Thursday, December 13, 2018

Love after Love

Watched "Love after Love" (2017) yesterday and loved it. Directed by Russell Harbaugh, it starred a terrific ensemble cast of Andie MacDowell as mother, and Chris O'Dowd and James Adomian as her two sons, all trying to come to terms with their husband/father's death.

Nov 25 - had breakfast with PYR and first interview. She's a great storyteller. I've written 6 of the poems for A History of Singaporeans in America. Got the idea to name the poems a la Chaucer. The Host. The Ceramicist. The Prodigal. The Regular. The Lawyer. The Whore. PYR is The Lady. The book's epigraph is from Henry James:

“‘Ah then she’s not French,’ Isabel murmured; and as the opposite supposition had made her romantic it might have seemed that this revelation would have marked a drop. But such was not the fact; rarer even than to be French seemed it to be American on such interesting terms.” —Portrait of a Lady 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Give Thanks for Movies!

GH and I spent Thanksgiving with our friends living just outside of Kingston. The visit was a food and movie marathon. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, Chikamatsu Monogatari, or A Story from Chikamatsu (1954), unfolded at just the right leisurely pace for all the parts of the tragic love story to be perfectly comprehensible. It reminded me of what Erich Auerbach wrote about Odysseus's scar, how everything in Homer, unlike the Hebrew scriptures, is simple, stark, and obvious. Then we watched Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories (2017), which was charming in its own way, but paled in comparison to the Japanese classic. Then we watched the Coen brothers' The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018). I liked their twisted takes on the conventions on the Western genre in this anthology of stories. There is grotesquerie, of course, but also, surprisingly, tenderness and pathos.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

RAPAPUK

Went to the Race & Poetry & Poetics in the UK (RAPAPUK) Conference in Cambridge, UK (Friday and Saturday, Oct 26 and 27). Initiated and co-organized by Dorothy Wang. The theme of the conference was, aptly, "Legacies of Colonialism." Priyamvada Gopal was most incisive and insightful about the possibility and meaning of "decolonizing Cambridge." I also learned from Walt Hunter's paper ‘Riot of Sound: Claudia Jones’s Carceral Poetics’ and Chinelo Ezenwa's paper ‘Stifling Indigenous Agency through Translation: the Igbo Psalms and a Poetics of Decolonization’. Dorothy was at her polemic best in her presentation 'Whither Poetry Studies?' There were poetry readings during both evenings of the conference. The first night showcased four experimental and performance poets. The second night, which I liked better, showcased three page poets, among whom Will Harris and Mary Jean Chan stood out, for me.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Counting Song

I've a new poem, "Counting Song," in the anthology of new Singaporean writings in CHA.

After four days of events, the 3rd Singapore Lit Fest in NYC ended on Saturday. I think I am most proud of having given a platform to a diversity of voices while keeping the quality of writing and performance high. The most important step forward is to democratize the curatorial process. Having been the sole curator for the last two festivals, I'd like to have two other people join me on the selection committee. I have someone from the USA. I need someone from Singapore.

Friday, September 28, 2018

New Book CONNOR AND SEAL

So pleased that my new book of poems CONNOR AND SEAL will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2020. Thank you, Bryan Borland and Seth Pennington, for believing in the work.

My publishing journey has been one of twists and turns. My very first book PAYDAY LOANS was published by Roxanne Hoffman's Poets Wear Prada, a small press based in New Jersey. Encouraged by the late John Stahle, my second book EQUAL TO THE EARTH and third book SEVEN STUDIES FOR A SELF PORTRAIT were self-published in New York under the imprint of Bench Press. My fourth book THE PILLOW BOOK was picked up by Singaporean indie publisher Kenny Leck and his Math Paper Press. STEEP TEA, my fifth book, was released by Michael Schmidt's Carcanet Press in the UK.

I'm glad that my new book has found a home in the USA. It's the most American and queerest of my books. It owes its inspiration to Rita Dove's THOMAS AND BEULAH and its life to my life with Guy Humphrey in Harlem. Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, Sibling Rivalry Press (SRP) has been publishing some of the most vital voices in LGBTQ literature here. The Library of Congress acquires all of SRP’s printed titles, past and future, for induction into its Rare Books and Special Collections Vault, where they will be “housed among history’s greatest writers for all of perpetuity.” Now, doesn't that sound nice? I mean to be "housed." The word has a special ring to this writer who migrated from Singapore, via the UK, to the USA, betting all his savings and some on an MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, an international student, a visa applicant, a house guest, an apartment-sharer, and a tenant still, in many ways, in the house of this crazy country.

I've been trying to make myself at home here, knowing that it will never be home, just as Singapore will never be home, truly, again, and CONNOR AND SEAL explores not homecoming but coming home. Here's the poem that ends Connor's section of the book:

The Birds of Harlem 

The birds of Harlem are the birds
of America,
the brown nonentities
and the self-advertising glories.
They have returned from other lands
to a familiar bough
or the corner ledge of a brownstone.
To call them
the birds of Harlem
is to give airy nothings
a local habitation and a name.
It’s a way of saying we belong
somewhere, a way of singing.

(First published in Birmingham Poetry Review)

Sibling Rivalry's announcement video

Monday, September 10, 2018

Jothie Rajah's "Authoritarian Rule of Law"

By closely examining five well-chosen case studies—the 1966 Vandalism Act, the 1974 Press Act, the 1986 Legal Profession (Amendment) Act, the 1991 Religious Harmony Act, and the 2009 Public Order Act—through the lens of critical discourse analysis, Jothie Rajah's Authoritarian Rule of Law: Legislation, Discourse and Legitimacy in Singapore shows how the Singapore state governs through the illiberal "rule by law" while claiming to do so through the liberal "rule of law." By legislating illiberal laws and dominating public discourse, the state has successfully silenced or co-opted, in turn, its early electoral opponents, the local press, the legal profession, the Catholic Church and other religious organizations, and local civil society--the major sources of non-state authority and mobilization.

