monologue, thus earning its namesake. ‘A Letter Sits Unopened on a Bedside Table’ by Wayne Lim (18S07A), recited by Shin Jiyeon (18A03A) follows the speaker talking to his comatose grandfather, being trapped by the vague hope of his grandfather’s unlikely recovery; just as the comma represents an interlude, the stasis of the grandfather represents stagnation.
‘Cooking for the Family’ by Edison Siow (18S03E), performed by Nicole Goh hid a rather morbid message behind a seemingly innocuous poem of reading a recipe, keeping the audience in silent dread and suspense before finally being broken by rambunctious applause.
If there was a common thread between all of the stories recited, it would be their dynamic nature; the speaker pausing periodically that highlighted the theme of the comma as a pause in a sentence, through periodic silence in their recitals, indicating a different direction to be taken by the sentence.
Following this, Harshini and Joie introduced the guest-of-honour, Mr Aaron Lee, a prominent figure in the SingLit scene who has authored three books of poetry, including “Five Right Angles”, and was a co-editor of the best-selling anthologies “No Other City: the Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry” and “Love Gathers All: The Singapore-Philippines Anthology of Love Poetry”.
Inviting him to give a speech to the audience, Mr Lee reminisced about his time as a Rafflesian old boy in what used to be the ‘Raffles Creative Writing Club’. The audience was enlightened on how the current Writers’ Guild is a result of a long period of perseverance and excellence,as well as a sustained passion for creative writing down several batches.
The closing act of the event was the longest, and also incited the greatest responses from the audience. The climax of the event – ‘Noir Detective Story’ by Shin Jiyeon, performed by Edison Siow, Dylan Yeo (18S03A), Shin Jiyeon, and Eugene Lee (18S03A). The story follows main character Dick Tecktiv, a private eye for hire, accepting a case from a mysterious lady, Femme Fatale, to investigate the murder of her fiance. Featuring mysterious women with guns, washed-up detectives and the existential crisis of being controlled by the narrator, this performance had the audience in awe, with uproarious laughter and awestruck gasps as plot twists brought the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions.
The anthology ended off successfully, with the audience leaving with satisfied hearts and a new book in their possession. Despite the casual and intimate setting of the anthology in which there was no separation between stage and audience, or maybe even because of it, the audience no doubt felt included and invested in this event. With each writer possessing creative control over their works, it is hard to imagine how they could conceivably mesh individual pieces into the cohesive collection they released. A culmination of all their talents in art, video, design and theatre, the effort put into planning and executing this anthology is clear for all to see. It enabled Writers’ Guild to better convey its message of assimilating the creative arts into our daily lives, rather than simply looking at the exotic and exceptional without really allowing the arts to be part of our lives, or allowing ourselves to be part of the process.
- this city, my home
- Written & performed by Jovan Lim (18S03O)
- A Roof to Live
- Written & performed by Harshini Rayasam (18S06B)
- Dramatic Reading 1:
- A fusion of Three Stories by Morris Yang and Limbo by Marcus Low performed by Samuel Yaw (18S03B) and Loke Jee Kuen (18A01E)
- Conversations With Myself
- Written & performed by Joie Liew (18A13A)
- A Letter Sits Unopened on a Bedside Table
- Written by Wayne Lim (18S07A) and performed by Shin Jiyeon (18A03A)
- Cooking for the Family
- Written by Edison Siow (18S03E) and performed by Nicole Goh (18S02A)
- Dramatic Reading 2: A Noir Detective Story
- Written by Shin Jiyeon (18A03A) and Performed by Edison Siow (18S03E), Dylan Yeo (18S03A), Shin Jiyeon (18A03A), and Eugene Lee (18S03A)