16 February 2008



              The Trains

              You sit and wait and watch.
              As the train approaches, you get up
              and you walk, to the yellow line,
              beyond the yellow line,
              and you
              ........ fling yourself straight
              down on the tracks.

              But you don’t.
              ......... You only think about it.
              You sit and wait and watch.
              The doors open. People, real people
              walk, to the train,
              ........... to the yellow line,
              ............................ beyond the yellow line,
              into the train. Then the doors close
              behind them,
              and they’re gone,
              ........ back to their own lives,
              slow at first, then faster, faster
              until the train grows thin
              in the distance,
              .......... becomes nothing.
posted by Gilbert at Saturday, February 16, 2008

18 Comments:

Blogger Molly Meek said...

i'm a terrible reader of poetry, but I actually missed "You only think about it" the first time round.

"the doors close/ behind them"--"behind them" doesn't quite work for me.

And maybe you can develop the "yellow line" bits more...

November 27, 2005  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

Hi Gilbert,

What I don't like. On first reading, the phrase "people with real lives" stood out jarringly. Suggests "you" do not have a real life. I always think that suiciders probably have lives which are too 'real'. OD on realities.

Last lines.The passengers' "lives" taken by the train and "becomes nothing". Perhaps you are setting up the comparison that the suicider's life and the passengers' lives are similarly "nothing". The latter have "suicided" too ... BUT your subject, s/he stopped. Did not jump, perhaps some allusions here?

Finally, sequencing. Was thinking the situation if delivered after suicider did not jump backwards could be more interesting. And the motif of the "yellow line" probably has potential for some richer metaphor to emerge.

Thats all, just random musings after reading ur poem. Take care.

November 27, 2005  
Blogger mama mia said...

Yellow line is to mean something
when suicide is a continuum thing?
you try until you succeed.
it is the end indeed.

November 27, 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Mr Koh, hope my comments make sense - I'm an amateur :)

From a reader's point of view, I think the first part can be expanded to build up a sense of anticipation...Maybe a line like 'All will be over soon' can be added after the first line 'You sit and wait and watch'.

I also thought that conveying a sense of the speed of the oncoming train would be nice: the speed despite it being some distance away, maybe the sounds associated with an approaching train, etc.

November 28, 2005  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

Thanks for the comments. Hope to get more comments from other readers too. This version of the poem is an early draft and the finished product will probably be quite different.

Had not meant the yellow line to mean anything, beyond the fact that the line in the MRT station really is yellow, and that for safety reasons, you are supposed to stay behind it unless and until the train comes in and you want to take the train. But yes, there is probably some poetic potential in the "yellow line" element that I have not exploited -ideas about "crossing the line" emerge in my head now.

For me as poet, this poem is an exploration of the things that go on in the suicidal person's head - not a particularly easy thing for me since I am definitely not the suicidal kind. Xenoboy, on the "real lives" part, my idea was that the suicidal person has probably suffered some terrible loss(es) in life - loss of a job? loss of a relationship? loss of friends / family? - and therefore feels that he does not much of a "real life" anymore. This is as opposed to the other train passengers, who have homes, families, jobs etc to return to. In the poem, I probably haven't brought this idea out well enough.

The "becoming nothing" part is to reflect how the suicidal person feels in relation to the rest of the world. He feels that all these normal people going about their usual lives are totally irrelevant to himself. Similarly he must be nothing to them, ie irrelevant, and therefore he is all alone, without support and help, in the world. That's the idea, but again probably not very well-executed by me in this version of the poem.

There's a lot of repetition in this poem "sit and wait and watch" etc. I am trying to convey a little of a "motion picture" feel in this poem, as if the suicidal person is constantly replaying the possible scene of his possible death in his head.

November 28, 2005  
Blogger lec said...

i'd read high something, the recent book by hornby, i think, sorry to be vague, read it last year, about 4 people who go to a tall building to jump and meet each other instead and talk each other out of jumping purely for selfish reasons.

i thought your first nine lines really worked because it made me think about the characters in the book and they are each thinking of flinging themselves off the building, but don't do it just yet.

look forward to the end piece

lec

November 28, 2005  
Blogger Bluesky_Liz said...

It isn't very clear where you are going with this. To me, there are three parts to this piece.

The first part is told to the reader, trying to put the reader in the shoes of a suicidal person. The second, we visualise a person sitting at the train station just watching people. The last part, we watch the people leaving. From in the head to out into the environment.

The last bit, I can kind of feel for the subject -- he's being left alone again, everyone's moved on and he hasn't.

