During my last two years of high school in Singapore, I was part of the Humanities Scheme, a program under which a small group of students was taught humanities subjects by a group of British tutors. For most of us, it became our first exposure to adults from other countries and the way they live. The head tutor, Lionel Barnard, was a brilliant raconteur. The stories he told us about his past and the more than two decades he spent in Singapore forced us to reconsider our own assumptions about self and country.
The inspiration for Night Poem came from a friends chance use of the verb telescope to describe my relationship with one of my best friends. It made me think about the word as a metaphor for any attempt at closeness with another person, with all its attendant complications.
Qian Xi Teng 06CC
Poem for Mr. Barnard
(head tutor of Hwa Chong Junior College Humanities Scheme since 1979)
You brought another island to settle over mine
a vicars atheist son who forgot missionary schools
Each year students come to your island
and leave the way waves slip from a shore
(as a child in South Africa you saw
From your desk you watch the few
into a forest thickening with yellow leaves,
a swamp, a stilt-legged village,
The period right after we began
Qian Xi Teng is a College sophomore. Before coming to Columbia, Teng won international prizes for her poetry (probably the reason I got in, she says). She also does photography and translation. One of her poems, titled Special Passengers,won the 2003 George Edward Woodberry Prizea cash prize awarded every other year to an undergraduate student at Columbia for the best original poem.