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Union“A Literary Miscellany”

Book Review – Alvin Pang & Ravi Shankar (eds), Union: 15 Years of Drunken Boat, 50 Years of Writing from Singapore (Ethos Books and Drunken Boat, 2015)

Union: 15 Years of Drunken Boat, 50 Years of Writing from Singapore is a curious book. Not because the writing included in this anthology is odd (although some is, and pleasingly so), but because one cannot easily put a finger on what is being anthologized in this collection. The subtitle of the anthology seems to orient the reader—Union is of course an anthology born of fifteen years of Drunken Boat and fifty years of writing from Singapore. But I’m not sure how helpful this set of coordinates is to the reader. I suspect that for the lay reader, the reference to “Drunken Boat” doesn’t mean much. Although, the phrase perhaps draws a half-formed memory of an Arthur Rimbaud poem (“Le Bateau ivre”) to the surface of things, it is clear that this cannot be the “drunken boat” being referred to here. Rimbaud’s poem is undoubtedly a good one, but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be brought into conversation with fifty years of writing from the nation of Singapore.

In fact, the drunken boat to which the subtitle refers is the name of an online journal founded in 1999 by Ravi Shankar and Michael Mills. “Drunken Boat,” Shankar tells us in the introduction to Union, aims “to show that in the interconnectedness that the internet literalizes, there are reservoirs of shared humanity and ideas worth exploring around the globe.” To this end, this international journal of literature and the arts, which is based in America, “seeks out and promotes the work of marginalized and under-represented artists, including especially people of colour, women, queer, differently-abled and gender nonconforming artists.” I have my points of dispute with this kind of language and this kind of remit for an arts journal, but since they have nothing to do with curing the bewilderment that quickly strikes the reader of this anthology who tries to rationalize the act of forcing union between the work presented in an arts journal and that conducted by an entire nation over fifty years, I shall pass gracefully over this issue in silence …

[Read the full review at Cha: An Asian Literary Journal]