Guest Foreword: Versus
Pooja Nansi

Like the teachers and students of Literature who are preparing for the A Levels, I know all too well the struggle between wanting to fulfill the demands of the paper and wanting to take the time to inhabit a text and uncover its richness. So often we give or listen to lectures which expound that a play or a poem or a novel has a finite number of thematic issues we must understand and tick off.

This edition of Unseen throws those doors wide open. One only has to read Priya Ramesh’s wonderfully irreverent exposition of the framework of tragedy applied to Othello and Anakin Skywalker, Tabitha Lee’s short story “The Manic Storm”, and Caroline Sng’s 21st century questions about the treatment of singlehood versus marriage in The Duchess of Malfi to see how the best literature evolves even as we do, to reveal more food for thought. Goh Wee Kiat also points out the clever irony of the title of the play All My Sons in his deftly executed argument about Arthur Miller and claims of misogyny.

Jasmine Alicia Wangko and Valenzuela Alexandra Marie T’s precise discussions sift out the many nuances of violence in the two poems by Michael Longley and Ciaran Carson. What is wonderful to observe is how both essays are a study in differences of approach in criticism. Jasmine’s essay uses the microanalysis of technique to journey to broader thematic conclusions whereas Alexandra’s approach uses the poems’ themes as a starting point from which to put a microscopic focus on the poems’ construction.

Ruihe Zhang’s and Joanne Loo’s tributes to poets also wrestle with the contradictions that are intrinsic to the poetic process.  As Joanne beautifully surmises, “It should not surprise us that poetic technique enhances grief, and in so doing, spends it.”

Using grief to heal grief, writing about men to elevate women, applying today’s lens on 400-year-old moral frameworks – this is exactly what is phenomenal about the study of Literature. It makes space for everyone and everything. It has enough space for agreement, discord, ambiguity and contradiction.

If you allow yourself to be fully immersed in literature, dead White men will make way for your views, you who were brought up eating Mee Siam in an HDB flat. Ivory towers will make space for a comparison of Pride and Prejudice and the Kardashians. Literature is so incredibly inclusive that it can grow or shrink to be as big or as small as your own worldview.

The Unseen team has done a wonderful job in picking these pieces for this edition, and they sum up for me the wisest words of the poet Audre Lorde:  “there is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

Pooja Nansi is an educator and poet who believes in the power that speech and performance can lend to the written word. She has published two collections of poetry and co-written a teacher’s resource for using Singaporean Poetry in the classroom. She also curates a monthly Spoken Word and Poetry showcase called Speakeasy at Artistry Cafe.

photo credit: Idelle Yee


Editor’s Foreword
In this issue we have commentaries on tragedy, reflections on war poetry, and responses to poets’ lives, working together in choric fashion to bring our present day into focus even as we reach into the past.
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Unseen responses
[Unseen] Alexandra Marie T. Valenzuela and Jasmine Alicia Wangko’s comparative analyses of Ciaran Carson’s ‘Belfast Confetti’ and Michael Longley’s ‘The Civil Servant’ — poems about the Troubles in Northern Ireland — explore the sectarian violence and tensions portrayed in the language and imagery of these evocative pieces.
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#foreveralone versus #togetherforever
[H1] Caroline Sng’s essay on The Duchess of Malfi approaches the text through a refreshingly atypical lens. Rather than emphasizing the literary technique of the playwright, Caroline explores Webster’s advocacy of a traditionalist view of marriage vis-à-vis singlehood and his clear positioning of marriage as preferable to singlehood.
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Gender Conflict
[H1] Addressing the potential misogyny of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Goh Wee Kiat reflects on gender in the post-war period as it is presented in the play. While recognising the presence of conventional gender roles, this essay comes round to underscoring the growing power of women in Miller’s work.
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Letter From A Younger Poet
[H2] Ruihe Zhang’s deeply evocative and personal letter to fellow Singaporean poet Boey Kim Cheng explores the intricacy of poetry as an art form in its own right vis-à-vis the need for its purposeful utility in modern day Singapore.
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The Tragedy of Anakin
[H2] “The Tragedy of Anakin, the Chosen One” traces the fall of Star Wars’ eponymous Anakin Skywalker – from an adolescent youngling to a murderous lord of war. Priya Ramesh’s essay examines the elements of Anakin’s journey through the archetypical framework of Aristotelian Tragedy, pitting them against Othello and Hamlet.
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Poems
[H1/2] Al Lim’s poems for this issue reinterpret Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s celebrated poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, as well as Othello, through a distinctly Singaporean lens.
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The Music of Grief
[H2] Alfred, Lord Tennyson was described by T. S. Eliot as possessing ‘the finest ear of any English poet’. In ‘The Music of Grief’, Joanne Loo shows us why, by exploring the melancholic metricality in two well-known lyric poems by Tennyson: ‘Break, Break, Break’ and ‘Tears, Idle Tears’.
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the manic storm
[Creative] The writer of this piece, Tabitha Lee, would prefer not to give the game away…all we will say is that this thrilling modern adaptation of a well-known play covers the descent of a patriarch into madness. Any guesses for which play this is?
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