I think the poem would be better in third person. With this in second "You", it assumes too much on how a suicidal person thinks.

Fussy little nitpicks:

1) >> fling yourself straight
down on the tracks.

Don't quite agree on the flinging, it's more like they step off. I recall hearing that someone walked into the tunnel at Bishan.


2) >> People with real lives

This makes one ask, what is mean by 'real lives'? Real life is not very good phrase to use because everyone has different opinions of what a "real life" is. (I admit that I am bias -- I just hate that phrase. ;) ) Or perhaps, it's the false expectations and perceptions of what real life is supposed to be about, that is making the subject depressed.

Hope my comments makes sense.

November 28, 2005  
Blogger Bluesky_Liz said...

It isn't very clear where you are going with this. To me, there are three parts to this piece.

The first part is told to the reader, trying to put the reader in the shoes of a suicidal person. The second, we visualise a person sitting at the train station just watching people. The last part, we watch the people leaving. From in the head to out into the environment.

The last bit, I can kind of feel for the subject -- he's being left alone again, everyone's moved on and he hasn't.

I think the poem would be better in third person. With this in second "You", it assumes too much on how a suicidal person thinks.

Fussy little nitpicks:

1) >> fling yourself straight
down on the tracks.

Don't quite agree on the flinging, it's more like they step off. I recall hearing that someone walked into the tunnel at Bishan.


2) >> People with real lives

This makes one ask, what is mean by 'real lives'? Real life is not very good phrase to use because everyone has different opinions of what a "real life" is. (I admit that I am bias -- I just hate that phrase. ;) ) Or perhaps, it's the false expectations and perceptions of what real life is supposed to be about, that is making the subject depressed.

Hope my comments makes sense.

November 28, 2005  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

hi Gilbert,

Understand the dichotomy ur trying to paint with 'real lives', was thinking about it today and my gut feel is suiciders overdose on reality and they seek an escape from the realities of loss/pain. Maybe full lives, empty lives? A fool's life? Full train, empty train, still the train will reach its terminal station. By jumpimg I am Forcing a terminus, intervention, force, violence to my life.

Agree that the nub is really the psyche of the suicider, the death wish.

"Becoming nothing" : Nothingness into something, death which = void = fulfilment???

And one last thought, the next train will come in a couple of minutes, there are screens in the MRT stations that read "yishun 2 minutes" right? The choice is re-presented again to the subject. Fits in nicely with your repetition effect and probably has some bearing on the psychological tension in the poem.

Maybe choose a lazy afternoon, sit at Bishan mrt and see the environment and feel your subject ... if not already done.

Good lucks and apologies if I overstepped the creative line.

Take care.

November 29, 2005  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 29, 2005  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

I apologise, I deleted my previous comments, I spouted too much nonsense.

I think what you do best is in your poetry is your evocativeness through silence, which is why the 'flinging' part and 'becomes nothing' seems rather forced, as with the awkwardness of 'people with real lives".

Just my thoughts.

November 29, 2005  
Blogger Alson Teo said...

Hello Gilbert,

Before I start do forgive me for any grammatical errors.

Personally I like this poem very much because it reminds me of myself. On a few occasions the thought of crossing beyond the yellow line did came to me. I may be wrong but when I read the first line, I know the character in the poem is not going to commit suicide. If I am ready to die, I will not “sit and wait and watch.” Instead I will “wait and watch.” I will be standing very near to the yellow line. I will be well prepared for my death. That is why instead of tension I sense hesitation in the character. That is also why I was surprised to read L6 – L7 when the character flings himself “straight / down on the tracks.” But of course he didn’t do it. I was right. He is only thinking of doing it. He is still sitting there, waiting and watching. But these two lines are important because it urges the readers to go on reading.

This poem has a total of 22 lines. After the 10th line I noticed a shift in direction. In the first 10 lines we have a combination of ‘You-train-yellow line’ and after that it changes to ‘They/Others-train-yellow line.’ At this point although the character is not mentioned anymore yet we know he still exists. Very interesting.

There are many verbs in this poem, but these are weak/passive verbs such as ‘sit’, ‘wait’, ‘watch’, ‘walk’, etc. The only strong verb I can find is ‘fling’ in L6. At first I am bored because with these weak verbs there are not many actions going on. At the same time the repetitions of pronoun such as ‘you’, ‘they’, etc, irate me. And not forgetting those pesky commas, which are scattered all over the poem. But after much thought, I decide there must be some good reasons for having them around. One possible reason is that weak verbs reflect the mental condition of the character. This person is exhausted, there is no strength left in him. He is feeling hopeless and weak. Secondly, the commas force the readers to stumble and pause as they read along the lines reflecting a sense of hesitation in the character. May I suggest that after L10, to use strong verbs to indicate actions, ‘real lives’, energy, etc; longer lines to echo the movement of the train as it picks up speed; lesser commas for smoother reading and to reflect the smoother lives of the rest of the people. When combined, these suggestions may help to heighten the impact of the last line i.e. “becomes nothing.”

