Quarterly Literary Review Singapore
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Vol. 1 No. 1 Oct 2001

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On right responses

By Toh Hsien Min

On one morning in September, the whole world had horror etched on its consciousness. Not terror. Terror is something that can be dealt with, however inconceivable this may be at the time. The USA is in the thorny situation of being damned if it does and damned if it doesnít: it cannot sit back and do nothing because this encourages further terrorism, but if it goes in hard on its enemies, it only creates new monsters for itself. Nonetheless, it is able to choose a very active response to terror, according to its own priorities.

Horror is different. As Kurtz has testified, horror is something that is in and of itself, that leaves us helpless in its desolation. Now as then, horror is the realization of that heart of darkness that is within man.

I have not wanted to talk, or write, about 11th September, because that horror struck deep. (An uncle of mine was in the next building from WTC, and my aunt spent an agonizing three hours before managing to contact him; when he finally got home, he was blanketed in dust.) Somehow it seemed wrong to talk about it. As a friend and QLRS reader wrote in an email: ďsomehow i don't feel like i wanna talk about this anymore... i mean, for pple there it's real suffering. Somehow i feel that if i keep going on about it, it's almost a kind of desecration. i'm not sure what my own response to this is: how much of it is genuine and how much of it is just a sensationalist wow-this-is-so-terrible kinda reaction. Not that i'm saying that talking about it or taking comfort in poetry is sensationalist, i'm just saying that if i had done so myself, i'm not sure what my motives would have been.Ē


Horror is when even human responses are buried under rubble. I have wondered whether QLRS would receive any writing on the terrorist attacks; Iím relieved that we havenít. Instead, what we have received shows life in all its humanity stubbornly asserting itself. Whether it is Arthur Yapís fine poem on youth supporting one another, John Tranterís celebratory elegy, Alvin Pangís questioning Incendium Amoris, or (by sheer coincidence) Hwee Hwee Tanís celebration of a minor epiphany in New York City, all these pieces resist horror. Even if all the short stories show how much desolation is part of our ordinary existence, it is a desolation that we can stand firm against. And that, perhaps, is the consolation of poetry in a time such as this.


I must record my thanks to all QLRS readers and contributors. There were good submissions in every category, and we were regretfully unable to take them all. Let me, however, encourage you to continue sending your pieces in. In the meantime, I hope youíll enjoy reading this first issue, and Iíll see you at the official launch of QLRS at the Book Cafť (20 Martin Road) on the evening of 29th October 2001!

What responses are best to a time of horror? Discuss in the Forum.

QLRS Vol. 1 No. 1 Oct 2001


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