By Celine Tan Shi Tong
Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media
A Field Guide to Supermarkets in Singapore by Samuel Lee is his debut collection and won the prestigious Singapore Literature Prize 2018 – English Poetry. (Photo credit: Celine Tan)
It’s been a dream debut for writer Samuel Lee. His 2016 collection, A Field Guide to Supermarkets in Singapore, has clinched the Singapore Literature Prize for English Poetry.
“I am honoured and glad to have been selected from a shortlist of other excellent collections, and I am now anxious and excited about facing the task of asking more critical questions about my writing practice and grappling with the many urgencies of contemporary life,” the 26-year-old says in response to his win.
It's not just about supermarkets
The unusual title of his collection is a nod to the ‘field guide books’ for primary school students that were sold in the Singapore Science Centre back in the day. Samuel also loved the idea that these books sparked interest in everyday activities in Singapore.
For his own collection, Samuel chose supermarkets as they are a vital part of consumer culture. It’s a kind of hyper realism, he says, when the daily necessities we buy start to say something about the person we are. The poems are also inspired by his experiences of living in the US, and he compares the state of consumerism there and in Singapore.
Samuel describes his writing more of a curiosity than a passion. He says his poems come from his responses to visual art and the sights around him and describing them. The good news is that one can expect more such ‘curiosity’ from the talented writer. Samuel says winning the Singapore Literature Prize is just the first step. As he puts it, the award is less of an achievement than a direct challenge to keep on writing.