How then, Rajah asks, does the Singapore state construct and maintain its legitimacy despite such illiberal moves? The answer, implicit throughout the book, is articulated clearly and powerfully in the last chapter. Besides delivering widely distributed material success to the populace, the Singapore state has relied on two main discursive strategies. First, "telling the history of the 'nation' in a manner that celebrates colonial rule..., and presenting the colonial legal system as an asset to the 'nation' dulls suspicion and scrutiny of colonial precedent." For an obvious instance, the state has extended colonial Emergency legality (detention without trial etc) into present-day non-Emergency Singapore. Less obviously, the state has subordinated and infantilized its citizenry just as once the British did. Rajah writes:
Instead of rejecting 'colonial', the nation-state adopts colonial precedents and elevates this adoption in a manner that masks the Othering subordination inherent to colonial legal ideologies. The state's discursive employment of 'English law' as a legitimising marker is rhetorically consistent with the state's claim that Singapore is a 'rule of law' Westminster-model parliamentary democracy. The neo-coloniality of continuties between colonial 'law' and 'national' law is masked through thus rhetoric, which is in turn consistent with the national narrative's celebration of colonial rule as the source of modernity, prosperity and the plural population.
Seen in this light, the state's decision to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Stamford Raffles' 'founding' of Singapore next year is not surprising or backward-looking or arbitrary, but entirely consistent with its governing ideology and citizen-directed pedagogy.

The second discursive strategy that the state deploys to legitimize its illiberal rule is the national narrative of extreme vulnerability, first to the threats of Communism and communalism during the Cold War, then to the threat of religious intolerance in the 80s and 90s, and then to the threat of terrorism in the new century. The threats change in the state narrative but the nation's 'vulnerability' stays the same, justifying the legal exceptionalism to the rule of law that the state claims to abide by.

Rajah's argument gives me two ideas for counter-narratives, ideas that are not entirely new but brought into sharp focus by this fiercely intelligent book. First, to counter the neo-colonial narrative, we need to focus more sharply and unrelentingly on the injustices and harm of colonial rule in Singapore. Second, to turn the vulnerability narrative to a more progressive use, we need to tell the stories of the truly vulnerable segments of Singapore society, namely, the poor, the elderly, LGBT teens, single moms, and migrant workers.

Friday, August 31, 2018

This Is What Inequality Looks Like

This collection of closely-linked essays by sociologist Teo You Yen challenges the reader to look closely at the portrait of poverty and inequality in Singapore. It is not a pretty sight, the precarious existence of many Singaporeans living in the richest country in Asia. How did we get here? The book has many answers, big and small, the most important of which is that poverty is not an exception to the much-touted system, but is, rather, the result of the structures, policies, and procedures pursued by government and people to increase wealth. Poverty is the result of inequality. Teo describes with sympathetic insight and keen detail the lives of Singaporeans living in poverty. She is an excellent writer whose expositions are lucid and descriptions vivid. Significantly, she locates herself in her study, as a means of contrasting her better position (university professor, married with children) with that of the disadvantaged. What would hammer home her argument is a companion volume describing the lives of the super-rich in Singapore and relating these lives to the multifarious and unearned privileges and advantages they receive from the system. A sociological study of the crazy rich Asians.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Eulogy for my father Robert Koh Dut Say (1937 - 2018)

On behalf of my dad, mom, and sister, I want to thank you for coming out tonight. And thank you for sharing your memories of my dad. They help to give a fuller picture of the man.

I will always remember my father as a man of great patience. When I was in Radin Mas Primary School, he waited for me outside the school gates for my pianica class to finish, so he could bring me home on his bicycle. He taught me how to swim in the Bukit Merah public swimming pool. He would patiently demonstrate the strokes to show me how to do it. Whatever patience I possess as a teacher now, I learned it from him.

When I went overseas for my studies, he waited for me to come home. When I decided one year not to come home in order to travel around in Europe, he waited for me still. His patience was the kind that gave his children the freedom to pursue their own lives. After I moved to New York, I would come home every summer and find him waiting for me. I don't mean to suggest that he was not doing anything else but waiting for me. He was engaging in church work, building his relationships with all of you, and in the later years, fighting with his illness. Still, he would be waiting for me when I came home.

I believe in my heart he was waiting for our whole family to have dinner together as a family. We finally did that at Gillman Barracks recently when we got together, him, my mom, Yin Peng, Raymond, Hannah, Liesel, me, and my boyfriend Guy. We took a picture of that occasion. It is a bad picture, but I will always cherish it.

And in his last days at the hospital, I was struck by his great patience yet again. A man in a corner of his ward cried out constantly for his domestic helper. Another man in another corner of the ward was naturally impatient in waiting for his brother to pick him up and constantly bothered the nurses to find out where his brother was. My father lay in his bed, quiet and stoic, enduring his discomfort and pain.

He waited, and then he stopped waiting at just the right time. On his last morning, my sister saw him and fed him his breakfast. Later she reported to my mom and me that dad was in a good mood. He had the best sleep the night before and dreamed of God and heaven. The report consoles us as I hope it will console you, that he is now in a good place.

I have great admiration for my dad. He was an uncommon man despite appearances. We will all miss him very much. Thanks again for coming out tonight.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

2018 Singapore Theatre Festival

At this year's Singapore Theatre Festival, organized by W!ld Rice, besides "Press Gang," I also watched "Supervision" written by Thomas Ng and directed by Glen Goei, a full-dress rehearsal of "An Actress Prepares" written by Alfian Sa'at, directed by Aidli 'Alin" Mosbit, and starring Siti Khalijah, and "One Metre Square: Voices from Sungei Road" co-created by San Mu and Zelda Tatiana Ng, and directed by Zelda Tatiana Ng.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Press Gang

Why do establishment defenders rush to claim that a satirical work is "heavy-handed" when it finds its mark? Akshita Nanda, the arts correspondent of The Straits Times, dismisses the new play by Tan Tarn How, "Press Gang," in just such a manner but she does not really address the accuracy of its depiction of the self-censorship rife in the newsroom of the fictitious Singapore Times or of the different personalities satirized in the play. How could she, after all? The people skewered are her colleagues and bosses. And, even more dangerously, her bosses' bosses, the current PAP government that has shown itself to be no friend to the press. It is not without reason that Singapore ranks 151st in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, three places below Russia.

But you will not find a hint of such a dire situation in Nanda's review. Instead, she insinuates that the play is wrong. "Accuracy is not the point of the text," she pontificates, "as theatre can afford to exaggerate or amalgamate events and personas to illuminate truths." Then she implies that the play's premise cannot possibly happen in Singapore: "So this fictional newsroom is left unable to act on a red-hot rumour that the prime minister's son has slapped the deputy prime minister for daring to question his actions. This parallels the play's oft-stated assumption that neither Singapore's newspapers nor independent news bloggers dare to challenge the authorities for fear of being slapped down."

