Anne Lee Tzu Pheng is one of Singapore’s pioneer poets. Her witty poems seem effortless, deliberately ignoring what, for a time, was considered the need for writing a nationalistic type of poetry. Anne Lee Tzu PhengPheng uses daily events and personal experience to further a poetry which, as Gwee Li Sui writes, is neither public nor solipsistic, which is the reason “a virtual roll call of esteemed poets in Singapore today considers her an influence”. We felt honored to have the poet kindly reply to our questions and for her permission to publish ‘Grimm story’ and ‘Singapore River’.
The operation was massive;
designed to give new life
to the old lady.
We cleaned out
her arteries, removed
detritus and silt,
created a by-pass
for the old blood.
Now you can hardly tell
We have become
can sometimes be troublesome
Lee Tzu Pheng, ‘Singapore River,’ The Brink of An Amen. Singapore: Times Books International, 1991.
Why do we tell these tales to children
who grow to find one day
no magic herb to heal their hurt,
nor castles waiting down the road
and Prince Charming isa toad?
Meeting again these stalwart sons
whom fortune's malice never deterred,
kind-hearted beasts, the dead returned,
who but must view with deep concern
how even life will turn away
in shame to confess how few
of these things are true?
Yet they offer us something pure
asking simple devotion,
provide a pattern of belief
for regaining a lost vision;
though we know we can never be heroes,
though we remain clodhoppers and goose-girls;
and some of us, unredeemed,
starve in our candied houses
and devour our children.
Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, ‘Grimm Story,’
Anne Lee Tzu Pheng is a retired Associate Professor in English Literature from the National University of Singapore, she has won numerous awards for her poetry including the Singapore Cultural Medallion (1985), the S.E.A. WRITE Award (1987), the Gabriela Mistral Award (from Chile, 1995), the Montblanc-CFA (Centre for the Arts) Literary Award (1996), and the Singapore National Book Development Council Award for Poetry, three times. She has seven collections of poetry, a book of reflective essays, and a book for developing reading-readiness in children. Published and studied internationally, some of her poems have been set to music. She has mentored many of Singapore’s young writers.