01 November 2005

Goya, The Colossus

        Garden City

        Let there be trees, the man said, and lo and behold,
        there were trees – rain trees, angsanas, flames of the forest,
        casuarinas, traveller’s palms and more – springing up against
        the steel and concrete of the expanding city.
        Even as the true towers of the city climbed higher
        and higher for the heavens, the trees were planted, transplanted,
        watered, fertilised, and groomed to grow and grow.
        They appeared overnight, abandoned the chaos of jungle,
        bent to the will of man, grew in straight lines, in squares
        and rectangles, in allocated corners, in car parks, along highways,
        outside banks and buildings, faithful to the commandments
        of urban developers. The hard lines of architecture were softened,
        the rain did fall, the green did gently, gently grow,
        and in his seventieth year, the man was pleased,
        as he rested, as he viewed his work, as he felt the weight
        of a nation’s soil run slowly through his old green hands.
posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, November 01, 2005

6 Comments:

Blogger dreamer idiot said...

whooaa, has a Yappian ring to it, Arthur Yap that is. The use of language here seems reminiscent of his signature style, with a voice of quiet understatement, yet one which is open to ambiguity. I really like this.

(Aside, Has S'porean poetry developed a voice and language of its own (while retaining its diversity)? Too bad I hardly read poetry)

November 01, 2005  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

It's a multi-layered poem. It's about Lee Kuan Yew's project to turn Singapore into a garden city by planting trees and bushes everywhere amidst the steel and concrete.

But it's also about his near-absolute rule, power and control over the entire nation-state, during the 25 years that he was Prime Minister.

Both these aspects are then likened to God creating the universe in the Book of Genesis; and also to the Garden of Eden.

Another layer is about the artificiality of the Singapore state - how we always set out to do this and do that - it's like man trying to play God, and dominate nature.

Yes, the poem is deliberately ambiguous ... Pro-LKY and anti-LKY people will come away with different interpretations. Depending on your own inclinations, you might see a benign god at work, or an immensely powerful, scary one. Or just a man trying to be bigger than Man should be.

Singapore poetry? Check this out: http://www.qlrs.com. I would say it's quite diverse - if you pick the ten most well-known active poets today, and compare their works, I think they all sound quite different.

November 02, 2005  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Thx for the explication...

I recall reading years back when I was in S'pore, Cyril Wong's critical piece on the ambiguity on Arthur Yap's poetry, and it strikes a cord with what I read here. The ambiguity in this poem is what gives it its complexity and beauty.

Yeah, there would be great diversity in S'porean poetry, but I was kind of thinking whether that amidst these myriad voices, would there emerge a kind of distinctly S'porean voice, so to speak that defines itself differently from other 'national' poetries, esoecially at their emergent state. I guess in a way S'pore poetry would be 'Singaporean', while being simultaneously personal and universal . So, I am sort of trying to 'catch' a sense of this among the little S'porean poetry that I get the chace to read.

Well, thx so much for the link to QLRS
and also for the pleasure of reading na d enjoying your poetry.

November 02, 2005  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

gilbert,
I wanted to say that this one reads like from the Book of Genesis, but you've already said it.:)
Neat idea !
Really like this for the social issues buried in the words.

November 03, 2005  
Blogger Blank Doll said...

I, as a pro-Lee Kuan Yew youth, can only say that this poem is a good rendering of his work. It is interesting how the dear man himself spoke about the deliberate nature of the Garden City in his interviews before. I've been reading your poetry but never spoke up until this one, nice!

November 04, 2005  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

Thanks, Susilo!

November 05, 2005  

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