Note the sleight of hand in joining "Singapore newspapers" to "independent news bloggers." What Tan's play dramatizes, in fact, is that independent news bloggers are often the ones chasing the stories and breaking the news, while newspapers such as The Straits Times are ham-strung by the fear of the government's big stick. Neither does the play assume that no one in the main newspapers dares to challenge the authorities. Quite the opposite. The crisis in the newsroom is initiated by the newspaper's Editor, who writes a column that is critical of the Prime Minister office. A senior reporter surprises his colleagues, and himself, by committing an act of foolhardy courage. So, Tan's play is much more nuanced, and interesting than Nanda's review suggests.

In actuality, Tan shows that these acts of courage are necessarily calculated, given the potential consequences. The Editor publishes his criticism because he has a "godfather" in the government who can shield him. The reporter does the unthinkable because he is on the verge of retirement and he has his two houses and a pension to support his twilight years. These all-too-human considerations do not take away anything from the courage of the actions. Rather, they point to the oppressiveness of a system that necessitates such constant calculations. When you don't have a "godfather" or a pension, as the idealistic young news blogger who breaks the story does not, you can be sued and bankrupted and, denied of any possible employment in the country, driven into exile. We see these contrasting stories played out on stage. They are gripping and real. They cannot be dismissed, as Nanda does, as "oft-stated assumption."

One would have thought that arts reporting is relatively insulated from politics. It is and it is not. It has greater freedom to report because it does not deal directly with party politics. It has, however, its own political bias as any kind of writing does. Nanda could have used her relative freedom to highlight the politics of the newsroom so artfully dramatized by the play. She chose, instead, to defend her colleagues "who feed the printing press with story after story, only to be discarded like yesterday's news" in a sickeningly sentimental manner. And to ingratiate herself with them by writing, "Yet they keep coming, the reporters and editors, in service to the truth and accuracy, and making people feel a little."

After watching the play last night, I could not help comparing it to the 2017 film "The Post," about the publication of the Pentagon Papers by The Washington Post. The Pentagon Papers showed that the U.S. government had been lying for years to the American people about the Vietnam War. The Steven Spielberg film revolves around the mesmerizing sight of the papers themselves, removed from steel cabinets, xeroxed secretly, packed into cardboard boxes, spread around a motel room, pored over by a team of reports. Essentially a visual medium, the film trains its lens on the tangible evidence of government mendacity. In contrast, Tan's play "Press Gang" chases after a rumor, a whisper, a wisp. The play makes much of the need for reliable sources (verbal evidence, not visual), the most reliable of which would have been present at the very scene of the slapping. Even then, since no recording could have been made of the slap, the testimony would still remain verbal. This choice on the part of the playwright is brilliantly correct. With only partial and restricted access to official information, Singaporean journalists are forced to operate in an arena a-swirl with rumors and gossip. We desperately need a Freedom of Information Act, so that we can look up official documents and verify all kinds of reports. The stubborn refusal of the government to legislate such an Act is a slap on the face of Singaporeans.

Go see "Press Gang." Last two days this weekend. See it for the truthful stories it tells, and tells so well. See it for T. Sasitharan's masterly portrayal of that senior reporter Bhavan Muthu. See it for Yap Yi Kai's earnest and utterly believable blogger Mariam Wong (Yes, there are people like her in Singapore.). See it for Amanda Tee's Kerin Khoo, who is not "warm, driven and a victim of her own success," according to Akshita Nanda, but an egotistical charmer who strategically has 'no politics'. See it for the well-designed set and the final fall of the backdrop to reveal ... you have to see it for yourself; for me, it raises the play to the level of a tragedy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Antigone

Last night, at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park, watched with GH the Classical Theatre of Harlem's production of Antigone, inspired by Paul Roche’s adaptation from the classic Greek tragedy by Sophocles, and directed by Carl Cofield. The set was tremendously impressive with a two-level ramp on the right, topped by columns, on both of which, ramp and columns, were projected images, colors, and protest graffiti. On the left was a grand flight of stairs going up to forbidding-looking glass doors. The actors were fine, but the best of them all was the man who played the comic Messenger.

Alexandria King and Ty Jones as Antigone and King Creon, Photo: Richard Termine

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Stephen Burt's "Advice from the Lights"

Stephen (also Stephanie) Burt has made girlhood her territory, not looked back upon in nostalgia or regret, but as it is happening. Attacking it with memories, real and imagined, and with poems written after Callimachus and Baudelaire, she treats it appropriately with seriousness and artistry. Advice from the Lights is a fantastic feat of recall and imagination, rendered in language alive to its own possibilities.

Friday, July 06, 2018

White Tears

Hari Kunzru's White Tears is utter compelling. I've not read a novel as good as this one for a while. Gripping plot, complex characters, and beautiful writing combine with memorable set pieces to twist (or is it untwist) a yarn that is dyed in the history of blues in the USA. A novel that forces one to reconsider the deadly implications of cultural appropriation.

HA's recommended that I read the title story, so I bought the collection Nathan Englander's What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank to do so. The title story is as good as HA's warm recommendation. My sympathies kept shifting from one person to another as two couples drink, smoke weed, and play a parlor game that turns out to be devastating. The other stories in the collection never come close to the complexity and power of the first story, although "Peep Show" is an intriguing surrealistic turn and "The Reader" is an affecting tale, mostly because as a poet I sympathize deeply with the unfashionable author at the center of it. The final story "Free Fruit for Young Widows" has a moralistic tone, but its moral, if I read it correctly, is not to be moralistic about others' actions. Context is everything, and history, for this author, provides deep and needful context for all our present actions.

Finished watching Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) last night. Admired the skill with which he juggled with a complicated plot involving two married couples and the other people that they become infatuated with. The theme is the illusions that help us to live. The handling of the theme curves the mouth into a smile now and then but does not really move the heart.

Before Stranger, we watched the fluffy movie Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004). Why anyone finds Hugh Grant attractive mystifies me. Colin Firth is not much better either, in this film.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Models and Metaphors

At MoMA today, the revelation was Bodys Isek Kingelez's sculptural models of buildings and cities. Fanciful, colorful, utopian. "Without a model, you are nowhere. A nation that can't make models is a nation that doesn't understand things, a nation that doesn't live": Kingelez (1948-2015), based in then-Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Also saw the retrospective of Adrian Piper but was not as taken with it. The exception was a triptych of Madonnas and children, white in the central and biggest panel, flanked by black and Asian. The misery in the side panels comments ironically on the happiness in the center.

Among the many gifts of patron Agnes Gund to the museum was a startling beautiful "Soundsuit" by Nick Cave. Perched on a mannequin was an elaborate construction of metal, beads, and ceramic birds and flowers of the kind commonly founded in antique or secondhand stores.

