An Afternoon Nap is a poem on the problems of school education in Singapore, written by Arthur Yap, a poet, writer and a painter. After his schooling and higher education in Singapore, he was awarded British Council Scholarship to study in University of Leeds in England. He stayed back there to do his masters. He took his PhD in English Language from National University of Singapore. He continued to teach in the University. Yap was the mentor with the Creative Arts Programme run by the Ministry of Education to inspire young writers. Yap was an intensely private and his poems also reflect a lot reflective thoughts. His poems shift between playfulness and sobriety. Yap uses simples words and puns with the words. Arthur Yap was an equally popular painter. He died in 2006 to cancer at the age of 63.
The poem talks about an ambitious mother who wants her son to excel in everything. She cries out her goodness and shouts the wrongs of the son, even beating him and mostly it is for the mediocre grades that he got in school. She sends him for his piano classes in the afternoon and then for second language tuition. She is always around the boy asking him to do one thing or the other and pushing him to the extremes. She is always swift with her movements, no softness in anything in spite of being a mother. She shrieks for any mistake done. He is spends most of the days in the week in tears with so much to do and with so many teachers coming in and going out trying to teach him one thing or another. What eventually happens is that a lot of money is lost and it eats into his pocket money. Soon the boy is embittered and he shouts back like his mother did. He is bewildered by his mother and shouts at her for her expensive taste in education. The poem points at the mothers in Singapore who want to do everything best for their children, not caring, for the real interest of the child.
An Afternoon Nap is a free verse with 20 lines. There are five stanzas of four lines each. The poem is written in third person.There is no specific rhyme scheme. It is so different that he has included currency, $90; numbers – 2 notes missing; 2ndlang. There is short forms as in lang for language, p.e ploy, & for and. All this makes the poem very different in fact a little strange as it is a far cry from conventional poetry. The poem begins with imagery and ends with the same imagery. There are hard-hitting words as well. The poet effectively conveys the issues related to education especially in Asian countries and this is directly mentioned in the last line of the poem. The word ‘proclaiming’ is misspelled twice to show the failure of the education system to give basic education in spite of all the pressures.
There is only one theme and that is mentioned in the last line
“….. expensive taste of education.”
Most families, especially the mothers want their children to excel in everything unmindful of the child’s tastes and interests. The first expectation from the child is to score well in the exams. So this mother is so furious that her son has got mediocre grades. The ambitions she has for her son does not stop with academic scores. He had to learn piano, another language and all that was needed to make her son stand out from the rest. From Monday to Friday there was someone who came into the house to take some lessons for him. Arthur Yap has even personalised it by giving the names of his teachers as Miss Loa and Madam Lim. Childhood is, to spend in fun and frolic and little study but this does not happen to this boy. The words in the first stanza where she proclaims her goodness is strange, If the mother was doing something truly good she need not proclaim because the boy would also understand it. She is trying to convince all that whatever she is doing is for her son’s welfare.
These classes ate into his pocket money so he finally calls it expensive education. This line also shows that the mother did not truly care about the boy’s true needs. In the last stanza the boy turns around totally vexed with this constant classes and dominance of his mother. He is embittered and he [proclaims his bafflement by shouting at his mother and making loud and clear statement about her wrongs. He has tears in his eyes when he tell about her taste in expensive education.
The last stanza is very poignant. Like the mother, this son too represents many sons who fall a prey to the expectations of the parents. He is speaking for the many who really cannot go against their pressures from the family. The poet is lamenting at the costly education of Singapore and all at the expense of losing childhood.
The Asian culture of tough love is beautifully brought out in this poem and the mum is a tiger mum wanting unquestioned discipline from her child.
The format of the poem is dynamic and this gives the reader a detailed explanation of how the boy feels and what the poet is trying to convey through this poem. There are imageries of physical and verbal abuse of the mother towards her son. So too imagery is seen in the effect of the mother’s strictness and harshness on her son. The imagery of a tiger mum is seen in the line
“swift are all her contorted movements”. The line to represent ‘tiger mum’ is used as neologism which is used to define a disciplinarian and tough mother.
Enjambment is used often in the poem. In many lines the thought is carried forward to the next line.
The poem titled “An Afternoon Nap’ brings in an image of a relaxed time or something that happens in an afternoon. But no, it actually jerks you out of nap, a nap that Singapore education is good. The poet is giving a thought that perhaps strict parenting and forced education is really not effective as people think. If the pressure on the children is reduced, there would be less competitiveness and thereby less depression as well. The world will be a happier place for the children.