‘Memento Mori’: memory, death and posterity in Singapore’s poetry

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Writing in a country frequently defined in terms of its relationship to neoliberal governmentality, Singapore poets engage in various ways with the experience of modernization. Commonly, however, the redevelopment of physical sites invested with individual and collective memory are written of in relation to images of death. Among the most well-known contributions to Singaporean poetry are Edwin Thumboo’s projections of the city’s future and Boey Kim Cheng’s “present laments” for the lost places of the past. While distinct from one another in important aspects of style and expressed ideology, both writers have had considerable influence on the creative and critical discourses of contemporary Singapore poetry and poetics, surveyed here via the “Poetry and Place” gallery of the state-sponsored Singapore Memory Project. In distinct contrast are Yeow Kai Chai’s “Memento Mori” poems, from his 2006 volume Pretend I’m Not Here, which make participatory interventions into the imagination of death and its avoidance, creating an alternative engagement with both modernization and poetic response. Yeow’s poetics revises visions of death within a teeming network of biocultural reference. In doing, so these poems prompt a revisitation of the poet’s claims to posterity in light of the immortality dreams of the nation state and the shadow of grief for lost human habitat.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Death and Literature
EditorsW. Michelle Wang, Daniel K. Jernigan, Neil Murphy
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781000220681
ISBN (Print)9781003107040
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


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