Day 17/30 - happy mid-year!


So before the clock strikes midnight, let
me share today’s poem: “the send-off” by Arthur Yap  (1943 - 2006).

There is a gentleness about Arthur Yap’s voice, even when it is angry: at how the past is erased in the name of progress; at how those in authority seem dumber for their power; at how animals in the zoo are more human(e)....  The gentleness shows itself in his inventively ironic and humorous observations about an imperfect Singapore, because you feel he is laughing not at others without including himself.  Sometimes this gentleness can feel mournful, even defeated.

You get a sense that his poems are not empty gestures because while "poetry/is the public transaction it must be. /& it must be private ultimately" (from the 1986 poem "in the quiet of the night"). So perhaps what I describe as gentleness comes also from an awareness of the private self. This is my sense of the man from his poems.
 
Below is one of his early poems "the send-off" from the 1974 anthology Five Takes. I share this because....it is already June! We spent last year thinking we should "write off" 2020 because of COVID. We started 2021 hopeful, and now, midway through, we are still contemplating this new normal that continues to feel more new than normal! As the photo I took of Esplanade’s concourse this evening before I left.

This poem is set during the Chinese Lunar New Year. But it is not about welcoming a new year. It is not even bemoaning the year passed. It is more a "revelation" that there is no special "revelation". I love how this line works if you recall someone no longer here: the year "must come and go/ making some older, some younger by their absence." Not people, not huts (in today's context, even tower blocks are not spared): no one and no thing is exempt from time's "endowment". And what does time endow? We will know when we get there and past.  

the send-off 
even as children are chanting fascinations
about new year, we mythologise the act and fact
of its passing. passing, the opening of the year 
wears its traditional accessories, with red
to balance in the ecology of superstition.

the year that is past
substituted its time and movement for yours
and took you away from nothing
not already familiar, asking nothing
not already dispensable.
a year has no revelations,
it must come and go
making some older, some younger by their absence.
a year conceals, does not reveal
meanings, portents or omens.
it springs with the tiger, sneaks in with the rat
and if it is not wet, a dry years cherishes itself
sunning the tower-block and the hut.
old griefs, new hopes
all become their own revelations
as the city sleeps, is tired from the weight
of responsibility that is time's endowment. 

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