Two poems about Singapore

One poem leads to another. Reading Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems edited by Edwin Thumboo and Yeow Kai Chai, and co-edited by Enoch Ng, Isa Kamari, and Seetha Lakshmi at the public library, I wanted to read more poems about Singapore.

And, as luck would have it, I came across another anthology, this one co-edited by Alvin Pang, whose poem, Merlign, I particularly liked among all the poems about the Merlion. This anthology is called Over There: Poems from Singapore and Australia, edited by Alvin Pang and John Kinsella. I immediately liked two of the poems: Bumboat Cruise on the Singapore River by Miriam Wei Wei Lo and They Say by Kirpal Singh.

I couldn’t borrow either of the books, so I photocopied these poems. And since I couldn’t find these poems on the internet, here they are, so I can read them again.

Why are poems so hard to find on the Net? There should be a few by every poet so we may want to read more of their works.

Here’s more about Kirpal Singh and Miriam Wei Wei Lo (here and here).

Continue reading “Two poems about Singapore”

A book of poems about the Merlion

Merlion_small At the pubic library, I came across a book of poems entirely about the Merlion, the lion-headed, fish-tailed icon of Singapore. The book is called Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems. It's edited by Edwin Thumboo and Yeow Kai Chai, and co-edited by Enoch Ng, Isa Kamari, and Seetha Lakshmi. It was published by Singapore's National Arts Council this year.

The poem I liked best was Merlign, by Alvin Pang. I have no idea why it's called Merlign nor did I understand all the references. But I loved the first two verses and the last five or six. The whole poem can be read here. I will just take the liberty to quote the opening and the ending.

Continue reading “A book of poems about the Merlion”

A New York minute with Billy Collins


The Singapore River isn't the Hudson
But it has a homely charm of its own,
The Botanic Gardens no Central Park
But a tranquil, sylvan landmark
Well worth a visit or two.
Life in Singapore is nothing to rue
Unless you make much ado
About the Straits Times
Being no New York Times.
Then you're in the wrong time zone.

Yes, there's a 12-hour difference between Singapore time and Eastern Standard Time. Midnight in Singapore is midday in New York.

But you don't have to be in New York to appreciate the poems of Billy Collins. Though this one is called Eastern Standard Time, and specifically addressed to people in his time zone, you appreciate the humour and homely details even if, like me, you are on Singapore time.

 Eastern Standard Time
By Billy Collins

Poetry speaks to all people, it is said,
but here I would like to address
only those in my own time zone,
this proper slice of longitude
that runs from pole to snowy pole,
down the globe from Montreal to Bogota

Oh, fellow inhabitants of this singular band,
sitting up in your many beds this morning —
the sun falling through the windows
and casting a shadow on the sundial —
consider those in other timezones who cannot hear these words,

They are not slipping into a bathrobe as we are,
or following the smell of coffee in a timely fashion.

Rather, they are at work already,
leaning on copy machines,
hammering nails into a house-frame.

They are not swallowing a vitamin like us,
rather they are smoking a cigarette under a half-moon,
even jumping around on a dance floor,
or just now sliding under the covers,
pulling down the little chains on their bed lamps.

Continue reading “A New York minute with Billy Collins”

Billy Collins’ witty Obituaries

Perhaps the best known poem on old age written in the last 50 years is Philip Larkin’s The Old Fools, which appeared in High Windows, published in 1973. It rails against old age, beginning with the verse:

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember
Who called this morning? …

But what Larkin is describing is extreme old age. There is an earlier phase euphemistically described as the “golden years”. When we know our days are numbered and begin to lose our friends and peers. Billy Collins begins by describing this phase in his poem, Obituaries. It is very different in tone from The Old Fools. While Larkin rails against age and its infirmities, Collins takes refuge in humour and fantasy. Starting with a playful reference to Yeats’ poem, Sailing to Byzantium, Collins ends with passengers aboard Noah’s ark. But in his account the passengers are not

“ the couples of the animal kingdom,
but rather pairs of men and women,
ascending the gangplank two by two…
all saved at last from the awful flood of life.”

Yep, they are the departed, shuffling off this mortal coil on their way to the world beyond.

Imagine that – death as a  voyage on Noah’s ark! Only a poet could have done it, I guess, a very witty poet.

By Billy Collins

These are no pages for the young,
who are better off in one another’s arms,

nor for those who just need to know
about the price of gold,
or a hurricane that is ripping up the Keys.

But eventually you may join
the crowd who turn here first to see
who has fallen in the night,
who has left a shape of air walking in their place.

Here is where the final cards are shown,
the age, the cause, the plaque of deeds,
and sometimes an odd scrap of news —
that she collected sugar bowls,
that he played solitaire without any clothes.

