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Ceriph: A birdhouse for words

By Danielle Hong

Like many of us, Ivan Ang, 30, understands the allure and contentment derived from the written word. Two years ago on a trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia, he managed to write a complete volume of poems inspired by the ongoing footloose voyage. Unlike many of us, he has actually published his work (albeit in prose) in the young local literary publication, Ceriph.

Photo credits: Syed Iskandar bin Hamzah

The brainchild of three local undergraduates, Lee Wei Fen, Hans Wong-Jensen, and Winnie Goh, all 23, Ceriph aims to be the “birdhouse” for talented amateur writers. Fresh off the back of a successful Issue #02 launch, the journal aims to provide a space for the collaboration of artistic expressions – be it in the forms of prose, poetry, social commentaries, photography or visual art.

“We want to be a platform that allows writers to develop their own writing style, and also be the space that provides a sampling of work for publishers interested in selecting and publishing solo authors,” shares co-editor Wei Fen on the Ceriph vision.

The first two issues, including the inaugural Issue #0, have seen an eclectic mix of contributors, from secondary school students to professionals coming forward with works delving into life, love, lost and everything in between.

The Writers

Among the youngest contributors include secondary school student Theophilus Kwek, 16, whose two poems are featured in the latest issue. One of his poems, entitled “chinese workers on the evening train” is telling of his inspirations.

“Perhaps it's just a matter of proximity, and the fact that the act of writing inherently reflects one's senses and perceptions, but there's something about the Singaporean world that connects with me,” says the lanky youth, who often ambles around unfamiliar HDB estates with a camera in tow, trying to capture “the points where the public and private spheres of Singaporeans cross, an unending source of thought and word.”

Similarly, Ivan Ang’s musings are motivated by events happening around him, as well as the short stories he reads from the international literary journals he subscribes to, including Dave Eggers’s McSweeneys and One Story, another American publication. “I don’t think there is one thing I write about, but I do love exploring the complexities of human beings; their reactions and rationale for their reactions through a realistic and modern context.”

By a coincidental, somewhat serendipitous chance, the current teacher at a local junior college decided to submit “the shortest story I’ve ever written” to Ceriph after purchasing their

first copy, since they had wanted flash fiction for their next issue. “I figured it was the perfect fit. To be honest, I wasn’t sure they would run it, but it did and they gave me my first published story.”

Teething Problems

Though the reception has been overwhelmingly encouraging, the Ceriph team has had their fair share of trials in birthing their literary baby. “We had a lot to learn, since we had no experience in the publishing field, especially with things like paper choice and material,” muses Wei Fen. Much time went into liaising and negotiating with fighting with the printers, contacting bookstores, libraries and distributors, doing PR work and online sales.

Photo credits: Syed Iskandar bin Hamzah

The efforts paid off, as could be seen from the full house crowd who turned up for the inaugural launch at BooksActually on the 24th of March. Cramped inside the small whimsical bookstore, interested literary lovers and friends providing social support partook in an intimate reading session, with the contributors taking turns to stand on a chair with the issue in hand, reading out their works to raucous applause.

Afterwards, the crowd spilled outside the bookstore, with contributors milling around talking to the editors and newly made acquaintances.

In the Making

The past issues have seen an improvement in the writing standards, given that the publication is still in its early stage. “We wanted to start out as having a very raw and approachable beginning,to encourage instead of intimidate people who are interested in writing,” explains Wei Fen.

Interestingly, the co-editor has discovered certain writing trends emerging, such as the preference for the medium of poetry instead of prose. “Also, the context of writing often takes place overseas, or in a non-cultural context. Maybe spaces with names like ‘Toa Payoh’ aren’t deemed poetic enough.”

With the partnership of BooksActually being a timely boon, Ceriph now hands over publishing to the in house Maths Paper Press, leaving more space for the team to focus on sieving for quality work, as well as expanding on the journal’s art direction, with Winnie, the art director, creating a new concept for every issue of Ceriph.

Photo credits: Syed Iskandar bin Hamzah

Additionally, the join-up has allowed the juggling undergraduates to bring these works into the international arena. “At the moment, we’re working on bringing Ceriph out of Singapore, and marketing local writing overseas, through literary festivals and other independent bookstores,” elaborates Wei Fen.

For now, this birdhouse of words is off to a promising start, full of hopes for a new generation of writers to come leave their creative imprint, and in turn inspiring others with their slices of everyday life.

“we lower our eyes. what do you want, our lips ask. take it, and then leave.

we are a generous but tired people; you are strangers on our way home.

we censor them with pretended sleep, and soon our lips fall silent.

we cannot comprehend them; they speak only our mother tongue.”

(excerpt from chinese workers on the evening train, by Theophilus Kwek)