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S’pore secondary school literature teacher writes poignant 2-column poem on Covid-19 crisis

The poem, titled 'Gone Viral', has indeed gone viral.

Jane Zhang | February 23, 01:04 pm

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A poem about different narratives surrounding the fear of Covid-19 in Singapore titled “Gone Viral” has indeed gone viral.

The poem was written by Ow Yeong Wai Kit, a literature teacher at Bukit Batok Secondary School.

An image of the poem was shared by the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Saturday (Feb. 22), and has garnered more than 1,300 shares at the time of writing.

Poem written in form of twin cinema

Here’s the poem, which juxtaposes differing perspectives on the virus, including the fear of the virus as well as xenophobia.

moe gone viral poem
Image via Ministry of Education Facebook page.

The poem is written in the form of a twin cinema poem, which, according to this blog post, is a poetic form that was invented in Singapore by poet Yeow Kai Chai in 2010.

Twin cinema poems, as they have been popularised today, consist of two columns of text that can be read vertically along each individual column, or horizontally across both columns.

A note in the bottom-left corner of “Gone Viral” adds that in addition to being able to be read vertically and horizontally, the poem can also be read “hysterically”.

According to the MOE Facebook post, Ow Yeong said the form of the poem “dramatises the dialogue between differing voices that adopt opposing perspectives”.

“I hope that poems like these can inspire students to consider alternative points of view, and to deepen their empathy for others”, he added.

Three versions of the poem

Reading the left, right, and combined sides of the poem portray three very different narratives.

The left column features worries about hygiene:

“if we come into contact with

anyone coughing or sneezing,

be on your guard.

wash your hands

regularly

and avoid touching

your face.”

Meanwhile, the right column focuses on not being prejudiced and worried:

“rumours of

fatality cases would naturally alarm us.

but be slow to judge others. instead,

clean of prejudice, you can dwell

upon the importance of hygiene.

on the matter of sensitive topics: save

your time spent worrying, which is worse

than the actual threat”

Together, they come together to emphasise the importance of hygiene, and to be mindful of prejudices:

“if we come into contact with rumours of

anyone coughing or sneezing, fatality cases would naturally alarm us.

be on your guard. but be slow to judge others. instead,

wash your hands clean of prejudice, you can dwell

regularly upon the importance of hygiene.

and avoid touching on the matter of sensitive topics: save

your face.”

The left column features the voice of those worried about people with “nauseating habits”:

“some warn: ‘how can we avoid

foreign

disease-ridden

walking pathogens,

with their nauseating habits,

we can hardly quarantine them all.’

this disease

has truly gone viral”

The right column points out that xenophobes are “plagues of terror”:

“media sources that paint

visitors and immigrants as

virus-spreaders? xenophobes are

plagues of terror.

they mask their true intentions.

so the danger remains —

of our own ignorance — until we know what

is fear itself.”

And together, the two columns’ voice states that the danger is the “disease of our own ignorance”

“some warn: ‘how can we avoid media sources that paint

foreign visitors and immigrants as

disease-ridden virus-spreaders? xenophobes are

walking pathogens, plagues of terror.

with their nauseating habits, they mask their true intentions.

we can hardly quarantine them all.” so the danger remains —

this disease of our own ignorance — until we know what

has truly gone viral is fear itself.”

This is MOE’s Facebook post:

Ow Yeong’s reflections

Ow Yeong, who was one of six teachers given the Outstanding Youth in Education Award in 2019, wrote in a Facebook post that the poem was a form of reflection that he hoped would “inspire deeper thought about the importance of alternative points of view as well as empathy for others”:

“Ours is a polarised age in which so many voices, both online and offline, can sometimes be so stridently self-assertive, so belligerently self-righteous. (Especially when discussing foreigners.)

I think our civil discourse can afford to be, well, even more civil — kinder, gentler, more open to different perspectives.

As someone very dear to me once remarked: ‘If you can’t be kind, be quiet.'”

Top image via Academy of Singapore Teachers website and Facebook / Ministry of Education.

About Jane Zhang

Jane may look like a typical millennial, but she's really a bargain-hunting auntie at heart.

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