Disappearance

Write a critical comparison of the following poems, considering in detail ways in which language, style and form contribute to each poet’s portrayal of disappearance (2019 JC2 March Common Test).

Both poems ‘The Art of Disappearing’ by Sarah Holland-Batt (Poem A) and ‘Disappearance’ by Boey Kim Cheng (Poem B) portray personae who deal with the disappearance of different collections of things in different ways: Poem A presents the disappearance as a result of change in one’s life and the subsequent accepting and firm manner of dealing with these losses of things in the past; Poem B, on the other hand, suggests disappearance is a form and result of loss, where the persona seems to struggle with attempting to cope with these losses. The tone of the poems, though speaking of the same subject matter of disappearance, thus differs as well. A is firmer and realistic, while B is nostalgic and pessimistic.

Both poems focus on the ‘disappearance’ of things in one’s life, be it people, objects or emotions of one’s life. However, A suggests that this is a natural, continuous process of things being removed to make way for new things, where B suggests instead that these disappearances are permanent removals of the people in one’s life. In Poem A, most strikingly, the persona asserts firmly that ‘something is always about to happen’. The absolute term ‘always’ and the qualifier ‘something’, that suggests ambiguity that allows it to represent anything and everything, give the sense of universality and applicability of this observation to any and all things in one’s life. This is further emphasised when taken in the context of the enumeration of things that ‘will not hold’. There are two patterns of transitions: first, from the three full sentences demarcated by the full stops and to the three semi-colons, and second from the long third line that shortness in each subsequent line. These patterns suggest the decreasing impact on the persona as if these ‘disappearances’ occur so often that the persona has now accepted it as a natural part of life. Overall, the persona views disappearance not as a bad thing, but an irrefutable and unstoppable phenomena (as seen in the certainty of ‘will not’). While the structure of Poem A gives the sense of a natural phenomenon, Poem B’s choice of words to describe these disappearances gives a more definitive and painful experience to the reader. The words used to describe the losses are quite harsh on the ears and carry rather physical and vivid imagery. The persona laments that ‘friends drop out of your life’ and later repeats ‘the one who drop out of your life’. The image that is created by the verb ‘drop out’ seems powerful and irreversible, much like something that has dropped out of a window and is unable to be retrieved. The repetition of the phrase further emphasises the regret and pain of having, perhaps permanently, lost these precious people. The description of the ‘face (and) voice’ as ‘lost’ and the ideas of the ‘defunct number, the wrong address, the silence’ all conjure an image of an unidentifiable person, not only forgotten due to the ‘distance’ of ‘a far country’, but also impossible to reach despite the varied attempts of contact through calling, texting, mailing and essentially communication. Disappearance for the persona in B is indeed not just a periodic event but a permanent, irreversible one, as emphasised by the past tense of the title ‘Disappeared.’ Poem A and B both examine disappearance, but poem B in comparison is less inclined towards accepting the losses due to the persona’s qualifications of these losses as losses rather than as changes to be accepted as A considers.

Both poems also include the persona’s description of responses to change and loss. While the response different, they are congruent in that both poems are deliberate in their reaction to change and loss. Poem A takes on a firm, decisive and authoritative tone. the instructive words ‘tell’ is repeated thrice for three different actions. This gives an air of firmness, which is further highlighted by the harsh-sounding monosyllabic words, ‘tell the… to go on.’ The semicolons that separate lines 12 to 14 make the sentence a very long one with very short pauses that gives the poem’s addressee no opportunity to interrupt which adds to the authority and power of the persona. This allows the persona to take on a position of power in relation to her audience. However, poem B’s response to loss and disappearance of people is less firm and more melancholic as the persona describes how ‘you’ carry out all these actions and presents on the whole a nostalgic response. The persona describes how ‘You wonder… you dig up the letters and cards… You replay the scenes… remember the shared books…’ – all these actions are similar and show how the persona seeks to maintain or recreate the connection between himself and the ones who have left and have been ‘lost’. Three stanzas are dedicated solely to these efforts. Despite the realisation that these people are uncontactable in stanza 4 and the fleetingness and transience of ‘these’ methods and objects that link to these people in the last line, the persona still remains deliberate and consistent, albeit persistent, in not letting go. Both personae certainly are determined in their own efforts to cope with change, loss of disappearance. Yet the overall effect is starkly different. Poem A creates a persona that is strong, resilient and tough despite changes, and who is optimistic in calling it ‘an art’. Poem B, however, evokes sympathy in the reader because of the loneliness and absolute reluctance to let go, and the naive insistence that all these ‘will survive’. The internal conflict surfaced in the last sentence of ‘whether… these will survive’ further increases the reader’s pity.

Loss is a painful concept but coming to terms with that loss allows us to be more fulfilled in our lives, or so Poem A portrays.

Jaena Sim (18-O2)

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