16 April 2006



              The Beggars in Chinatown

              One of them approaches me now,
              small and bent-over, shrivelled
              by age and history.

              She mumbles and stretches out
              her wrinkled paw to ask for coins -

              but I look away, apologetic.

              I do not see her.

              I tell myself that by now she must
              be used to being invisible.

              The poor do not usually exist –
              they merely inhabit some mysterious zone
              beyond the range of our
              normal vision.
posted by Gilbert at Sunday, April 16, 2006

13 Comments:

Blogger Mr Jherek said...

She mumbles and stretches out
her wrinkled paw to ask for coins

Perhaps instead of paw, hand might be better, paw implies perhaps not human or sub human.

Just my point of view....

February 28, 2006  
Blogger Bluesky_Liz said...

I think the trouble with the word paw is that it doesn't resemble an outstetched hand, unless she's pawing at you. Strange somehow... wrinkled paw. One imagines a paw covered with fur, the wrinkles are hard to see.

I dislike the ending. The sudden change of tone just makes it very out of place.

February 28, 2006  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

Heheh, I think we're all thinking different animals. I'm thinking ape / gorilla / monkey; you're thinking .... what? ... cat / dog.

February 28, 2006  
Blogger Bluesky_Liz said...

Yes. :D

February 28, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Here come the knives...'wicked' grin

To me, this poem felt a bit 'forced' and artificial. I don't have a problem with "paw", but the first person 'I' seems to be at odds with the poem’s general sentiment towards beggars, especially the final stanza. Moreover, the cold heartedness didn’t really strike me either. Probably, it would be better to either evoke the invisibility of these people more strongly or to show the tension/ struggle between some desire to sympathise and the reservation in drawing back.

February 28, 2006  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

There used to be another stanza but I deleted that a long time ago. Something about how the Singapore government always paints a picture of how Singapore is so prosperous and everything is so nice here. A bit too obvious, I guess ...

But the deletion of that original stanza does make the word "official" in "official vision" somewhat jarring now. Like it pops out of nowhere. Also the "in our nation" does feel somewhat jarring too.

Am contemplating changing "official visions" to just "daily vision".

March 02, 2006  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

hi gilbert,
why "chinatown"?. It could also be Little India, Waterloo Street or Geylang Serai. I don't see much images of chinatown here. (the STPB won't be too happy with beggars anywhere!)

i have no problems with "paw" but maybe "alms" is better than "coins"?

i'm a sucker for social-issue poems so i must say i like the last stanza, though i feel it can be improved further. "inhabit some mysterious zone" looks cliched? but i think it's important in the message too.

March 02, 2006  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

No reason for Chinatown except that that was where this incident happened to me.

March 03, 2006  
Blogger Oh said...

I don't know much about poetry to really comment, but feel that it'll be better without the last stanza - like what Liz said. It would have ended just nicely there.

As a sidenote, I can't help noticing that before this Please Criticise Me project, everyone's usually harping about how beautiful or lovely your poems are. But for these few ones, the knives are all out. Can't be the previous ones are perfect, no? Or is everyone being too polite? ;)

March 03, 2006  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

I'm sure politeness is part of the story.

But the "Please Criticise Me" poems are those which I regard as my weaker poems (or at least those which I feel unsure about) - I'm putting them up for criticism precisely because of that. I hope to get readers' comments to help me think of ways to improve these weaker poems. Since they ARE my weaker poems, I do expect (and hope for) more knives than usual.

March 03, 2006  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

Reposted on 16 April, with no changes. Think I will keep it as it is, I could not really think of any improvements.

April 16, 2006  
Blogger cebu said...

i like this poem alot. it presents singapore in such a light that defeats the image we portray as a country with no poor people.

i have a question which is not particularly directed at anyone,

but why do we, the non beggars always look away, apologetic?

it also made me realise that our looking away reinforces their non-existence in our society.

:) i am new to your poems. i enjoy reading them.

and i think when you said "official visions", i dont see it as government's vision, but rather all of us, whoever who walks on the street. =]

April 17, 2006  
Blogger Alson Teo said...

I can relate to this poem. :)

Just one suggestion, if this is my poem I will end it this way,

In our nation, the poor do not exist –
they merely inhabit some mysterious zone,
and because our government said so.

April 18, 2006  

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