Saturday, April 27, 2024


ERIC TINSAY VALLES presents the Preface to

After the Fall: Dirges Among Ruins by Eric Tinsay Valles

(Ethos Books, Singapore, 2014) 


PREFACE: Remembering

Asian soldiers fought and died in French trenches during World War I. Rioters overturned police cars and started fires in Singapore’s Little India last December. Such episodes from human history and our domestic lives have raised questions about why bad things happen to people. Reflecting on these is topical and urgent as the world is not past recalling the start of the “tragic and obscene mess” that was World War 1. Even this island haven, known for clinical peace and order, has not been spared its share of violence that exposes human frailty. The Sook Ching massacre during the Japanese occupation in World War II saw the deaths of at least 5,000 Chinese men who were suspected of being potential threats to the invaders. Those killed were often selected based on random criteria such as their wearing spectacles (making them look like intellectuals) or tattoos (suggesting Triad links). Almost a year ago, a 33-year-old man was run over by a bus in Little India. The shadows of that night were thrown further by strange fires from burning police cars. Frequent calls for vigilance make one take stock of the possible motivations and frustrations that might have triggered those acts of violence. How does one pick up the pieces from the resulting brutality and destruction? How does one carry on? 

Many wise people have attempted to grapple with those enduring existential questions. In a treatise about the fall of the once invincible Roman empire, St. Augustine posited that adversity was a refiner that tested people’s virtues. He saw the good, whom he numbered among those in the city of God, as remaining steadfast and achieving a sense of peace. In a memoir about objects from his Berlin childhood, Walter Benjamin considered the horrors of Nazi Germany as inevitable and necessary for an evolving cosmos despite his own fears. He regarded as exemplary a life that is detached from the world. I am examining how these and other voices can achieve some dialogue about the bloodcurdlingly real in poetic narratives about everyday violence and trauma. Some of the material no doubt may be distressing, but that is part of perplexing human life that must be written about. Still, I am aware that the memories that I am recounting are, in fact, wrenched out of history and, thus, no more than “fictional reproductions.” Each retelling, after all, wields the imagination to fill in lapses in individual and collective memories. 

These poetic accounts test the limitations as well as suggest the potential of art in coping with violence and trauma. A completely satisfactory reason for the mysterious existence of evil and its effects may not be found. But the act of giving witness to these effects and humanity’s attempt to get over them can generate poetry. Poetry can give vent to unspeakable feelings. The poetry in this collection stitches various themes and stylistic devices from traditions into layers as in a quilt to retell broken, bittersweet memories. Far from cowing us, this creative activity may inspire some hope.



Eric Tinsay Valles recreates home in exile, whether physical or spiritual. He won a Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing prize for poems in his second collection, After the Fall (dirges among ruins). His first poetry book was A World in Transit. He won Illumination. ELit and Living Now awards for his co-edited A Given Grace and Finding God in All Thingsanthologies. He co-edited also the Get Lucky and Get Luckier anthologies of Singapore and Filipino writings, Sg Poems 2015-2016, Anima Methodi, The Nature of Poetry, The Atelier of Healing and Finding God in All Things. He has been featured in & Words, Reflecting on the Merlion, Southeast Asian Review of English, Straits Times, Routledge’s New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing and other journals. His critical essays have appeared in The Asiatic and Writing Diaspora. He has been invited to read poetry or commentaries at Baylor, Melbourne and Oxford Universities as well as Kistrech Poetry Festival. He is a director of Poetry Festival (Singapore). 

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