I received this little doll last Friday afternoon, as a token of appreciation from the school. CHIJ was organising a poetry event, and I was one of the two invited speakers. The other invited speaker was Marc Nair, who had recently published his second book, entitled Chai, which is a collection of his travel poems.
About 250 students attended. Most were from CHIJ Saint Nicks itself, but there were also perhaps 20 students from other schools including Anderson Secondary and Deyi Secondary. I spoke about how to explore one's everyday experiences and circumstances and use them as material for creative writing. In retrospect, I probably could have simplified my presentation and made it a little less high-brow.
I also read five poems from my book Two Baby Hands. One of the poems was The Couple Next Door, a poem about wife abuse, set in the HDB heartlands. Coincidentally, a CHIJ literature teacher told me that another school, Singapore Chinese Girls School (SCGS), had just used this poem to set an exam question in their literature prelim paper.
- The Couple Next Door
Sometimes at night I hear them fight. I think
it's over money. Usually he's drunk. He always wins.
Hits her with something heavy - I can't tell what.
She cries awhile, then falls silent. A door slams.
This happens about once or twice a week.
I listen intently to all their fights. I blast my radio.
He will hear me. And know that I can hear him too.
My small intrusions. My vague useless gestures.
My rock music turning violent, bearing futile witness,
battering doors at midnight demanding entry.
What does she do, after he falls asleep?
Perhaps she lies besides him, counting the reasons
not to leave. This time not so bad, no need to see doctor.
Maybe: I cannot go. We are already married.
Or worse - He won't do it again. I know he won't do it again.
Sometimes in the mornings, on the way to work, I see her
in the common corridor. She must know that I know.
Her eyes avoid mine. I let the walls stand.
I will be the stranger who sees and hears nothing.
I believe we both prefer it that way.
Perhaps a little overly dark, for teenaged students. But then again, perhaps not - since SCGS had seen fit to use it as an examination question. Ah well.
Quite a number of secondary schools in Singapore use my poems for their literature lessons from time to time. It all started several years ago, when the Education Ministry asked for my permission to include my poems in their official "teaching resources" file, for literature teachers. Although I don't get paid for this, I am pleased that this allows many of my poems to get a regular readership, year after year, among Singapore's literature students.
Even if my poems are now ... homework. :D