Nov 5, 2009

"Boo!" Said The Critic

An NUS student has reviewed my book Two Baby Hands. The review was extremely negative and I think that many people were surprised by it. In response to the review, one reader even wrote:
    "I strongly believe that reviewers are entitled to express their own opinions. Still, to me, this review was really way off. I was very, very surprised by how one-sided it was. In fact, I got the distinct feeling that the reviewer has some personal grudge against Mr Wang. Just my guess."
(The reviewer has denied this).

Virtually overnight, a small troop of Singapore writers also appeared on this blog, to find out what's been going on and/or to chip in with their two cents' worth. Actually I am slightly taken aback at how quickly they all popped up (I wonder how many of them might in fact be long-time lurkers here). The writers included Alvin Pang; Gwee Li Sui; Toh Hsien Min; Alfian Saat; Laremy Lee and Teng Qian Xi.

I was also told that the quality of the review (and presumably the merits of the book) are now being hotly debated on some Facebook group discussion. However, I am not privy to that.

Since the time the review came out, I have received a number of encouraging, supportive emails from friends. I appreciate this, but also expected it - that's what friends do for each other, right? What did surprise me was that a few people whom I've never met before also made the effort to contact me and share their thoughts. For instance, here's a nice email I received from Tammy Ho, a poetry editor in Hong Kong, relaying a message from one Bob Bradshaw, who lives faraway in California:

    "Dear Gilbert,

    We at Cha read a review of Two Baby Hands at QLRS and felt that it was an unfair analysis. Bob Bradshaw (our former guest editor and regular contributor) has the following to say, for example:

      "I don't recall seeing a more cruel review than Gilbert Koh has received at QLRS. Gilbert Koh is a fine poet. I haven't read the book, but I have enjoyed a number of his poems. I was appalled at the attack. Please pass along my feelings to Mr. Koh. He deserves much, much better! ...."

    Anyway, we enjoy your poetry and we are sure many many others like your work."

Thanks, Tammy & Bob. You brighten my day. :)

At the moment, I am still feeling quite annoyed. But oh well, in the end, what's a review? One person's opinion. Life goes on.


Anonymous said...

Maybe the reviewer was just having a bad day.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

I humbly suggest you take a step back before you continue this discussion. For reference and a cautionary tale, google Alice Hoffman.

I know it is doubly hard as a blogger to not instantly react - but I think a time-out is in everyone's best interest. Gwee's suggestion of a measured response in QLRS sounds pretty good to me too. Thanks.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Haha, no worries. I definitely would not take this as seriously as Alice Hoffman did.

It's not as if I actually have to sell my book for a living. :)

Hermit said...

Mr Wang, I do not know why you, an established writer, would be so affected with just one person's review.

You are considered a semi-professional writer. You are paid for what you write.

Letting your frustration out in a personal blog does not reflect that professional status.

PS - just to let you know. I write books and articles too (and get paid for it). But I never mix that part of my life with my blogging life - and yes, I have had my fair share of critics.

So now you know real life critics carry more sting than blogging critics. Welcome to the club!

Anonymous said...

hi mr wang

now it seems clear to me why u were so critical of NUS lit grads...

that said, whatever the contents of the review,and whether it was accurate or not, it doesnt matter. wat matters most is tat this is only one review from one person, and tat for every one person who is critical of ur poem, there are many more out there who appreciates and supports it.

u have to accept that poetry, or literature in general, is very subjective and diff people have diff outlook, taste and approaches. its hard to make a poem that pleases everyone - hell, you dont even make a poem to please in the first place. there are bound to be negative comments, but these are just part of the whole picture. u have to learn, as a professional writer, to not be so emotionally caught up with these criticisms.

lastly, this one nus reviewer really doesnt represent everyone. even if his review is bad [which is really a matter of debate which i wont pass judgement], its just one NUS undergrad. he is not equals to nus lit department, so hope that you dont generalize..

wish u all the best in your writing career


Anonymous said...

The Ubin 12 will always love you!

Anonymous said...

er... how is this nicholas liu considered a 'real life critic'?

veii said...

Take any given book that is fairly popular, on any subject, in, and chances are that it would have attracted a few nasty reviews along with some good ones. Even those which have been critically acclaimed. Likewise with any given hotel in That is the nature of the 'adoring' public, and the power of the internet and other media to make these voices heard..

Anonymous said...

what's a review? One person's opinion. Life goes on.

我记得电影Dirty Harry里男主角说:Opinion is like an asshole, everybody's got one.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"You are paid for what you write."

In a peanuts sort of way, yes. :D

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

And I will always love the Ubin 12. :)

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,here are my thoughts :-

You cannot decide how long you will live, but you can live your life to the fullest.

You cannot change the weather, but you can change your mood.

You cannot change your looks, but you can smile to make yourself more approachable.

