Upfront! With Jasmine Ann Cooray, Resident Poet At Cinnamon College

This post is concurrently hosted on The Kent Ridge Common.
Here's Jasmine reciting her poetry at ContraDiction 2013. Image credit: Yawning Bread
Jasmine Ann Cooray has received the 2013 Singapore Creative Writing Residency Programme co-funded by The Arts House and University Scholars Programme, NUS. A poet and psychotherapist-in-training, Jasmine hails from London. Here, we speak to Jasmine to find out more about the art of crafting words.

Hi, Jasmine! Thanks for agreeing to this interview. For starters, would you please share your reasons for applying to this writing residency in Singapore?

This residency is a dream. It is not often that writers are paid just to write, and develop their practice. Most of the time we have to squeeze it into the cracks in our day jobs. I was lucky enough to hear about it and even luckier to be awarded the post.

What were your initial thoughts and feelings when you realised that you clinched the residency?

I was in a state of shock, to be honest, and it didn’t sink in for months. But once it sunk in, I was really excited to leave London and come and be somewhere else for six months. I was keen to make the most out of the time, and enjoy it as much as possible.

More than half of your residency is over. How has the experience been thus far?

It has been too quick! I can’t believe it is halfway through already. So far I have met some incredible warm and generous people, and been included in people’s lives and families. It’s also been great to have a lot of time and space to work on my writing and to develop my teaching practice with the NUS students. At first, the amount of time to write was quite overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure I could fulfill expectations, but having settled in and made a lot of new work, I’m less worried now.

How do you find the NUS students you’re mentoring? Are they too quiet or too vocal? Too brilliant, not brilliant enough?

What a question! I’m doing poetry workshops with two quite different groups, but there has been some excellent writing from everyone. My sessions are not credited, and happen in the evenings, so I am just pleased that everyone comes as much as they do, to be part of the groups and try out some different things.

There are some really sharp ideas, and some strong personalities too. I’ve definitely been kept on my toes! I like having the mix because I think it is important that everyone has a chance to express themselves. Discussions have been varied and rich, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the writing that we have been making together. I don’t mind quiet group members- as long as people feel there is space for them to speak, it is up to them how to use the time.

I understand that you’ve been taking part in public readings. How are the experiences? How different or similar are the Singaporean listeners, compared to the London crowd that you’re more used to?

It’s different depending on context. I’ve read at more formal events, like my event at The Arts House at the beginning of my residency, and at more casual evenings, like SPEAK at Home Club. Every space, every night is different- and you can never tell how engaged people really are. But I don’t mind so much- if I feel that I reached someone, that there was some level of attentiveness, that’s usually enough. I have the luxury of novelty because I’m a visitor. If I was in London, there would be a lot more people who would have already heard my work.

What inspires you to write?

Love, family. Working out how to stay sane in all the madness. Things on the street. Race. Gender.Nature. Sex. Hard and painful lessons. Usually: human behaviour. I’m not so drawn to the abstract- it is people and our complexity that grabs me.

What makes a good poem?

Are you serious? Personally, I think if a poem explores something genuine, and tries to tell a story in a way that is interesting and creative, then that’s the basics. Most other things are the technicalities around that. You can have a technically good, soulless poem. I’d rather have something raw but honest.

What do you hope to achieve?

I’m working on my full collection, which I’m hoping to have a draft of by the end, and I’m also developing some stories. Otherwise, just exploring and developing my relationship with my work, and also developing the talent of young writers here. There is some great work going on that I’m scheming to support in a few different ways.

Any advice for aspiring poets?

Write from what you know and be brave enough to write about how you really feel. Don’t assume that it has been done or that people will not like it. In fact, ignore your inner critic entirely. You can’t play with it breathing down your neck. Read when you can. Experiment but come back to your own style and perspective. Try things out. And remember that there are always more words, so there’s no need to be precious about them.

Any upcoming event that you wish to invite our readers to?

I’ll be moderating at The Arts House for SWF Fringe: Meet the Author: Terri Windling.

I’ll also be speaking at Darkness and Dystopia, alongside Alvin Pang, Krishna Udayyasankar and Kosal Khiev on 8 Nov, Friday, 7pm-8pm, Molly Roffey’s Irish Pub (Manulife Centre).

And I have a poetry set at Artistry in Bugis on 6th November.

Also, please look out for the publication of NUS students’ poetry towards the end of the term. A launch event will happen, where you will hear some exciting new poetry from your fellow NUSians.

Thanks, Jasmine, for this sharing!