Stop the Bus, I'm Getting Off!
Yap Wy-En's sophomore effort is elaborately bad
By Cyril Wong
What exactly constitutes poetry is a question that could result in a range of subjective replies, which only shows how such terms are, if brought to their semantic limits - contingent, although many would insist there is a specific set of answers to fit the question.
A harder question would be: what constitutes good poetry?
Again, there are those who would agree on certain answers: poetry must say something new about an aspect of existence, and say it in a way that is refreshing and dynamic, as well as ensure that what is conveyed is so convincingly authentic that the reader is not only impressed by the poetics, but is also moved. This might sound a tad general, but I am sure you get the gist of what I am trying to say. Anyway, this is just one perspective. I might also add that it is not unreasonable to assume that this perspective forms a large part of the critical view of what makes good poetry in the many important literary circles all over the world.
But according to this view of poetry, would not Yap Wy-En’s second collection of verse Life’s Bus-Stop be more than difficult to praise? Edwin Thumboo, in his kindly worded Foreword to the book, talks about how Yap has moved “some distance” from his first volume. “Some” could also mean “very little.” Also, where exactly is Yap accumulating distance from? Thumboo also writes, “The route to maturity is to create at the limits of developed capacities.” As far as I can see, Yap has a well-developed skill for writing in English. And I may even agree that Yap is, indeed, writing at the limits of his poetic imagination, at least for now.
Yap has phrases like “break free with unbridled joy”, which may appeal to anyone who has not read enough poetry to know what a cliché is and what is not. Indeed, such a reader would enjoy Yap’s generous peppering of words like “pusillanimous” and “gallimaufry” – all used with greatly imprecise abstractedness – to talk about the meaning of existence. Multi-syllabic words roll well off the academic’s tongue and may just impress those with less than a Thumboonian range of adjectives and nouns themselves.
“Surely that is what poetry is about,” says Thumboo when Yap makes another overtly generalised point about the “familiarity of experience” in his poetry. Personally, I would compare this to Damien Sin’s (what a pun) own brand of poetry, the difference being the saving grace that Sin’s poetry does not pretend to be anything more than the unpretentious doggerel (e.g. “The East is red, the West is blue”) that it simply is, whilst Yap’s verse only pretends and pretends, and falls further, as a result, into the well of bad verse.
The potential for some interesting revelations lie here and there, but they never quite take shape under Yap’s belief that good poetry is made of bombastic language and vague, Hallmark Card-sounding generalisations with little imaginative content.
In the newspaper Today, where Yap was interviewed, he was quoted on saying that local poetry has no “oomph.” In my mind, the pages of his second collection, which is just as elaborately bad as his first, lack the semblance of any real poetry. (And yes, the question returns, doesn’t it – what is real poetry then?) As Yap himself writes in the last poem in the book, “Juxtaposition”, “Insipid verbosity, never was meant to be.” Indeed, Yap Wy-En, indeed.
Also, the black and white photographs by Louis Kwok in the book are rather nice.QLRS Vol. 1 No. 3 Apr 2002