I For Indulgence
Eric Low gives Vivienne Yeo a long, thought-out "Because".
By Eric Low Soon Liang
If You're Not, Why Not
There used to be a time when one could buy a book of poems written by a Singaporean poet, and expect the author to have a reasonable idea of what poetry is and/or should be, and also to have edited the book, with a reasonable level of taste and rigour. I would also expect that the author, having read widely and having submitted to journals both locally and overseas, would possess the necessary experience and literary know-how to put together a book of poetry. Perhaps some readers may not like certain books, but that would have been down to a matter of opinion or taste and there would still be a reasonable level of proficiency that a discerning reader should be able to detect in a new poetry book.
However, with the increasing popularity of self-publishing and the advent of vanity presses, this guarantee has been severely eroded. Hence the existence of books such as If You're Not, Why Not? by Vivienne Yeo.
One word is enough to describe the entire book aptly; Indulgent. With a capital I. From the "Look at me!" cover, the lengthy (unnecessary) introduction that goes on and on about the author's lack of confidence and inability (a perceptive insight, why did she not trust that basic instinct?), to the poems themselves that demonstrate, without doubt, how clueless the author really is about how poetry should actually be written. The book ends with a tasteless "behind-the-scenes-look" into the "hows" and "whys" behind each poem in the collection.
As the final coffin nail, note the last item she lists on her scroll (yes, a long, long list) of inspiration; "and life", complete with the awe-inspiring "......".
Consider the first poem that starts the tragedy that is this volume of "verse", "I'm Not into Verses":
There is the small matter of using "Verses" instead of the more appropriate "Verse", but still that can be waved off as arguable. However, what is the poem attempting to inform its readers? A defence of the author's inclination towards poetry? The reader has already heard the defence from Yeo's aforementioned lengthy introduction. Even if the reader had wisely skipped that introduction, the following stanzas do nothing to inform the readers of the author's reasons and motives, except to dump large amounts of clichés and abstract emotions which are never defined or elaborated upon. The poem ends like this:
I am tempted to ask: Poetry (or "Verses" as she would put it) clearly does not owe the author any kind of "favor" either, so why is she torturing the craft like this?
From this poem, readers have been forewarned that subsequent poems to follow will be nothing short of spectacularly awful.
Throughout the entire book, the author tries to prove the versatility of her range. At one point, there is even rhyme, such as in the poem, "Persistence":
Never has the term "forced rhyme" seem more understated as when used in relation to such doggerel. The more accurate term here could be "coerced rhyme".
There is also the Confessional-style of poetry, such as in the case of the autobiographical "Lovely Title":
I am tempted to mention that a single word immediately springs to mind that would make up the sum total of these two lines: Obituary.
Although the book is a volume of no less than fifty poems of various lengths, Yeo seems to go on and on, assaulting the readers' senses with blow after blow of lines such as:
One can only take so much bad poetry.
It is admirable to try to break the "rules" of contemporary poetry, as in the case of many fine poets both foreign and local, where they continuously test the limits of what can be defined as poetry, producing memorable pieces in the process like James Tate's To Each His Own or local poet Koh Tsin Yen's poetic-prose pieces, such as 'On Orchids' (featured in www.softblow.com). However, in Vivienne Yeo's book, one believes that the author does not possess a good grasp of the differences between what can be considered good contemporary poetry and what is not.
However, all is not lost. Already I can think of how useful this book would be in a serious course for poetry. In fact, I daresay it should be essential reading, even a course requisite, for every earnest beginner in the art of poetry. Where else could one obtain fifty excellent examples of how not to write, complete with educational descriptions of how each poem is created, and all for the price of $10.90 (cheaper if you buy from Popular Bookstore)?
A must-buy indeed.QLRS Vol. 6 No. 1 Oct 2006