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Evening Song by Leong Liew Geok
Tuesday, April 2, 2013 | 10:47 AM | 0 comments

I found this poem while I was on the hunt for Singapore Literature-related items, and thought I'd like to share it with the world, even if its writer isn't featured in our anthology (Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature). But first, some quick background information on the writer:

Leong Liew Geok is a renowned local poet. Born in 1947 in Penang, Malaysia, she was one of the ten Singaporeans selected for American publisher W. W. Norton's 2008 international anthology titled Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, which features 440 poems by 440 poets. Leong's first poetry collection, Love Is Not Enough (1991) (from which this poem is taken!), was recommended for a book award by the National Book Development Council in 1992. 


Evening Song
by Leong Liew Geok


Come, my darlings, let me see
Your files and papers please;
Put them neatly on my table:
How did you fare in Assessment Three?


Off with TV; sit on either side;
Let’s first look at Chinese and Math.
I wonder if you’ve progressed –
80 for Math? A shocking slide!


And you, my girl? This will never do!
Chinese, only 82? Listen, both:
Peabrain! Cretin! These are the pits –
I expect better things from you!


All this will count toward
Your final position in the standard;
Pull up your socks; shape up, or else
Demotion will be your reward.


Since overall performance is AVERAGE,
I must assign more exercises,
So you’ll improve in CA Four
To secure an A‐STAR percentage.


A word with your tutor may increase
A 70% stake in the subject;
Spending holidays with her, my boy,
May change your grades in Chinese.


What’s that whispering I hear?
Brain damage from too much work?
There’s mud in your cerebral cortex –
Grey matter has nothing to fear!


Never forget the fact –
There’s nothing like an early start;
Avoid Normal and Express for SAP
You brats – take that! And that!


Leong, Liew Geok. Love is Not Enough. Singapore, Times Editions Pte Ltd

Some quick discussion on the poem:

Evening Song takes on the much-discussed issue of the academic pressure and stress that is placed on students in Singapore nowadays, but in a light-hearted manner. As seen in this poem, parental expectations of good academic results can come into play even as early as primary school, in addition to pressure created by teachers as well as by the students themselves.

The persona starts out with the use of an affectionate term in "Come, my darlings" and the use of a polite, rational tone with his/her children. However, this quickly changes into a tone of disappointment and an inability to hear her children's pleas and complaints of fatigue. Though the poet employs the use of humour to look at this issue, one also notes an underlying sinister atmosphere, as the children have little say in their lives due to the authoritarian personality of the persona.

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