The fourth edition of the Migrant Worker Poetry Competition saw 19 finalists recite original poems in Bahasa Indonesia, Bengali, English, Mandarin, Tagalog, Tamil, and Burmese to more than 220 attendees, the best audience turnout since the program’s inception in 2014.
An annual competition that started in 2014 as a platform for migrant workers to share their stories, this year the competition saw finalists being selected from a pool of 107 submissions, up from 70 last year.
For the first time, female poets bagged all the top three prizes. The first prize went to Deni Apriyani, with her poem, Further Away, which deals with the theme of spousal abuse. Apriyani was inspired to write her poem after meeting a stranger on a bus ride home to Indramayu, Indonesia who related a personal story of abuse.
The second prize went to Naive Gascon for her poem, And Again, about her passion for swimming and the isolation of being in a foreign place. The poem A Sunday Morning in Paya Lebar, by Fitri Diyah claimed third prize. Other poems recited in the finals dealt with themes of isolation, love, homesickness, family, social exclusion, the painful choice to leave home and loved ones in pursuit of employment, prostitutionand abuse.
“The moment the audience hears and sees the poet’s powerful performance, I think that leaves behind a long lasting impact,” said organiser Shivaji Das.
“The competition, which U.S. Embassy Singapore was pleased to support for the third time, reiterated that every voice counts and every individual deserves to be heard. I left the event feeling invigorated by the strength and resilience of the participants,” said Camille Dawson, Counselor for Public Affairs at U.S. Embassy Singapore.
“It is very interesting to hear these stories and perspectives. These are the sorts of narratives that we need to hear more of. The poems we chose really resonated emotionally, and remind us of any poem someone in Singapore would write,” said competition judge and winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, Amanda Chong.
Cash prizes for first, second and third places were $500, $300, and $200 respectively, with the rest of the finalists receiving certificates.
This year, the event was largely put together by volunteers in the migrant community themselves, and lead organiser, Shivaji Das, assisted by other volunteers. Organisations such as Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), Aidha, H.O.M.E., Healthserve, and Project X also assisted with the outreach for the event
In addition to poetry, this year’s program featured a short play about migrant life in Singapore, written and directed by members of the migrant worker community under the mentorship of Haresh Sharma of the Necessary Stage.
‘Songs From a Distance’, a compendium of past poetry submissions published in collaboration with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), Potato Productions, and the Migrant Worker Poetry Competition Singapore, was also launched at the event.