Guest Foreword: Margins
Ruth Tang

Like many miscreant youths, I wrote fanfiction and worshipped Shakespeare, sometimes both at once. I imagined I could unite the text and the margins, write back to the things I loved and fix their many disappointments, but – as with every sly exam question that bundled all its assumptions away under high-pile carpets – I was missing pieces. There was always an implicit shame in scribbling in the margins that could not be fixed.

I’m happy to report that this issue of Unseen proves me wrong, with many excellent pieces that work in transformative or critical veins, both laughing in the face of Proper Literature and gently embracing it – while switching out an unsuitable nose or giving it nicer eyebrows.

Priya Ramesh almost makes me like Larkin again, as she demonstrates in her analysis how working from the margins may be a position of power rather than vulnerability. The margin becomes, as in its second meaning, the extent by which something has been won, rather than the negative space that has yet to be claimed. And of course the margin cannot be a separate space from the text it implicitly surrounds. Liren Fu’s and Kavya and Natalie’s comparative analyses of Mukul’s “Expatriate Dream” and Shire’s “Ugly” make clear the agony of forcibly switching the positions of text and margin, of adapting to a new existence where one is narratively marginal:

Expatriate means dream-drenched agony
To exist without happiness
Everything a dream

Or of the self being neither text nor margin, but something in between:

… men will not love her
if she is covered in continents,
if her teeth are small colonies,
if her stomach is an island
if her thighs are borders…

Elsewhere in the issue the text/margin question is less fraught, and more focused on the question of transformative work: Jerome Lim’s transmutation of Tennyson into Singlish intrigues, simultaneously irreverent and serious – one must take both source and target languages seriously, after all, to embark on such a project. The same delightful combination appears in Edward Eng’s and Ann Ang’s renderings of existing texts into something new; the proud cat in Ang’s poem embodies the fierce, contrary spirit this issue takes:

She doesn’t care about your assumptions
that she is a cat which is a cat who is cat.

We can write fanfiction and love Shakespeare. If somewhere in the world there is a Macbeth rendered into dance, there is a pirate!AU* Merchant of Venice, a gender-swapped Hamlet, a roller derby Titus Andronicus. And, somewhere else, once all iterations have been exhausted, perhaps loving Shakespeare can stop being necessary.

* a version of Merchant of Venice where they’re all pirates

Photo credit: Joanne Loo

Editor’s Foreword
We’re in the final third of 2016 and, boy, has it been a journey. As we begin wrapping up the year and taking stock of all that has happened, we also want to also pay special attention to the communities and stories that may have eluded us.
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If Only
[Creative] Heng Siok Tian’s ‘If Only’ acknowledges the education system’s limitations, while recognising how important ‘examined days’ can feel like in a student’s life. Acting both as a warning and inspiration to greater things, this poem encourages the reader to look past formal markers of success.
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After The Tea
[H2] Edward Eng’s adaptation updates Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to the late 90s’, centring on a quiet, intimate scene between cousins Nick and Daisy, unveiling parallel threads of romanticism across the Roaring Twenties and the Millennial Generation.
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Larkin in the Margins
[H2] Priya Ramesh’s essay on Philip Larkin’s poetry offers a helpful positioning of reading the acclaimed librarian poet as a watchful observer of society from the margins of both literary and general society. Navigating Larkin’s balancing act “between being too immersed in spaces and practices…and being too detached”, Priya successfully manages one of her own.
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[H2] In her prose fiction piece, Rachel Eng responds to Philip Larkin’s MCMXIV, which reflected on Britain as tainted by the beginning of the war. MCMXXV provides a probable, poignant account of contemporary experience, while writing against the cynicism that our 21st century selves might bring to discussions of war.
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The Sound of Silence
[H2] How oxymoronic would it be to call someone a Victorian feminist? In this essay, Sam Chan skilfully juxtaposes the transgressive female voices in several of Christina Rossetti’s poems to elucidate the struggle between desire and shame that accompanies the struggle of a poet to rise above her gender’s marginalised state.
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Arthur Bo Pakeh
[H2] Jerome Lim’s courageous transmutation of Tennyson’s elegant ‘Morte d’Arthur’ into this Singlish gem is the first of its kind for a Victorian text. His accompanying reflection draws out insightful and pertinent questions of language politics and propels us into a world where Singlish is taken seriously enough for it to be a vehicle of translation.
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Sleep No More
[Creative] Termed by some critics as “the world’s most interactive play”, Sleep No More is an Off-Broadway immersive experience of Shakespeare’s Macbeth site-specific to the fictional ‘McKittrick Hotel’, a block of warehouses transformed into a performance space. In this review-essay, Sim Wee Ong shares her experiences of the play, and comments on its relationship to the original text of Macbeth.
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Some Hidden Purpose
[H2] Dominic Nah’s experimental treatise and commentary on Thom Gunn’s The Sense of Movement seeks to introduce unfamiliar readers to Gunn’s poetry in a single journey of reading that crosses Singapore. From motorcycle gangs to personified cities, saints and beggars to Peeping Toms, follow Dominic’s journey in his first reading of Gunn’s “poetics of movement”.
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Unseen Poetry
[Unseen] In their response to this issue’s selected poems, Kavya’s and Natalie’s analysis shifts between the expositions of ‘Expatriate Dream’ and ‘Ugly’ – from Md Mukul’s ghost echoes of home to Warsan Shire’s geography of displacement, the essay elucidates all the agony and burgeoning, defiant hope of life lived in a foreign land.
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Exploring the Fringes of Familiarity
[Unseen] In examining how when ‘the anchor [is] lost, the anchor must also necessarily be lost sight of’, Liren Fu considers the subtle nuance of the expatriate condition and what becomes forsaken in the void between home and abroad.
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For I Will Consider Miss Rachel Cat
[Creative] Ann Ang’s “For I Will Consider Miss Rachel Cat” beautifully moves from quirky description to intellectual contemplation, leaving us to reflect upon our own assumptions of agency, and the emotional transactions that occur between our pets and us.
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