*

Two Singaporean debut novels. Enjoyed Rachel Heng's Suicide Club much more than Sharlene Teo's Ponti. Wrote a negative Goodreads review on the latter and was attached by a pseudonymous reviewer who called me "a little male 'poet.'" Yes, with quotation marks around the word "poet."

Back to Rachel Heng's novel. An engaging debut. I read it in two sittings. It has a well-paced plot, the construction of which is workshop-smooth. It alternates between two points of view, both given in limited third person, coming together not unexpectedly but quite satisfyingly in the end. There is a slight imbalance between the two perspectives representing the two protagonists. Lea has a more complex character arc than Anja, though not necessarily more convincing. The flashbacks showing young Lea's anti-life impulses come rather too late, and therefore too conveniently, to explain her final decision. Anja's own struggle is taken to be self-apparent rather than imaginatively presented. The futuristic world, of genetically blessed "lifers" who seek long lives, even immortality, is believable if not exactly lush with details.  The repetition of Nutripaks gets a little tiresome. New York City, in the novel, is a little confusing. By the end I still cannot work out where in the city are the newly christened Inner and Outer Boroughs. The city comes off as rather generic. The writing is pleasingly free of cliches, with moments of precise beauty. For instance, a huge birthday cake, "floating on a glass pedestal in the middle of the crowded room," has decorative flowers on it that stand out "like pinpricks of blood." 

Finished Tim Tomlinson's short-story collection This Is Not Happening To You some time ago. Funny, cruel, wry, superbly crafted. Too many slighter stories towards the end of the collection, many of which harped on similar themes as the much better ones in front. Someone once said that if she found one or two excellent poems in a book, she considered the book a good buy. By that measure, Tim's book is a very good buy. "Before and After Science," "Graey Area," "The Perfect Throw." "The Motive for Metaphor" has the depths of a novel and the compression of a poem.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Virgil's "The Aeneid" translated by David Ferry

My first Aeneid, and it was a very engaging introduction. The translation read very well and I followed Virgil's storytelling eagerly, skipping over only the list of combatants and their family origins. The sack of Troy was utterly gripping. The tragedy of Dido, in this translation, was less affecting than I expected. Aeneas' reaction in the episode was remarkably muted. The Furies were terrifying; the whole descent to Hell was excellent. In the war between the Trojans and the Latins, Aeneas, destined by the Fates to win, was less interesting than the tragic figure of Turnus, war leader of the Latins. I was struck by how closely Virgil imitated Homer in terms of incidents and also tried to go one up. So the epic did not end with the siege of the Trojan's camp, as in The Iliad but went further in having the Trojans lay siege themselves to Latium, the success of which forced finally Turnus to fight Aeneas one to one. Ferry's iambic pentameter is very flexible and capable of a variety of effects. Still, the speeches never approximate the effect of spontaneous thinking as in Shakespeare. This has more to do with Virgil than Ferry, of course, but it points to the immense achievement of the English bard. Characters no longer speechify but speak.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Books

Just read my first Flannery O'Connor - A Good Man is Hard to Find. I remember reading the title story somewhere else and it was just as good the second time. She is terrific at conjuring up a sense of mounting dread. Her characters feel real mostly because they act out of motives that are obscure even to themselves. That sense of mystery gestures to the beyond, the religious, the damned and the salvific. There is a dogged persistence to her most memorable characters, like Mr. Head and his grandson Nelson in the otherwise slight story "The Artificial Nigger." The religious symbolism is laid on a bit too thickly for my taste, but hey, I'm not of the South. The masterpieces are here: "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," "Good Country People," and "The Displaced Person." The slighter ones too: "A Stroke of Good Fortune," "A Temple of the Holy Ghost," "A Circle in the Fire," "A Late Encounter with the Enemy."

When I told NJ that I was writing a series of poems in the voice of a Jamaican transplant to America, she recommended Ishion Hutchinson's House of Lords and Commons, and Safiya Sinclair's Cannibal. The Hutchinson is marvelous, a lyricism that is always surprising, precise, and intelligent. I had to read it twice to understand what he is saying, but I wanted to read it a second time, and probably a third, because it was so musical. There is so little apology in it. I'm ambivalent about Cannibal. Sinclair has passages of gorgeous beauty, but the associative metaphorical leaps often leaves me holding on to nothing. I had the impression of listening to a virtuoso but had no idea what I was listening to, besides the generalities of family, home, and feminism. I did not think the allusions to The Tempest added to my understanding of the play or of the poetry. It's very probable that I'm just not the right reader for it.

Ponti by Sharlene Teo. My expectations might have been set too high because of all the hype (Simon and Schuster! Glowing blurb from Ian McEwan!) but I was seriously disappointed by this debut novel by Singaporean writer Sharlene Teo. What is real and deeply felt (synonyms in my aesthetics) is the difficult relationship between mothers and daughters, and between close (girl)friends, but the novel does not succeed in translating what is deeply felt into a persuasive plot or convincing characters.

The plot feels secondhand: cinema ticket girl is picked out by an auteur wannabe to become a film star; girl student bullied by schoolmates because she is different; young girl brings food to fugitive Malayan Communists in the manner of Pip to Magwitch. The character arcs are mundanely depressing. Where are the monsters? Where is the bloodsucking Pontianak? A mother who does not like her own daughter? So many mothers are like that. A friend who abandons her friend in need? If that's monstrous, we have too many of them and so they are no longer monstrous. There is a lack of focus in the novel's key image. Ghosts are not quite the same thing as monsters.

And the style. For all its self-conscious wryness regarding cliches, filmic and literary, the writing does not escape whoppers of its own. Near the beginning of the novel, we have this description of the medium "sister" of the Ponti:

"Depending on the time of day and the angle, Aunt Yunxi looks anything between fifty and a hundred years old. She is as fit as a fiddle. In all the time that I have known her I have never heard her sneeze even once. She appeared on our doorstep nine years ago: 1995, the year my father walked out. My mother is the last person to ask for help to admit that she is struggling. She is too proud. But Yunxi simply knew. Call it sibling intuition. She swept into our lives after having traveled half the world...."

I counted nine cliches. No, you can't justify them by saying that this passage is in the voice of a teenager and teenagers speak in cliches. If I want teenage cliches, I go and hang out with teenagers, not stay at home on a bright and sunny June day to read a book. 

