Three Poems in this/that/lit

I have 3 poems in the beautifully designed this/that/lit, thanks to Abayomi Animashaun. It was such a surprise to me to find a fellow Singaporean in the NYC private school where I teach. Phillip Cheah has been such a blessing to me, and others, through his friendship and his music, and I really wanted to write about his journey from the US to Singapore and back to the US. W.'s story is also extraordinary. Who would have thought that, raised to be so pragmatic as we were, that a Singaporean would marry in February, graduate in May, and adopt two boys in June. Well, W. explained that his Singaporean upbringing actually trained him for it, although the upbringing did not prepare him for the pains of early fatherhood. Finally, the poem I wrote for Zizi Azah's graduation from her MFA program is also here. The news that Broadway will be closed until the end of the year is devastating, but we writers and artists must remain strong and be in solidarity. Enjoy the poems!

Of Conceits

A short essay on revising, or not, a published poem. I cogitated on "To a Young Poet." Thanks, Joshua Ip and Sing Lit Station, for inviting me to contribute my thoughts to TRACK CHANGES.

Eka Kurniawan's "Kitchen Curse"

Inventive premises, bold experimentation, sly humor, political parables about the relationships between the individual and the Indonesian authorities, and between men and women. The storytelling puts an ironic distance between the storyteller and his characters, and so the reader feels his or her own distance from them too. The result, for me at least, is a sense of respect, but not of warm admiration nor of profound connection.

Tomasz Rózycki's "The Forgotten Keys"

I've been dipping into The Forgotten Keys almost every night before going to sleep, and discovering a singular historical and political sensibility in the dreamlike imagery. The opening of "The Castle (I Came to Shoot the President)":

To continue the story. We made love—
they seized power. And they hold it over us,
those who once spit [sic] the farthest and sang
the loudest, who cheated on their tests—

they hold the power now. They know all about us,
where we live, and have sent us bills
on official letterhead. Judging from the curtains
in the rear window, reports are going straight

into the black desk....

Polish poet Tomasz Rózycki is a worthy successor to Czesław Miłosz and Zbigniew Herbert.

Fairoz Ahmad's "Interpreter of Winds"

A beguiling collection of four stories, slim but not insubstantial. The storytelling is surefooted, the whimsy is put to profound questioning of religious belief—is loyalty the same as faith, asks the dog of the camel—and a sly eye is turned on human foibles and social customs. Since so much Anglophone Singaporean writing is oriented towards the West, especially now when many younger writers study creative writing in the UK and the US, it is refreshing to read a writer so at home in the English language, but with his cultural references turned towards the Malay and Arabic worlds, towards the eclectic blending of Islamic and animistic beliefs.

Fight Mud with Bleach?

Singapore Unbound's Public Statement on PAP's Attack on Alfian Sa'at. Sign up for weekly newsletter here.

Singapore Unbound strongly condemns the attack by Singapore's ruling party, the People's Action Party (PAP), on Singaporean author Alfian Sa'at. In a letter published on the PAP website, Member of Parliament Dr. Tan Wu Meng cherry-picks Alfian's Facebook posts and misreads his words to depict the author falsely as unpatriotic. Most pernicious is Dr. Tan's statement: "This man grew up in Singapore. Singapore gave him his education and he earns a living here. An education and a living that is denied to many minorities in the region." The suggestion that minorities should be especially grateful to Singapore teeters on racism, if it does not tip right over. Gratitude is neither here nor there. As a commentator has it, Singaporeans do not live in a feudal state, but in a modern democracy, in which citizens hold certain obligation to the state i…

Chewing the Gristle Interview

Poets Al Black and Tim Conroy put me at such ease during this interview yesterday. I read poems from STEEP TEA and CONNOR & SEAL and chatted with them about writing with playfulness and prayerfulness; navigating life in major cities; the influence of Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game; the inspiration from Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah; the importance of having a trusted writing group; the primacy of experience, memory, and images over objects.

Get CONNOR & SEAL from my indie publisher, Sibling Rivalry.