I’ve also noticed that there is a lack of concrete images. I think it will be a good idea to make those people carry something, for example briefcase, bags, etc, something they can hold on to in contrast with the character who has nothing with him, nothing in his life that he can hold on to.

Before I end this rather long comment, I hope you might consider expanding the images of the yellow line and train. I find these images very interesting. In my opinion, there should be three groups of people in this poem, the main character, people who are boarding the train, and people who are alighting the train. Each group finds a strong need to go “beyond the yellow line” and for different reasons. Each group has different feelings when they approached the yellow line. And once beyond the yellow line, it has different consequences.

Personally, the yellow line suggests some kind of boundaries, restrictions, etc. The train on the other hand suggests the society, laws, the masses, etc. If you step beyond the yellow line and you are outside the train, you are in big trouble. You may die. However if you join the majority within the train, be prepared to be restricted by the laws, expectations of the society. Be prepared to lose yourself among the masses. As suggested in line L15 & L16 “Then the doors close / behind them, and they’re gone.” Notice “you” no longer exist. And as suggested in L20 – L22, you will “ grows thin / in the distance, / become nothing.” But eventually you will be rewarded; you will get to your destination. The train will bring you home.

A very interesting poem.Thanks for the read.

Just curious, why is the title in plural? :)

November 29, 2005  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

Wow, so many interesting comments. Thanks, everyone. I will need to go back and think harder about how I want this poem to look like.

I admit that my dilemma in writing this poem is the level of drama I want to achieve. On the one hand, it can be a very intense, dramatic poem; I could make it a poem where the person comes very, very close to killing himself. And may well do so when the next train comes in.

On the other hand, I could make it a very quiet, evocative sort of poem. The depressed person sits quietly by himself for a long time, watching the trains go by. Vague thoughts of suicide just sort of briefly cross his mind.

Right now, I am undecided ...

I guess the phrase "real lives" doesn't work - most of you feel that way. I probably will take it out, or otherwise elaborate on it. I am thinking of inserting a line to say how these passengers with "real lives" are taking the trains to return to their homes / families etc - implying that the suicidal protagonist, in contrast, doesn't have any such thing to return to. This might end up sounding a little cliched ... Need to think about it.

Alson, the title is in plural probably because when I chose it, I was thinking of the chap sitting there watching train after train go by.

November 29, 2005  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Hi Gilbert, sorry for my impudence of knowing nothing at all, Reading your comments, I was wondering whether 'people with real lives' might be substituted with 'they, ...', or perhaps descriptions of the diff types of pp who are busily going somewhere, to school, office etc (though these observations may become burdensome)...Just a thought.

November 29, 2005  
Blogger MB said...

Gilbert, firstly, bravo for posting something unfinished. A brave thing to do, for someone who doesn't usually. This is a very interesting subject and you approach it in an unusual way.

Never having been on the MRT, I wasn't sure at first of the significance of the yellow line -- was it a line on the track, on the edge of the platform, on the train itself? I figured it out later.

When I first read this poem, like Alson, I had the sense that the character was not going to really commit suicide. However, I thought it was because he (she?) was trying to figure out and imagine being those who do. When it came to "people with real lives" I thought those would be the ones committing suicide -- because I feel that those who do, do in fact have real lives that they perhaps underestimate (or overestimate, depending). I also thought perhaps you meant by that phrase that those who commit suicide are real people, that you meant to carry the full impact of a whole life lost. But then they get in the train and go away in the train, so all that meaning wasn't there after all! My misreading.

I like the line "the trains grows thin." It's one of the more concretely visual images.

Having said all this, I do think this poem has great potential. It seems to me you have some choices about where you take it. I'd like to read the finished poem.

November 30, 2005  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

Reposted on 16 April 2006. Undecided as to what to do with it. Played around with it but it seems like it's difficult to add anything new without losing somethng else, if you know what I mean.

April 16, 2006  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

Maybe "People, real people / walk, to the train/"

and later:

"and they're gone, back to their own lives/".

April 16, 2006  
Blogger shikha said...

Nice one..i could really relate to this one!

May 18, 2006  

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