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Migrant workers get showcase to display their way with words

SINGAPORE — To showcase the literary talent of migrant workers and allow the wider community to peek into this other aspect of their lives, an unusual poetry competition will be held in November.

SINGAPORE — To showcase the literary talent of migrant workers and allow the wider community to peek into this other aspect of their lives, an unusual poetry competition will be held in November.

Its organisers are inviting submissions from Tamil- and Bengali-speaking migrant workers here, but have roped in two Singaporean poets — Mr Alvin Pang and Associate Professor Kirpal Singh — as judges for the competition, and are looking for one to three more judges.

The poems will need to be translated, said Mr Shivaji Das, a volunteer who is helping to put the event together. Mr Das, 35, volunteers with Transient Workers Count Too, whose Cuff Road Project that serves food to needy foreign workers is near the privately-funded drop-in centre Dibashram.

Foreign workers gather at Dibashram every Sunday to share poetry and play music, and Mr Das saw “so much talent and passion in how they perform”.

A competition with the wider community invited to attend would let the public know about other aspects of these workers’ lives and energise the poets, said Mr Das, an economic consultant and Permanent Resident who is married to a Singaporean. Organised by the Banglar Kantha, a newspaper for the Bangladeshi community here, the venue for the competition is yet to be confirmed.

An average of 8 to 10 migrant workers gather at Dibashram for poetry every Sunday. One of them is 33-year-old construction worker Mohar Khan, who writes only sonnets and said the gathering allows them to channel their focus on something positive. He writes when he sees injustice and said poetry “takes the pain from my heart”.

Another, shipyard worker Rajib Shil Jibon, 28, has been penning poetry for 16 years and has won a prize in a national competition in Bangladesh. He writes to express what he sees from day to day, he said.

The men said their favourite poets are Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, two famous Bengali poets and writers.

The final of the competition will be held on Nov 16, with the finalists reciting their poetry for the audience and judges. The organisers are sourcing for prizes for the winners, said Mr Das.

Updates on the event will be posted on http://goo.gl/pdo9bg.

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