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The Votive Pen: Writings on Edwin Thumboo: Biography of Singapore’s Poet Laureate By Nilanjana Sengupta

Nilanjana Sengupta has recently published, The Votive Pen: Writings on Edwin Thumboo, a biography of Singapore’s very own Poet Laureate. Published by Penguin Random House, the Foreword to the book is written by Professor Wang Gungwu, and the Introduction by Professor Thumboo himself.

The book claims to be a riveting look at the fiercely original, intellectually brilliant mind of Singapore’s unofficial Poet-Laureate, Edwin Thumboo. Born of Tamil and Teochew parents, he embraced the Protestant faith late in his life. He has a self-confessed fetish for Yeats and Pound and yet completed his doctoral thesis on post-colonial African poetry. He taught himself the Ramayana and I-Ching but found traces of the Odysseus in the shadows of the Merlion. He is brusquely vocal about poetry with a purpose and yet appears a hopeless romantic in his poems about his wife. What happens when a mind which is such a melting pot of brilliant ideas and contrary emotions tries to unscramble the identity of a country like Singapore which is complex, multiracial, has known a fierce economic growth that has often elbowed aside everything else? The Votive Pen sets out to see Edwin Thumboo’s poetry – steadily and see it whole – without the intervening static of earlier critical writing and with an intense alertness to the text.

Nilanjana Sengupta, who had earlier published Singapore, My Country: Biography of M Bala Subramanion, has built a reputation in writing books that travel to unchartered territories. In A Gentleman’s Word (ISEAS-Yusof Ishaak Institute, 2012), she chronicled the legacy of a forgotten war hero, Subhas Chandra Bose, across Southeast Asia. In, The Female Voice of Myanmar (Cambridge University Press, 2015), she wrote of the latent masculine bias of Burmese culture and female voices that managed to cut through the clutter. A Biography of M Bala Subramanion (World Scientific Press, 2016) offers a nuanced look at the Tamils of Singapore who, through the country’s Indian community, struggle with vulnerabilities of their own. Where as in The Votive Pen she claims to go where a biography has never been before – right into the mind of a poet!

Endorsed as a first book of its kind which looks closely at a literary figure of Singapore, The Votive Pen is available at Kinokuniya, Amazon, Goguru as well as other online portals.



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