Continue reading “Billy Collins’ witty Obituaries”

Billy Collins on his old typewriter

Billy_Collins-copy I am reading the poems of Billy Collins for the first time. And what can I say? Imagine Keats living into middle age, developing a dry wit and writing poems about domestic life without rhymes – but still showing flashes of his youthful romanticism. That’s Billy Collins.

Collins, who was the US Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, teaches English at Lehman College, New York. Maybe that explains the literary turn of some of his poems such as Birthday, where he writes about reading Samuel Richardson’s 18th century novel Clarissa, and The Literary Life, where he writes about the 19th century English poet Coventry Patmore.

But one doesn’t have to know Richardson and Patmore – neither of whom have I read – to appreciate Collins.

He can be enjoyed on his own for the loving detail with which he writes about home life. The imagery is so vivid. He can also tease, write in riddles and weave a spell. Some of his poems are so hypnotic and incantatory they are simply crying to be read aloud. Read the poem, Litany.  Also read the poem Birthday, where he meditates on age and time as he begins reading the novel, Clarissa, which runs to more than 1,000 pages,

But first let’s read his poem about his old typewriter, a Royal Aristocrat. Now that’s an old contraption you may have never heard of, never having had to use a typewriter in your life. But if you have ever had to sit down and write anything, and enjoyed doing it, this is a poem you will appreciate. I think this poem will be appreciated by bloggers especially typing away at their computers. Read to the last verse please. That’s as romantic as anything written by Keats or Dylan Thomas.

Royal Aristocrat
By Billy Collins

My old typewriter used to make so much noise
I had to put a cushion of newspaper
beneath it late at night
so as not to wake the whole house.

Even if I closed the study door
and typed a few words at a time —
the best way to work anyway —
the clatter of keys was still so loud

That the grey and yellow bird
would wince in its cage.
Some nights I could even see the moon
frowning down through the winter trees.

Continue reading “Billy Collins on his old typewriter”

Auden on moon landing

I just came across this poem by Auden and liked it so much I wanted to share it here. Many of his poems are popular favourites and found in anthologies. For example, In Memory of WB Yeats, September 1939, Refugee Blues, The Unknown Citizen, If I Could Tell You, Look Stranger, and Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love. But I am reading this poem for the first time.

Moon Landing
By WH Auden

It's natural the Boys should whoop it up for
so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
it would not have occurred to women
to think worth while, made possible only

because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
hurrah the deed, although the motives
that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.

A grand gesture. But what does it period?
What does it osse? We were always adroiter
with objects than lives, and more facile
at courage than kindness: from the moment

the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam's,
still don't fit us exactly, modern
only in this—our lack of decorum.

Homer's heroes were certainly no braver
than our Trio, but more fortunate: Hector
was excused the insult of having
his valour covered by television.

Worth going to see? I can well believe it.
Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert
and was not charmed: give me a watered
lively garden, remote from blatherers

Continue reading “Auden on moon landing”

Love poems by Brian Patten

It’s Valentine’s Day. So here are love poems as simple and heart-felt as the finest love songs. Brian Patten knows how to touch hearts and minds. The Mersey Sound, a slim Penguin paperback featuring poems by him, Adrian Henri and Roger McGough published in 1967, is one of the bestselling poetry anthologies of all time, according to Wikipedia. Patten is still good as ever. Visit his website for updates.

Someone’s Coming Back
By Brian Patten

Now that the summer has emptied
and laughter’s warned against possessions
and the swans have drifted from the rivers,
like one coming back from a long journey
no longer certain of his country
or of its tangled past and sorrows,
I am wanting to return to you.

When love affairs can no longer be distinguished from song
and the warm petals drop without regret,
and our pasts are hung in a dream of ruins,
I am wanting to come near to you.

For now the lark’s song has grown visible
and all that was dark is ever possible,
and the morning grabs me by the heart and screams,
'O taste me! Taste me please!'

And so I taste. And the tongue is nude,
and eyes awake; the clear blood hums
a tune to which the world might dance;
and love which often lived in vaguer forms
bubbles up through sorrow and laughing, screams:
'Oh taste me! Taste me please!'

By Brian Patten

Dressed you are a different creature.
Dressed you are polite, are discreet and full of friendships,
Dressed you are almost serious.
You talk of the world and of all its disasters
As if they really moved you.
Dressed you hold on to illusions.

The wardrobes are full of disguises,
The dress to be unbuttoned only in darkness,
The dress that seems always about to fall from you,
The touch-me-not dress, the how-expensive dress,
The dress slung on without caring.
Dressed you are a different creature.

Continue reading “Love poems by Brian Patten”