"Hong Lim Park"
Since this poem is context specific, here’s a bit of background information. Hong Lim Park is a public park in Singapore with a Speaker’s Corner. To read more, click here, and search under Singapore.
Hong Lim Park
a fat man stands
announces an opinion
as if it mattered
in the hot sun
the trees yawn and
the retirees wish
they had their
by Gilbert Koh
Note: First published electronically by Softblow. Permission to reproduce here granted by the poet himself. Thanks, Gilbert.
To read Gilbert’s other poems, go to his blog Reader’s Eye, which is listed on the sidebar of Links.
Although very simple, this poem is ambiguously complex, and far from being didactic like other more overtly political poems, it allows the reader to bring his/her own reading to it. As such, it is necessary then for me to lay down my own ideological stance here (to each their own). Distressed over certain worrying trends in Malaysian socio-political landscape, I decided to put this poem up as a little food for thought.
Hong Lim Park represents Singapore government’s very strict and sometimes near draconian control over free speech. At the speaker’s corner, people can’t just go up impromptu and speak on a topic, but need to apply for a permit to speak from the nearby police outpost. As it is known, strong political dissent and opposition in Singapore are often clamped down hard and there is little room to publicly express differing political viewpoints on issues.
The first stanza of the poem plays out the tensions on the ‘freedoms’ that are allowed at the speaker’s corner. The word “Announce” though suggesting something important brought to the public’s attention is quickly understated and reduced to being only an “opinion”. The sharp irony in “as if it mattered” further dismisses whatever weight that “opinion” might have. Indeed, if the “opinion” had been allowed, it certainly wouldn’t have mattered too much – not political nor too big a social issue, since the speaker and the speech made would have been first checked and given approval. .
In fact, would anything addressed at the speaker’s corner interest anybody at all? The mention of the trees in the second stanza mark the absence of any listening party in the park, just as their animation with human expression of boredom (“yawn”) suggest a complete disinterest or apathy to whatever is being said.
At the poem’s close, retirees sit around comfortably and want more than anything else to enjoy the nice greenery of the park. Having somebody yakking and ranting away seem to be a nuisance and disturbance of the peace. To them, why would anybody seriously bother standing there talking “in the hot sun”?
Some other questions to consider:
- Is a different reading of the poem possible?
- Does the arrangement of the poem create a certain effect or ‘feel’?
- Does the word "sigh" in the second stanza complicate my reading of apathy in the poem?
BTW: For those Malaysians who haven’t heard or watched Danny Lim’s short film 18 (the film itself takes 18 minutes) which won Gold for short film documentary at the Malaysian Video Awards and came up runners up in the amateur category at the 2005 Freedom Film Fest, please click here or here (it is copyright free).