You cannot control others, but you can control how you react to the situation.

You cannot predict what will happen tomorrow, but you can make full use of today.

You may not have smooth journey, but you can put in your very best.

James Michael Parthi

ericlow said...

hey gilbert,

like what gwee said, it isn't a question of self-validation, so the parade of glowing past examples ain't very helpful. i think a reflection and a measured response on qlrs will be brilliant though! i always liked reading your commentary on poetry.

anyways, congrats on getting the book out! (sorry i very slow on the congrats) i didn't like it, but i bought it! :)

Phil Bay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Phil, your comment is rejected because it wasn't truthful. Bearing in mind your recent comment about "most of my posts" in general.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Thank you James. Hope all goes for well for you.

Eric, nice to hear from you again. Been a long time.

Anonymous said...

It's perfectly normal to be annoyed at bad reviews.

I am intrigued that you provided no whatsoever link to the review though. It does seem to appear that the review was unreasonably harsh, I suppose.

Personally, I enjoyed your work, and so do many others. I'm no literature genius, but your writings have influenced me in many ways. Don't take the bad review to heart. You have your supporters.


Anonymous said...

Mr wang, surely u cannot expect everyone to like your writings and not have even a single review not to your liking. To even blog about this tells me somehow it has gotten to you. Grow up and move on.


Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.

– Jean Sibelius
Finnish (with double n, without ed) composer

mrdes said...

Say, I also think a response in QLRS is good least I have learnt new things about your poems or poetry in general from the exchanges in your earlier post.

I hate dissecting poems, as in my opinion, no one person can fully understand another, not to mention when it comes to something that can be so personal and genuine from the heart. In my amateurish opinion, when you first read a poem, you either get it or don't get it (my words sounded crude here, but these are my exact thoughts.). The funny thing is after you have put down that poetry collection, sometimes in the near future, you may look back and ask yourself:"Now, where have I heard those words before?" Then suddenly, they start to resonate with you, yet you can't seem to pinpoint why exactly. That is why I bought a copy of your collection despite having read most of its poems before.

The irony is that when you finally manage to pinpoint why the poems have suddenly become great, you become a better poet yourself, I think. In this way, reading poetry can be a humbling experience and such a selfless act.

Pardon my babbling.

Anders Brink said...

Can I offer an alternative opinion? There are valid criticisms, and there are cheap shots. And sometimes, even if the criticism is valid, it doesn't mean you can do anything about it. So not all criticism is bad, some can actually help you improve. One should be open to criticisms. CITOKATE - Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote to Error.

Onlooker said...

One man meat is another man's poison.

It does not matter because everyone can take a little different view and interpret literature differently.

Maybe Nick is uncomfortable with the some of the themes in the book.

And There is something about moving on and Thus:

What to do? It happened.......

The said...

This is the entry I tried submitting to QLRS

Write a poem using the following words:







My first attempt:

This poem is a sub text
of the brouhaha set off by Nicholas Liu’s review
of Gilbert Koh’s “Two Baby Hands”

Stage direction?
Or trying to take centre stage?
Stage by stage, the knife plunges in

Too much wine perhaps?
Or hunger for recognition?
Too clever by half; the review was plain wrong

Anonymous said...

I think you have handled yourself extremely badly throughout this whole fiasco. Attacking an entire faculty in an university is hardly a productive way of coping with bad reviews. Firstly as a published poet you should expect bad reviews. The other option is not publishing and just writing for your friends. Secondly, the lit students are probably going to be the people who are most likely to buy your book, so you're effectively alienating your primary market. It's so childish. As an adult you should be above attacking students. But it seems clear you are not in the least apologetic, and instead feel as though you've been wronged by a REVIEW, of all things. Reviews are supposed to judge your work, that's what they're for.

Anonymous said...

Come on lah, the Nicholas Liu review is ridiculous.

Read Alfian Saat's comments on the review. Note that Alfian has no vested interest in this matter, definitely understands poetry and has also got experience writing reviews himself. Alfian said (among other things):

"1) I think, Nick, considering that you're writing poetry yourself, your attack on Gilbert's does smack of an attempt to subdue the competition.

2) I just think Nicholas is reproducing the Cyril Wong school of literary criticism: the snide remark standing in for a point of view, an unpleasantness bordering on the vicious."

Enough said. If Gilbert wants to learn from criticism, that's good. But no need to learn it from evil, malicious persons.

I'm sure that Gilbert can get frank, honest and well-intentioned feedback (whether positive or negative) from other sources.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Another review of Two Baby Hands.

Josh said...

Hi! I love your poem "Apples". Actually I read it on the QLRS review and IMHO, it was very good. I may not be as smart/experienced as Nicholas Liu, but I throughly disagreed with his cutting review.

"Apples" reminded me of the innocence and fascination my baby cousin displays when he catches hold of a new word. I like it very much:) Thank you!