Cyril Wong is known for his unapologetic voice in Singapore’s literary scene. His work spans themes such as love, family, sexuality, depression and so on.
“The only source of comfort I had when I was younger was books. I wished I had someone to turn to, but I never did. Books were all I had; books were my Google. I learnt how to be gay, how to love myself… which also inspired me to be a writer in this weird place called Singapore,” says Cyril.
Being a full-time poet is not the most conventional occupation. Growing up in Singapore meant expectations to work hard in school, get plenty of As and become a doctor or a lawyer.
Cyril, of course, goes against the grain. He has published more than 15 books; his poems have appeared in journals and anthologies all around the world and he has been a featured poet at international festivals.
Now 42, the two-time Singapore Literature Prize winner has found a way to get by even through tough times. Despite being widely published, there are some months when there’s no income at all.
“You get into the swing of things…you just know how to get by,” says Cyril, who worked as an art administrator for seven years before he went into freelance writing and editing. “Mainly because it’s Singapore…We’re one giant airport, one giant shopping mall; you’ve to wonder what’s the point of artistic enterprise,” Cyril shrugs.
“One thing that has stuck with me for Singapore – it’s a traffic light junction that’s always changing. In this metaphorical junction, no one cares about cultural things, philosophical things.”
Despite these struggles, there’s one key lesson Cyril has learnt through everything – to know himself really well.
“It’s important to keep in mind why you’re doing what you’re doing,” he emphasises. “Singapore has a way of seducing you to think that you just have to survive. It’s about being happy first, then you can survive. There have been many comprises we’ve made socially and culturally in order to progress and survive,” says Cyril.
From coming-of-age to coming out, there were secrets and skeletons in his closet that had to be made known. It has been through writing that strength and love were also made possible; writing can help one to heal and overcome impossible struggles.
Cyril knows why the caged bird sings, because he has been inside that cage. Now he sings in order to be liberated.