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The theme for the SWF this year was Aram, a word and concept drawn from the Tamil treatise on ethics Thirukkural, written by poet-philosopher Thiruvalluvar. Aram can be translated most simply as doing good, but the concept also embraces more wide-ranging ideas about behaving well and living conscientiously.

With more than 340 writers on the programme, the SWF certainly had more than enough voices to explore the theme in depth. But for me, the most significant one was the voice of Singapore poet Dr Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, whose achievements were celebrated this year at the festival with an exhibition, lectures and readings.

She may be retired now, but I remember Dr Lee as one of my university tutors, quietly elucidating the finer points of Shakespeare to my honours year class. But I did not read her poetry until I became a books reporter and had to interview her on the occasion of the publication of her fifth collection, Lambada By Galilee & Other Surprises (1997).

That book contained a poem which turned me instantly into a fan of her lyrically insightful writing: The Merlion To Ulysses, a sharply observed riposte to a landmark poem by another literary pioneer, Professor Edwin Thumboo’s 1979 Ulysses By The Merlion.




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