Friday, June 01, 2018

Beyond NaPo 56

United States Virgin Islands

Let’s find
an instrument
close at hand—
an old sardine
can, white
pine wood,
a useless sack
for twine—
and join a
scratch band
that welcomes
us. United States,
we sing
of thee,
with our squash,
our cane flute,
ukelele,
and ass pipe
made from the
exhaust tube
of a car,
we sing,
make thyself
worthy of
us and make us
worthy of
thee, we sing
all together
from Twin
City, Rock
City, Love
City, from
all over,
islands old
as the
volcano
but forever
virginal.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Beyond NaPo 55

Puerto Rico

To see
the bioluminescence,
light without fire,
sit tight
in your canoe
and
stir the dark
water. A tiny
meteor
will appear
in the atmosphere
of the bay.
Stir again,
this time not
with your paddle but with
your hand,
and direct
the sentence of
the second meteor.
You are then
angel
and patient.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Beyond NaPo 54

Northern Mariana Islands

These islands
have names--
not Asuncion,
Saipan, Tinian,
Pagan,
but older
ones--
Launch Pad, Mission Field,
Way Station,
The Secret of My Heart's Desire,
and one that is
possibly
mistranslated
as
Dandelions Growing Out of a Boot.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Beyond NaPo 53

Guam

Ferried over
by a military transport,
the brown
tree snake
has nearly
killed off
the ko'ko' bird,
now only
bred
in captivity.
Forests,
where the secretive
rail once ran,
its elongated
body slipping
through
the receptive
herbage,
are empty
of bird whistle
but full
of spiders
and swathed
like a bride
in spider webs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Beyond NaPo 52

American Samoa

He charged
at the ball
and at the
quarterback.
He sacked
all our defenses.
He made
America
sit up and
look for
their maps.
“I have
a fear of being
average,”
said the
tight end.
He shot
himself dead
in the chest,
the warrior,
said good-bye
with the lyrics
of “Who
I Ain’t.”
Born in Oceanside,
California,
but he came
from the territory
with one
zip code.

in memory of Junior Seau (1969 – 2012)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Beyond NaPo 51

District of Columbia

Not real,
marmoreal
city,
mammary
gland,
memory
land,
march
of the living
and the
dead,
the murmur
in the corridor
that changes
everything.
The reflecting
pool,
humming tunelessly,
steals
your face.


*

Lady Bird (2017), written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is a good movie, but not a great one. Why the fuss over it? Saoirse Ronan, as the Sacramento high school senior stumbling through her first romance, family entanglements, and college application, makes it very watchable. Laurie Metcalf is wonderful as Mom. Lucas Hedges, Lady Bird's first boyfriend who turns out to be gay, is a natural actor. He also appears as the nephew in Manchester by the Sea.

In Valentina's Wedding (La Boda de Valentina, 2018), a silly but enjoyable romp, an all grown-up Ryan Carnes as Valentina's gringo fiance. Still has the body he showed off in Eating Out.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Beyond NaPo 50

Wyoming

Here you
can stand
over the
Continental
Divide,
rivers to
the left,
rivers to
the right,
and feel
the irreconcilable
differences.
Rain stands
here too,
in this
great Basin,
not running
to any
ocean, true,
but moving,
nevertheless.
The rain
sinks here
into the
parched ground,
or else
evaporates
into the air.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Beyond NaPo 49

Wisconsin

This is the house that Wright built
and rebuilt
and rebuilt
after each ravagement,
the limestone
from a local quarry,
the plaster
mixed with sienna
to resemble
the sandy banks of the river,
the shingles
weathered to the color
of silver-grey trees,
the windows
placed to let the sun in
at every hour
of the day.
This is the house
that houses
Japanese prints and Ming vases,
a council circle
re-de-signed by an
immigrant Dane,
and bears the name
of a Welsh bard,
which means Shining Brow.
This is the house
that built other houses
and the centrifugal
house for
Non-Objective art,
later named
after its founding Jew.
This is the house
that students come to
every summer
to study how to build a house.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Beyond NaPo 48

West Virginia

A snippet of video
cut from a cut
and recombined with the clip
is called West Virginia.
A pod of dolphins
leaving a super-pod
to join a herd
is called West Virginia.
Welcome to the secession from the secession,
which is not
the same as unity,
or Not Having Left.
Welcome to the past,
the present, and the future.
The deutero-stomes,
whose first hole
formed the anus of the organism,
split from the proto-stomes,
whose first hole
formed the mouth,
590 million years ago.
We look forward
to their rejoining and our recording
of the convention
of the blastopore.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Beyond NaPo 47

Washington

“I don’t belong
to any of you,
 not to the Army Corps
of Engineers,
not to the
anthropologists,
not even to
the Confederated Tribes
of the Coville Reservation,
to whom
I most closely resemble
in my genetic material.
I am not native.
I am not foreign.
I am the Kennewick Man,
named so
because I was completely
found in Kennewick,
which means a grassy place,
as in the grass
is always greener on the other side,
also, winter paradise,
for winters there
are mild,
or, in another name, Tehe,
the laughter
of a girl
when asked
the name
of where she lived.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Beyond NaPo 46

Virginia

Do you
want
the name of your state
on a landmark
case
against loving?
“Mr. Cohen,
tell the Court
I love
my wife
and it is just unfair
that I can’t live
with her
in Virginia.”
Mr. Cohen,
tell the court
of public opinion
I love
all my boys,
the statistician,
the father, the masochist,
the Starbucks manager, the above-average architect, the ex-lawyer,
and the lovers still in their diapers,
and it is so unfair
that I can’t live
with all of them
at once,
at their peak,
o, blue ridge mountain,
by
the Potomac
with its
two sources.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Beyond NaPo 45

Vermont

sugar maple
rock maple
hydraulic lift
phloem tap
bowling pins
guitar neck
pure stand
shade tolerant
pool cues
sad sap
real estate
civil union
fall colors
secret history
climate change
commemorative coin
winged seed
winged seed

Monday, May 14, 2018

Beyond NaPo 44



Utah

In the painting
of the Promontory Summit
by Thomas Hill,
in the ceremony
of
the golden spike,
which would join
not just
two rails,
not just
two halves of a country,
but
two world-faring oceans,
you can see
the Big Four,
the railway officials,
the railroad workers,
women,
even an Indian,
but not a Chinese
stone blaster
stone carter,
bridge builder,
cook,
who survived
the panning
years
over the Sierra Nevada.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Beyond NaPo 43

Texas

They raise
them now,
the broncos,
for bucking,
running wild
on the open
range, but
gentled for
worming,
for loading
in trailers
and in the
bucking chute.
The beasts
are scored too,
for rocking
hard and not
in a straight
line, for bucking
unpredictably.
On the first
jump out of
the chute,
the cowboy
has to mark
 the horse
out—his heels
have to tap
the shoulders
of the athletic
gelding for
the ride to count.
Make it count.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Beyond NaPo 42

Tennessee

Heartbreak.
Jailhouse.
You’ve got
to love
the words
as much as
the music.
You’ve got
to shoot
not just
from the
pelvis but
break out
the pulse.

