‘Hear Singapore Roar!’ ‘Poetic Victory: Cyprus Scores!’ Both of today’s poems hit the headlines back home (at least on the arts pages) after recording two of the highest scores of the opening round. All the signs suggest that we’re in for one of the most exciting (and least predictable) matches of the Poetry World Cup so far. Every vote has the potential to make a difference: in the motivational but self-evident words of former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, ‘The game isn’t over until it is.’
MEET THE POETS
Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé is Singapore’s World Cup poet. The recipient of the PEN American Center Shorts Prize, Swale Life Poetry Prize and Cyclamens & Swords Poetry Prize, among other awards, he also has a theology masters (world religions) from Harvard and fine arts masters (creative writing) from Notre Dame. His work spans various genres —ethnography, journalism, poetry, and creative nonfiction: ‘I’ve come to realise,’ he says, ‘that… I was meant to work across artistic media. The hats are all funky to wear, and life is a grand party.’
Nora Nadjarian, representing Cyprus today, has described herself as ‘a Cypriot with an Armenian soul.’ Her grandparents were Armenian refugees, and her writing has been shaped by two nations scarred by violence and loss. The quality of her work has brought her international attention, and her poetry was anthologised in Bloodaxe’s Being Human (2011). ‘Poetry,’ she says, ‘is… a stream, the shape of everything that ever was… what a star feels like when it’s held in the hand.’
Singapore’s victory over China was the biggest of the opening round, establishing Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé’s prose poem as a serious contender for the overall title. Cyprus were involved in a high-scoring thriller against Serbia, falling behind early on and then surging back to win by three votes. Despite the difference in victory margins, Singapore and Cyprus recorded very similar vote totals, suggesting we’re in for a close finish in this one. The Poetry World Cup octopus has—as usual—obstinately refused to make a prediction.
“It was game season, and there was blood and lust in their eyes. It was no different from Rome in the old days. Gladiators, lions, slaves, the ringmaster, thrust in a ring together. No different. No different at all.” In the next hour, Geronimo practically talks to himself, gives himself a lesson in violence as spectacle. “What are the forces of tradition? How do they bear down on these peoples? We are in their debt really. We don’t get to see this kind of steadfastness in the city…
~ Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
The time came when they longed to return.
My father walked circles in the living room,
my mother packed and unpacked her hands.
We will leave when the rain stops, they said.
The rain in this country is so unkind.
The time came when they could no longer return.
My father sat in his remote corner of silence,
my mother leant into lamplight and threaded sighs.
We will leave when the rain stops, she said,
hummed intricate tunes, sewed invisible tears.
~ Nora Nadjarian
RESULT: Singapore won by 34 votes
Words Without Borders dispatch from Cyprus, by Ravi Shankar (Poetry World Cup representative for the USA).