“As women have assessed, some things work better dressed”

The fourth part of a Southeast Asia Globe series that shines a light on the region’s finest poetry

Nathan Thompson
Illustrations by: Mike Stone
January 22, 2014

This month the spotlight falls on the work of two young poets from Singapore. Both poems cleverly represent the intricacies of relationships through the use of the mundane themes of food and home.

Joshua Ip’s “First Date at Jumbo Seafood” sets the tone with the humorously hyperbolic “Jumbo Seafood”; the words conjure up images of Homer Simpson at an all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet – certainly a “compromising venue” for a first date.

During the date, the man demonstrates his masculinity through his ability to “crack crustaceans, muscle open mussels”, while the woman “opts for a course of more restraint”. The gent remains unsure about the answer to his “proposition”, but the reader knows that his efforts will be in vain. The final couplet delivers a witty aphorism and pun as the woman selects fried fish in soy, concluding “some things work better dressed”.

Perhaps the pair at Jumbo Seafood eventually fell in love. We can imagine them as the couple in Jerrold Yam’s “Blueprint”; moving in to a new apartment together and beginning the task of rebalancing their public and private spheres in order to adjust to the new arrangement. The poem uses a synesthetic effect to explore the couple’s social and temporal situation; grandma’s sleep becomes the television’s chatter and community gossip becomes the apartment’s windows. The layers of social space fall away as the couple begins by arranging curtains and bedspreads and finally make love. The theme of being held and protected rises to the surface; the couple have a safe space in their new apartment, friends and families seem to be part of the physical space, and the final image of cupping hands suggests the birth of children.

Poetry from Singapore

by Jerrold Yam 

The best part of getting an apartment

is not to live in it, as newlyweds know,

but persuading curtains

to complement bedspreads, then

entering that strategic harmony,

aria of migratory birds,

windows patiently eyeing

how long it will last. Grandma

would sleep away television chatter

in the afternoon, a breeze

parting curtains to invite sunlight

on her skin, her body

another surface to conquer, another

shelf of want. Cupping

her hands in mine the way

a nest hoards its tenants, I can be

so deliberate as to fill

spaces she has emptied with herself.


“First Date at Jumbo Seafood”

by Joshua Ip

a compromising venue, he surmised,

offering her a wholly shellfish menu,

the none-too-subtle proposition – here,

i will peel prawns for you, open oysters,

crack crustaceans, muscle open mussels

to tease out sea-sweet, freshly shell-shucked flesh.

for after all, men take the softest

pleasures in the taking off.


she noted, though, his intent to unclothe

and opted for a course of more restraint,

requiring less hands-on, practical:

soft-shelled crab, cereal-crusted butter prawns,

fish, skin-on, fried gingerly in soy.

as women have assessed,

some things work better dressed


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