Queen

I've just discovered Freddie Mercury. https://youtu.be/oozJH6jSr2U

Friday, May 11, 2018

Beyond NaPo 41

South Dakota

You could
flash
a route,
but the
pure
ascend
the rock
on-sight,
without
fore-
knowledge,
every
handhold a
self
discovery.
You could
dance
with the
crowd
on the
head
of a pin,
but the
tenacious
 angel,
who knows
when
to smear
and when
to
campus,
always
mindful
of the
risk of
a
zipper,
climbs
the
Needles.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Beyond NaPo 40

South Carolina

There’s no
sensation
like
syncopation.
I’d rather
Charleston
in Charleston.
There’s more
to destroy
than the
towers of Troy.
I’d rather
Soloi
in Soloi.
Give up
the dry eye
to the blue sea
and the blue sky.
I’d rather
Shanghai
in Shanghai.
For the scoop
and the dope,
for the good trope,
Grant in Grant
and
Hope in Hope.
I may
never
Barbados
in Barbados,
or Buncombe
in Buncombe,
but let me be
banged up
by a gang
of 251 men
or more.
I’d rather
Singapore
in Singapore.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Beyond NaPo 39

Rhode Island

On a sailboat
or in a
synagogue,
the end will
come.
Watching
the green
light or
lighting the
gas light,
the end will
come.
Working on
a farm
or in a
pharmacy,
the end will
come.
Reciting
a letter
or rescinding
a check,
the end will
come.
Out of
the sky or
into
the skin,
the end will
come. Come,
the end,
for, after
a lifetime of
waiting, we
are well
provided for.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Beyond NaPo 38

Pennsylvania

Fourscore and seven
years ago, Charlie Chaplin
released City Lights,
the Scottsboro Boys
were convicted of
rape, Nevada legalized
gambling, Harold Urey
discovered deuterium,
the Empire State
Building was completed,
John Haven
Emerson perfected
his iron lung, a gallon
of gas cost 10 cents,
Dick Tracy began
his career
in the Detroit Mirror,
Al Capone was
jailed for tax
evasion, the Bible
Student Movement
took the name
of Jehovah’s
Witnesses, Alvin
Ailey was born—so
I date this poem
and this poem dates me.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Beyond NaPo37

Oregon

Under it all
swims the fungus,
the weight of
200 whales
spread thin
over 2000 acres,
surfacing
like splashes of latex
in most places,
breathing
through the gills
of honey mushrooms
every fall.
It kills trees, yes,
creeping
after the network
of roots
and tying its
shoestrings
around and about
their feet,
but the slow
decay,
the inevitable
drop,
makes temporary
homes of trees
for what
we hear
as birds.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Beyond NaPo 36

Oklahoma

Sooner
rather than later,
all 25 native languages
spoken here
will disappear,
unless the school in Tahlequah
succeeds
in teaching its children
to cherish their Cherokee,
the language 75% of which
consists of verbs,
some verbs
denoting the quality
of their direct objects,
so you can say
in one word
hand me something flexible,
like a rope,
hand me something
long, like a broom
or a pencil,
hand me
something liquid,
or a container
for liquid,
like a cup of joe,
hand me something living.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Beyond NaPo 35

Ohio

The blushes
along
even the baseball bat
make you think
of passion
but it was
a celebrity wedding,
this Andy Warhol
print of Pete Rose,
this picture bride,
this baseball card,
made in the exciting
year chasing the world record
of hits,
and breaking it
the day after
the work was unveiled.
Two years later,
Rose was
banned for betting
on his Reds
and Andy,
who did not know
a thing
about baseball,
was dead.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Beyond NaPo 34

North Dakota

You know Fargo,
now get to
Minot, where
every September
Vikings take up
swords to fight
the Trolls at the
Norsk Høstfest,
and the solemnest
business, to induct
into
the Hall of Fame
chefs, oil drillers,
actors, the dishy
Josh Duhamel,
musicians, coaches,
the secret agent
who saved
Mrs. Kennedy,
the school counselor
who spent
all his free time
building a Viking ship
from scratch,
through his leukemia,
which sailed,
after his death,
through the Great Lakes,
the Erie Canal,
down the Hudson,
into the storm of the Atlantic,
the ship Hjemkomst,
all the way to Norway,
 ending in champagne
with the pale King.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Beyond NaPo 33

North Carolina

Wilmington—where
the term “race riot”
was invented
to dress up the killing
of blacks.
At the age of 32,
Alexander Manly
 dared to write
in 1898,
“Every Negro lynched
is called
‘a big burly, black brute,’
when in fact
many…were
sufficiently attractive
for white girls
of culture and refinement
to fall
in love with them
as is very well
known to all,”
and had his words
twisted
in the white papers
and afterwards
his Daily Record
burned and gutted,
and his people,
women also,
gunned down
by the Red Shirts.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

NaPo Day 30 and Beyond NaPo 31 and 32

New Jersey

Put out the light, Edison,
return to your river, to your
fishing with a bamboo rod.
Forget your rod and let
the fish still swim in their
ignorance. The schoolchild
working late into the night
on advanced trigonometry
will thank you. The factory
worker descending into the
chemical tank will thank you.
The first-time lover too,
fumbling with the buckle
of the boy on top of him,
borrowing an excuse from
the moonless night for his
inexperience. That lover, he
will remember the sweet
terror afterwards, as will
the savage, cowering in
the fundamental shadow
of the eclipse of the sun.


New Mexico

No, it doesn’t go
beep-beep.
The roadrunner
has a slow
and descending
dove-like
coo.
With its red
and blue
mascara,
it’s a drag queen
who has
just undressed
after the show,
and from the print
of its
zygodactyl
feet, digits
2 and 3
facing forward,
1 and 4
facing back,
nobody knows,
not even him,
where he goes
off-stage
into the night
of flashing horns.


