On being reviewed
By Toh Hsien Min
My modus operandi around the editorial typically runs like this: after a week of reading poetry and collating everything else coming in from the other section editors, and a further week of getting everything marked up for publication, I realise at 11pm on a school-night (it's always a school-night - QLRS seems too much like work for a weekend) that the issue is ready to go live except for the editorial. At this point, I start scrabbling for a subject. If I'm lucky, something has been in the news recently that cheeses me off, or else I've experienced something that can be spun into five hundred words or so. The worst that has happened is that the last issue - otherwise ready to go - was held up for two days simply because I was wondering what to write about. (October addendum: this time it's late because I was away at the Melbourne leg of the Festival franco-anglais in the middle of the month.)
This issue, things are different. I'm actually writing this first section of the editorial in September, a whole month ahead of the curve. Part of the reason is that I want to set down my thoughts in advance. For the first time since I started QLRS, the journal will have a chance to pronounce on one of my own books: Means to an End was launched in Paris in June, and in Singapore in September (or, at the time of writing: "will be launched"). For the overall editor of QLRS, this poses a minor quandary. I'd been feeling for a while that I was in a heads-I-lose-tails-I-lose situation. If I got a good review, others might think, well of course, he wouldn't publish a bad review would he? And if I got a bad review, well, I've got a bad review. In any case, as a journal we've never tried to influence our reviewers because we value the perspectives they have to contribute even if we frequently disagree with them, and since I will not compromise the principles of non-partisanship and free criticism that underpin the journal (least of all on my own account), at the point of my sending a copy to the review editors it was quite clearly agreed among all of us that the book should be treated no differently from any other. In fact, its treatment has been arguably stricter, because I've asked not to be told of the identity of the reviewer nor shown the text of the review until it comes time to post the issue.
More recently, it's occurred to me that I could also see it as heads-I-win-tails-I-win. If I got a bad review, the journal will have more conclusively than ever before proven its principles. If I got a good review, well, I've got a good review. What a powerful thing perspective is.
As it turned out, my first inkling of the review came via an interview for my paper, in which the term "reluctant yuppie" was brought up. The article said I "look[ed] amused". When I did eventually receive the review to post, I found not little to disagree with, although I appreciated the alternate viewpoint. As the author and editor of the piece can attest, I've altered not a word. If this brings about some debate - not necessarily even of the book, I think the hinted hypothesis of there being clashing schools in the small arena of Singapore poetry is potentially more interesting - it will be a good outcome.
Having said that, I think one material misreading in the review needs to be corrected. Ng Yi-Sheng cites "the unexplained mystery of my earthly life" and concludes the astronomy of narcissism. Well, to put it in a less dressy voice, it's not "me" dear, it's "you". If calling someone else a legend (by metonymy or otherwise) is truly some bizarre form of self-love, we'd all best stop reading the books that most entrance us. Where does the narcissism come from then? Answers on a postcard.
This issue is marked for me also by a very strong slate of poetry, one that starts out with an Indian deity and then turns up a number of poems with the feel of fable. We don't often take two poems from a poet in an issue, but this time round we almost had a third person accomplish that. The short stories this issue had for me the quality of pulling the reader into the narrative, but we have two unusual pieces in the other sections. Christopher Mulrooney's reading of Ashbery, though brief, was intriguing, and we had to find a place for it somewhere - eventually this turned out to be Essays. Brennan Kwa's play is the first time we've published a play, and since Extra Media has taken on everything to do with drama, that felt like the natural place for it. And just to round off an unusual issue, the Acid Tongue does A.A. Gill. Read this ish, and give us your review!QLRS Vol. 7 No. 4 Oct 2008