Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gilbert Koh's Two Baby Hands

Now, I am inclined to compare the two poets, Brian and Gilbert, having read their poetry collections consecutively, but then they are just too different: the former lyrical and rhythmical, the latter imbued with unexpected thrusts of emotions and ironies.

Another thing about "Two Baby Hands" is that some of its poems ignited my passion in poetry again - was it two years since? - years after leaving school, as a reader of Gilbert's blog (readerseye, not mrwangsaysso), so inevitably there was some sentimentality in this acquisition from Kinokuniya.

Some online critics claimed that Gilbert's poems flow like proses broken into lines. My only complaint is their lack of poetic form at times. Some are studious, rather than wistful, snapshots of social (or Political? I often mix up the two) commentaries: think "The Schoolgirl Kills Herself After Failing an Exam", "National Leadership", "The Bureaucracy" etc.

Yet, all the poems felt like home, warm, cosy and close to heart - even "The Bureaucracy", as I am too "a cold hard part of a necessary process, repeating through the years repeating". As surely as the sun will rise, you will know straight off the nationality of the poet (from "Train Ride to Singapore", it seems that Gilbert is educated in Singapore, but born up north.). So long after, reading "National Day Parade" again still put a knowing smile to my face:

(extracted)
"That one is me," I said,
Pointing at the screen.
I couldn't be sure.
Still we laughed and clapped
Our hands like children,
Knowing that it was not
Supposed to matter

On the other hand, coming from a beginner-reader of poetry, in this way, Gilbert's poems may lack international appeal; I am not too sure an Englishman would truly appreciate them, having limited knowledge of our educational system or the fuss surrounding National Day parades. Having said that, most of the time Brian Patten actually traverses such boundaries, though he writes mostly about love, a universal language I guess.

Still, there are pieces like "Conception", "What I Didn't Tell You", "Without You" and "Warning to a Lover", to name a few, which are on par with some of my favourite Brian's love poems. Pardon me, it seems that Brian Patten has set the benchmark for good poetry.

My guess is that the poems in this collection which will live long in my memory would be those about family's loves and lives, such as "My Father Growing Old", "My Father Takes My Son For a Walk", "The Widow", "Apples", "Mondays", "Grandmother's Garden", "Family" and one of my personal favourite, "Durian". As kids, we all knew that "nothing made pa happier than to know that he'd picked a good durian for us." Now, this one surely the English will not get it.

Though I finished the read in a week of bus rides, I realised that everytime I re-read Gilbert's poems, something new seems to pop up. For that alone, it's worth a place on my bookshelf.

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