New York

Which
place to tout
in one’s home state?
So many places
you should see,
as it must be
in yours,
but you must not miss
Ellis.
Through the Main Building passed the ancestors of forty percent of Americans.
Shivering, sleepless
through the night,
Louis Adamic
heard every snore
in his rib
and dreamed in a dozen
different
languages.
The statue
is the ideal but
the station was the reality.
Heartbreak Island,
those excluded,
some wearing
my face, others
dressed with so-called defects,
called it.
Families called it Island of Tears.
They still do.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sancho and NaPo Day 29

Last night, went with GH to the National Black Theater to watch Sancho, written and performed by Paterson Joseph. Brought from the Caribbean to London by his master, Ignatius Sancho rose from servitude through education and patronage to become an author, composer, and letter writer in the eighteenth century. He was even painted by Thomas Gainsborough as an English gentleman. No Moorish prince or spear-shaking warrior for him. The talented Joseph, whose parents also came to London from the Caribbean, from St. Lucia, showed a vital connection to one whom he considered legitimately an ancestor. The first half of the play was well conceived and written, dramatizing his birth on a slave ship, the theatricals at his mistresses' London house, his education by the powerful Montagu family. The courtship portion fell a little flat and the opening of a grocery shop at Westminster felt anticlimactic. But the writing brought the one-man play to a suitably triumphant end, which I won't give away, except to say that it echoes nicely the theme of the political symbolism of the image at the start.

*

New Hampshire

Not on this trip
but on another
day, you’ll visit
old “Live Free,
or Die.” Live
first,  you think,
and in your way
rises from the sea
of eroded plains
Mt Monadnock.

Friday, April 27, 2018

NaPo Day 27

Nebraska

Banged-up
Chevy jitters
past Wenzl
Hardware (closed),
Pioneer Theater,
(shuttered), Western
Outpost (cowboy
boots for sale)
to Long Home
Coffee Company.
Inside,
three men
rhyming with Cezanne
mutters
about Walmart.
A schoolgirl
is excited
on her phone
about a college on the coast.
The tablemat
plugs a play (New!)
about two ladies
who lock themselves in a closet
and pray
when America
elects a Democrat.
Over the brown sink
of the Missouri
swoop
tiny white-bellied
insect-eaters
in lasso loops.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

NaPo Day 26

Montana

Little
was lynched here
for organizing
the miners and lumberjacks
and speaking
against the war.
German
was forbidden
for a time.
Further back,
a general asked for the bison
to be slaughtered
to starve
the Indians.
In these
rich valleys
between sky-topping mountains,
a river
runs through
the last best place,
and by the river
roamed
families of triceratops,
plucking
at the palms
with their
beaks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

NaPo Day 25

Missouri

He came into the world
with Halley’s Comet
and went out with it,
as he fore-said.
He trained as a steamship pilot
and studied
the river’s every swirl and snag.
He nicked his penname
from an old sailor,
an old river cry,
meaning, mark the two fathoms
that give safe passage.
He changed his mind.
He decried the domination
of the Philippines
and praised the Chinese Boxers.
He was against slavery
but made his masterpiece, Huck,
struggle with
the common prejudice,
terrified he was
going to hell for freeing Jim.
Have I read it?
No… I’d rather float
with this boat
downriver
and think of his dark last years
when his daughter Suzy died,
and then his wife Olivia died,
and then another daughter, the youngest, Jean.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

NaPo Day 24

Mississippi

Good levees,
once built
by slaves,
then poor
Irish, taken
over by the
state, funded
by the Fed,
make good
fortunes until
they don’t.
(The wetlands,
endemic sponge,
are vanishing.)
The river
sleeps while
it runs the
manmade
course and
once in a
while wakes
up, like
an epidemic
or a riot,
into flood.

Monday, April 23, 2018

NaPo Day 23

Minnesota

Get on
the green bus.
It stopped
when the plane
on the way to the funeral
of steelworker Martin Rukavina
crashed
into dense forest,
but the bus
has started up again.
Ignore
the jeers
that you’re hopping
on the bandwagon,
some wagons
just have
the better music,
Bob Dylan i
s playing,
and anyway the bus
is passing
some nice bits of water—
Minneapolis, city of water,
Minnetonka, big water,
Minneota, much water,
Minneiska, white water,
and, Dakota
for waterfall, or curling water,
Minnehaha.

In memory of Paul Wellstone, United States Senator from 1991 to 2002.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

NaPo Day 20 - 22

Maine

If the Old Sow,
sucking whirlpool,
with treacherous
troughs, standing
walls of water,
boils and spouts,
and that natural
impossibility, the
reverse waterfall,
is the American
Charybdis, Scylla
is the exposed trail
of hikers making
their endless way
through Acadia,
up the mountain,
with their packs
and in their good-
grip shoes, to the
glacial erratic called
Bubble Rock,
which they threaten,
in so much photo
evidence, to push
off and crush who-
ever is below,
smiling for the
record and showing
all their teeth.



Massachusetts

There is a Quality,
so familiar,
to dismay
in social media.
The table
is set for us
to be quotable,
be thunderous.
Time to
slip away
from our chair
and
parley—
with the Air.



Michigan

Five died
building
Mackinac
Bridge—
one fell
into a
caisson,
one of
a heart
attack,
two when
the catwalk
collapsed
their first
day on
the job,
and one
ascended 
too
quickly
from the
straits and
died from
the bends.

In memory of James LeSarge (26), Albert Abbott (40), Jack Baker (28), Robert Koppen (28), and Frank Pepper (46).

Thursday, April 19, 2018

NaPo Day 19

Louisiana

The state
produces
the most
number of
vampires.
Imprisoned
by their
immortality,
disdainful
of science—
how can it
stand up
to sorcery—
perversely
proud of
their hue
and cry, the
music of
hurricanes,
the undead
are figures
of corruption.
Don’t go
near them
or you will
catch their
fang and feel
their half-
throttled
angst and
turn in a
funk into
one of them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

NaPo Day 17 and 18

Kansas

The ghost, cowboy hat,
curtain moustache,
sidles up and chuckles
appreciatively, howdy,
boys, welcome
to Kansas, and slips
into the bar. The street
is deserted, except
for the pale sheriff
with a five-point badge,
walking a skeleton
horse, who glares at us,
spits near our feet
and croaks, liberal elite.
When we turn the
corner, a tall woman,
hooked to translucent
wings, is giving out
flyers that say in red,
What Would Jesus Do?
and show a pair
of rainbowed hands
letting fall a bloody
fetus. There isn’t much
else to see. For more
than unfunny cartoons,
we will have to follow
the flight to the cities.
What’s this? A terrier,
hair gone white, sniffs
our penny loafers,
crawls away, muttering,
Dorothy, we’re not
in Kansas anymore.


