A homegrown e-magazine is beginning to make inroads in cyberspace, bringing edgy urban poetry to hundreds of readers' computer screens. CLARA CHOW speaks to the people behind the scene about rules, Fight Club and sarcasm.

THIRTEEN months ago, a flurry of poetry, mere bits and bytes on cyberspace, started to make its way quietly into people's e-mail.

Collected in an e-mail magazine intriguingly named The 2nd Rule, these lines and verses - contributed by fledgling Singaporean poets - were short, sharp, and laced with an edgy urban spirit.

Pretty soon - twisting the laws of virus propagation and putting them to good literary use - recepients have clicked on the ''forward'' button and sent The 2nd Rule on to hundreds of others.

Started by a group of Singaporeans in their early 20s, The 2nd Rule was inspired by Fight Club, the 1999 Brad Pitt/Edward Norton starrer.

The postmodern anarchist's fantasy championed a DIY, underground spirit, and embraced ''the second rule'' - now the moniker of the poetic fringe movement - ''You do not talk about Fight Club.''

But talk, paradoxically, is what The 2nd Rule wants to generate. Editors Koh Beng Liang, Shannon Low, Benety Goh, Russell Chan, Alfian Sa'at, Ong Ee-ing and Judith H, come from varied backgrounds - they are students, military personnel and education officers.

And, National Serviceman Koh, 24, said: ''We wanted to start a little fight club of our own. What's the equivalent?...A magazine to talk about urban issues.''

Where Pitt made his point with a mean left-hook, The 2nd Rule's poetry opts for subtle sarcasm to provoke thought. The editors eschew local slang and base humour because, ''it's just not our style''.

The 2nd Rule receives about five to 10 contributions a month from its readers, while the editors themselves try to write one or two pieces per issue.

In fact, there was a tentative offer from local rock magazine, BigO, to publish the 2nd Rule's archived works.

Selection is simple. As long as the poem is clear, easy-to-read, and makes a good point - they'll take it. As a rule, pieces tend to be ''almost haiku-like'', said Koh, because of the e-mail format.

Submissions are printed with minimal editing, although The 2nd Rule team may send back a piece with suggestions - a mentorship programme of sorts.

Distribution, meanwhile, relies on a lean format. Fancy programming, such as HTML tags, java script and graphics, are viewed as icing: They're nice, but it could slow readers down, and can be done without. After all, the real risk with an e-mag is not the start-up cost - heading for the virtual trash can faster than you can say ''boring''.

Has the formula worked? Well, so far, at least 600 to 700 people have subscribed to The 2nd Rule's mailing list, while Koh reports its website, http://the2ndrule.com has had more than 3,000 hits since its launch in January last year.

Subscription experienced a surge in June last year, when the team stuck little stickers with psuedo-wise sayings all over Orchard Road.

More importantly, the team sees their no-frills poetry e-flyer as a step towards plugging the hole in local literary journals - left of mainstream outlets for budding writers like Singa, a journal of the National University of Singapore that calls for submissions regularly, or The Flying Inkpot, a website that prints reviews on the arts and popular culture. So far, readers' feedback has been good.

Koh recounts a response to an editorial he wrote: ''I had said that our website is 'ugly', comparing it to a baby marsupial; whereupon she e-mailed me promptly to tell me that baby marsupials are cute.''

Is this encouraging for Singaporean literary musings? Koh refuses to look into the crystal ball.

Yet, he says: ''Writing on paper requires deliberation before committing your thoughts. But when people sit in front of the computer, they just start to type.''

Perhaps, e-mail poetry lists like The 2nd Rule heralds a freer form of poetic expression among local writers.

What's on offer at The 2nd Rule? We give you a cento of its archived highlights:

Linus Torvalds + Mika Hakkinen + Nokia + Santa Claus = Finland.

Why a man cannot have wings (because he will crash land on his head).

Primal Scream in concert, Zouk, 20 Jan 2000,

Mohandes Gandhi assassinated, India, 30 Jan 1948;

What I am eating is not a happy meal.

A vice-like grip on life. Rips the fabric when it pulls away.

what fell out of my
green army pouch when I turned it upside down:

1. navigation exercise

2. reveille

3. thinking soldier

Corporate rule is fast becoming the only rule of the day. as they say, money doesn't talk, it roars.

So Keizo Obuchi bites the dust.

Shades of light in Holland Village, 1999

(a sub-$20 wine available at Cold Storages)

Selection Rouge!

Live life with Passion! Panda Brand Condoms.

- all mangling of Alfian Bin Sa'at, Shannon Low, Koh Beng Liang, Ong Ee-ing, Sim Pern Yau and Alvin Pang's poetry

by Clara Chow
Project Eyeball News
April 2001