Thursday, March 05, 2009

"The Cane", by Allan Ahlberg

Was recently assigned to write about children's poetry for World Poetry Day. Ended up checking out a compendium by one of my first favourite writers, Allan Ahlberg (author of the Jolly Postman and the Happy Family Series, doncha know.)

Anyhow, he loses none of his charm with age and perspective. Here's one poem that should resonate with Singaporeans:

The Cane

The teacher
had some thin springy sticks
for making kites.

Reminds me
of the old days, he said;
and swished one.

The children
near his desk laughed nervously,
and pushed closer.

A cheeky girl
held out her cheeky hand.
Go on, Sir!

said her friends.
Give her the stick, she’s always
playing up!

The teacher
paused, then did as he was told.
Just a tap.

Oh, Sir!
We’re going to tell on you,
the children said.

Other children
left their seats and crowded round
the teacher’s desk.

Other hands
went out. Making kites was soon

My turn next!
He’s had one go already!
That’s not fair!

Soon the teacher,
to save himself from the crush,
called a halt.

(It was
either that or use the cane
for real.)

the children did as they were told
and sat down.

If you behave
yourselves, the teacher said,
I’ll cane you later.

The irony is that I'm reading this right next to "Burden of Ashes" by Justin Chin, in which he describes how his Singaporean and Malaysian relatives and neighbours used to punish him and other children by caning them on their tongues and forcing them to eat their vomit. Yay for Asian values.

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