21 January 2008



        The Schoolgirl Kills Herself After Failing an Exam

        She jumps from the tenth floor of a housing block
        into the brief wild terror of freedom, and transforms
        into twelve paragraphs of newsprint in the Straits Times,
        cool and objective, black and white, the verifiable facts only.

        We are told that her classmates are "shocked".
        And that her parents refuse to comment. We know that
        for her last exam she scored 41 marks, a fatal result.
        A teacher describes her as a "quiet, hardworking girl".

        We feel obliged to pause to reflect. We wish to search
        our conscience. She was only eleven, we remind ourselves.
        There must be others like her. There must be another way,
        we suspect, for children to grow up in this country.

        But yesterday’s news is quick to slide into the grey of memory.
        She will become another incidental casualty. We turn the page.
        We forget. Again we trip and fall head first into the future,
        down into the depths of a national urge to never stop excelling.

posted by Gilbert at Monday, January 21, 2008

10 Comments:

Blogger Bluesky_Liz said...

The opening of this poem is quite a shocker and effective. The news doesn't shout the horror of it, it's just kind of report it in neutral tone - this happened because of this and people feel like this. The end.

I remember back when I was in primary school, some of my classmates would cry if they didn't get about 80/100. I don't think our parents or teachers realise the kind of stress and trauma we face on report card day, which are made worse if parents expect a lot.

October 05, 2005  
Blogger Amy said...

When I lived in Japan, I noticed there were a number of student suicides reported after the high school entrance exams were over. It's so sad. Don't the parents and teachers remember what it was like to be that age?

October 06, 2005  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

I think that in this poem, you have assume a kind of publib voice, which turns into a kind of collective consciousness 'we' - a responsibility for all.

This is excellent, especially the last stanza, which pause to reflect, how a tragedy like this becomes 'forgotten', no more than just a statistic, as pp hurtle on with their busy lives...

October 07, 2005  
Blogger Orso Dorato said...

Sad, but all to common in the world today. parents expecting nothing less than perfection from their sons and daughters, driving them to the darkest place you could ever imagine.... a place where i had the great fortune of escaping with no visible scars to bear.

Truly a great piece Gilbert

October 07, 2005  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

Thanks, all.

Sad to say, this poem is based on an actual, real-life event that occurred some time ago.

Yes, I read about it in the newspapers, so the poem directly reflects that.

October 07, 2005  
Blogger tscd said...

I wonder if people would be equally shocked if the girl was 25 years old.

October 08, 2005  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

tragic, but this is a reflection of our society where the value of a person is the numbers in an exam paper. The rat race starts when the kid starts K1.

man, this poem is written like a newspaper report, but still hits our conscience that such an incident could be avoided if...

thanks for the read, gilbert!

October 08, 2005  
Blogger floots said...

i was a teacher for too long and, though i never encountered this extreme, i saw several students come close enough to make this piece hit very hard

October 10, 2005  
Blogger feminine expressions said...

your writing of the event is extremely well done. your compassion is evident for your having chosen to do so. a tragic national compulsion...

October 13, 2005  
Blogger sigmund fraud said...

This is the first time I am reading your poetry.

I liked it very much.

Simple, no frills, straight to the point. And very, very powerful.

I'll surely browse the rest of the poems.

October 28, 2005  

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