Quarterly Literary Review Singapore
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Vol. 2 No. 1 Oct 2002

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On looking forward and backward

By Toh Hsien Min

QLRS turned one in August, and we marked the occasion with, uh, not very much really - just a post on the forum and an email to the wonderful people I have the pleasure of working with. It’s not that long ago that I took the David O’Leary line on this journal, saying it was just a toddler learning to walk really, and yet it does feel older than it is. We could even look back to an older form of itself; this editorial was initially titled ‘Where did it all go wrong?’, partly after the U2 B-side (curiously, on the single for ‘Even better than the real thing’), but more after seeing that back in October 2001, our editorial was ‘On right responses’. Reality is the mother of sobriety, and QLRS has a curious record in anticipating (if not precipitating) real life. We’d published ‘Night Tour’ in August 2001, in association with the National Arts Council. This was a short story about a tour company taking people around haunted spots in Singapore. By December 2001, some bright spark had started a company to do just that. We had a July 2002 issue that focussed on home, and its converse, rootlessness. A month later, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong delivered a National Day Rally speech that included the theme of ‘stayers’ and ‘quitters’, and provoked as controversial and heated a public debate as he has ever done. And so, observing the developments in the Middle East from the sidelines, I hardly dare articulate what most people are guessing will happen.

It’s almost as though other people are thinking likewise. There is in this issue some political commentary, on political freedoms after 9/11, and on the new imperialism in the world’s most dangerous rogue nation. There is a very good poem from Gilbert Koh on the the kind of human rights abuses that occur in the military. But beyond that, it seems as though QLRS contributors are retreating into the closely personal. Angeline Yap’s poem ‘September’ does not even hint at what one might expect it to, but is instead a moving eulogy to love. The short stories almost fit perfectly into each other as an examination of the life-cycle of relationships. The books of poetry recently released, which we had occasion to review, come across more for startlingly personal visions than any more encompassing or social ones.

In a way, there’s nothing wrong with that. Living in the personal can be a source of revelation, and if personal perspectives admit other personal perspectives it could, slowly, through accretion, become more than the diplomatic impassés between Singapore and Malaysia (need I mention our review of a Malaysian critical reader on Singapore literature here?) or for that matter between the USA and Iraq. I was recently among five Singaporean poets who went to Brisbane to take part in the Queensland Poetry Festival, and we were delighted to meet so many talented and genuinely nice Australians. (I could tell you horror stories of the service in restaurants such as Watts, but the at-ti-tude of the waitstaff was felt very much more because of the friendliness and warmth we had become used to.) For me, because of that, the 10/12 bombing strikes with all the more pain, but because the world's politicians have regressed from even a year ago, it reverberates with all the more tragedy.


All the saints of a dozen different pantheons must have been smiling on QLRS, for somehow, somehow, we’ve always managed to meet our publication deadline (which, for the record, is the 15th of the first month of every quarter). Three editors still not finished with their material two days from the 15th? You can be sure they’ll get it in with just the right margin of time for it all to be coded and posted. True, we’ve had to hold over material in the past before, just because they come too late, but the issue always gets out.

With the journal’s record, I suppose I shouldn’t say the next issue will be late. But it’s a bit of a no-brainer really. During what would have been the usual QLRS cycle, I’ll be doing time in a prison somewhere in Clementi, for the crime of having been born a male Singaporean. I’m not going to bother to argue that the slog behind QLRS is already a form of national service, or to point you to the book Jeremy Samuel has reviewed in this issue. I’m just going to coalesce Mr Tan Soo Khoon’s constituent (apologies to our numerous non-Singaporean readers for what must seem an obscure reference), ‘Chiang’s Heat Stroke’ and the darkness of our times, and just say, I shall remember.

For better or for worse? Discuss in the Forum.

QLRS Vol. 2 No. 1 Oct 2002


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  Related Links

U2 Official Site
External link.

Night Tour

PM Goh's National Day Rally Speech
External link to the Singapore government.

Queensland Poetry Festival
External link.

Chiang's Heat Stroke


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