Friday, November 13, 2009

The Jakarta Post owes me an itsy-bisty apology...

Alerted by Gwee Li Sui's Facebook notes! The Jakarta Post covered Singapore Writers Festival in this article, which included the following paragraph:

"There were almost 70 Singaporean literary luminaries directly participating in events, including established writers like Catherine Lim (The Bondmaid, 1995), a self-described “incorrigible, unstoppable storyteller”, and de-facto poet laureate Edwin Thumboo (Ulysses by the Merlion, 1979) to emerging talents like Wena Poon, who won the Singapore Literature Prize for her debut novel Lions in Winter."

Well, as most of you know:

1. "Lions in Winter" is a collection of short stories, not a novel.

2. Wena's debut novel was actually the self-published sci-fi thriller "Biophilia".

3. She didn't win the SLP. She was shortlisted the same year that, ahem, I won. (She was my favourite to win, though.)

Wena's pretty pissed at them too. They referred to her latest book, "The Proper Care of Foxes", as a romance.

Speaking of literary gossip, there's been an intriguing spate happening between NUS English student Nicholas Liu and Gilbert Koh, a banker who also goes by the nom de blog of Mr Wang.

Basically, Nicholas did a QLRS review of Gilbert's first collection of poems, "Two Baby Hands". It's a very, very cutting review, but I have to say I agree with the points made - I've got a certain style and approach to poetry, after all.

Gilbert, however, hasn't handled the criticism well. And it's quite natural to be upset - I'm always upset when I read bad or even mediocre reviews of my theatre work. But he got really - well - snarky and ad hominemly defensive in his responses: see here, here and here.

I dormed with Gilbert at the Pulau Ubin writers' retreat, so I can say he's a pretty nice guy in person. His poetry's a hell of a lot more accessible than mine, too.

But he's gotta learn something: almost all coverage is good coverage. More people are going to check out his book because of the review, and a lot of them are going to like the book. And the controversy caused by this is making more people think about our work in new ways.

Now if only Jakarta Post would write something, good or bad, about me...


Michelle said...

I've never read much Mr Wang but wow, his responses to the review are embarrassing, particularly the long self-reviews (in the comments section) of the strengths of his own writing. Almost all of Nicholas's points in the review are spot-on.

(I say this as a bad, lazy writer who cringed while reading the review precisely because it was a painful reminder of flaws I've recognized in my own writing.)

Ng Yi-Sheng said...

I was going to say I'm lucky that I've never had a bad review for a book, but thinking about it, rather few of us writers have.

If the book's not very good, people tend to politely ignore it rather than blasting it. Maybe not such a good thing.

Have you read "Two Baby Hands" in total, though?

Anonymous said...

I've read many poems written in the same vein as Gilbert's (ie. easy, accessible) and they've received much acclaim from the press. I do believe Gilbert's got a point about academia, which often seems more interested in throwing pot shots from its ivory tower than with embracing a diverse body of voices.

There's a reason why people don't read poems - they're not accessible. I'm concurrently reading a book by an academic-poet and another by a heartbroken mother fretting over her Iraq-based soldier-son. Guess which I'm enjoying more?

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting response by someone to Koh's article in this blog:

I say that Koh managed to ruffle more than a few feathers; the whole Gen Y below 30 years of age, literary critics are out for his blood. :) Especially if you're from NUS. :D

Ng Yi-Sheng said...

Yeah... If you wanna be remembered into posterity? Best not to piss off the future English professors who'll be deciding what goes into anthologies and curricula.