Kentucky

Not our place,
not anyone’s,
although we name
the caves
Rotunda,
Grand Avenue,
joke about
Fat Man’s Misery,
even
mythologize
the stream, calling
it obviously
the Styx.
Bats, with their
livid cries, live here,
little eastern pipistrelle
with its
tricolored fur,
fire-walking salamanders,
two genera
of eyeless fish,
albino
shrimps, and who knows
what else.
A seahorse
far from the sea?
To find out
we jockey further
and further
into the miles of dark,
not to encounter
ourselves, Lovecraft
has it wrong, but to meet
some other
life,
in this system
of caves,
which rarely
has a natural
opening.

Monday, April 16, 2018

NaPo Day 16

A break in the alphabetical order to take in the news of the day:

Maryland

O say
can you see
by the dawn’s
early light,
what so
proudly
we hailed
at the twilight’s
last gleaming,
whose broad
stripes and bright
stars through
the perilous
fight, o’er
the ramparts
we watched,
were so
gallantly
streaming?
And the rockets’
red glare,
the bombs
bursting
in air,
gave proof
in the night
that our flag
was still
there; o say
does that
star-spangled
banner yet
wave o’er
the land of
the faith
and the home
of the Ba’ath.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

God's Own Country

Friday night, watched "God's Own Country" (2017), about a young Yorkshire farmer (a very credible Josh O'Connor) who numbs his frustrations with binge drinking and casual sex until a Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secareanu), joining his family farm for the lambing season, shows him how to be himself, a gay man capable of love and connection. The film brings to mind "Brokeback Mountain" except that "God's Own Country," directed by Francis Lee, is much better. It actually shows the blood and death of newborn lambs. Some survive, some don't, a visual comment on the dangers and pitfalls of coming out in this day and age still. Not in love with the title, though.

NaPo Day 15

Iowa

What’s the line
around the barn,
a viewing line for
some dear leader?
Oh, it’s the line to see
the butter cow,
600 pounds
of U.S. Grade AA salted butter,
or else it’s to see
the butter Elvis, or the butter Obama,
or Grant Wood’s
bony couple in butter.
Barbara Ehrenreich
writes, “I’m not going out
of this life
without butter
on my bread.
I’ve had so much grief
from people about butter.
I like a glass of wine,
or a bloody mary, too.”
 Oh, look,
this year, Norma “Duffy” Lyon
tops herself.
She has sculpted
with 2000 pounds of butter
a life-sized
The Last Supper.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

NaPo Day 14

Indiana

Open cockpit,
open wheels,
writing an O
200 times
in dust and smoke,
on the oval track,
plotting ahead,
jostling for
position with
other high-
strung vowels,
every zero,
slightly different,
always imperfect,
if it is not erased
in flames,
every event
a non-event,
going nowhere
fast, despite
the hundreds
of thousands
of diehard fans
randy for
memorabilia,
just for one, just one,
to lift
at finish
a bottle of milk.

Friday, April 13, 2018

NaPo Day 13

Illinois

It is called
Little Egypt
because of
its rivers and
the fertile
land. Because
of starvation’s
trek
for a handful
of meal.
Because of
slavery and its
deliverance
in uncivil
war. Little Egypt
is not in the south
of the state,
it’s everywhere,
its boundaries
the boundaries
of the promised
land, its capital
the capital
creamed off
of labor. It’s make
hay while the sun
shines, it’s the
massacre—mass acre—
at Haymarket.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

NaPo Day 12

Idaho

You have come
to the heart,
division and double,
of the matter,
the deepest canyon,
a fall
higher than Niagara,
but more secret.
The sun
comes down
on potatoes and semi-
conductors.
The river
is called Salmon,
or No Return.
Neither in
Mountain Time
or in
Pacific Time,
O my governor,
O my private,
is there
a highway
between Boise and
Coeur d’Alene.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

NaPo Day 11

Hawaii

My myth too—home,
the underworld,
an ancestor
who returns as
a sea turtle
when he is not
the naval officer
who died
at Pearl Harbor.
From the school,
which trained
the black
president,
my aumakua
took
the name of
Steve McGarrett.
Hawaii Five-O 
was sometimes
shot
in Singapore,
do you know?
How do you
know a man
would die
for you
if you don’t
sleep with him
first?
Under another
trademark,
he took up
with me
in New York
where we were
happy-unhappy
for two years
until he was
recalled to the spirit
world,
reappearing
under the
world-class surf
a shark.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

NaPo Days 9 and 10

Florida

This evening walk
around Lettuce Lake
begins on the planks
of good intentions.
Palm fronds droop,
like fingers over
railing, over land
sliding below
wetland, and weeds
yielding along an
indeterminable
wave to duckweed,
a false green
carpet to the door
of the lake.
Bald cypresses, wearing
beards of moss, sit
surprised in water,
their grayish knees
breathing above the
rootless bladderworts.
Here, the wading bird
is king, the Great Egret
picking its way between
land and lake, spearing
the temporary frog
to an unexpected
hump of ground. Here,
the roseate spoonbill
swirls the mud.
Even the osprey,
which nests in feather-
tips of trees, must
bury itself in the
lake, wings held up
like an archaic angel
landing on a gravestone,
before rising with
silver in its beak.
And here, reads the sign
in stainless steel
raised by park
authorities, is
Alzheimer’s Walk
that travels two feet
above the bog, two
feet from the leafy
stink, but does not
sink.


Georgia
Flying, flying
so high, circling
the top
five times, I’m flying
into the
mountain
and your mind.
Flying, always flying,
I won’t be landing.
It’s peaceful
up here
above the pines.
Flying, flying
like a bird,
circling the top
five times, I’m flying
into the mountain
and your mind.
Flying, I say,
always flying,
there’s no landing.
It’s peaceful up
here
above the pines.
I’ve always
been flying
into the
mountain
and your mind.

With thanks to Ray Charles 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

NaPo Day 7 and 8

Connecticut

Wrong, the idea
was found in the boats
of the Punic Wars,
 the idea of inter-
changeable parts
for building
American muskets,
delivered only
after the death
of the contractor
by his family
left behind.
American words
were standardized
earlier
by the great Webster,
who taught generations
of American children,
including the kiddos
from Sandy Hook,
to spell center
for centre, program
for programme, and
armory for armoury.


Delaware

Where are the catapults
firing pumpkins
into the sky? Where are
the slingshots flinging
the hardiest squashes—the Caspers,
the Luminas, La Estrellas—
for the longest way
without getting
pie? Where are the
complicated air
cannons with the names
Big Ten Inch, 2nd
Amendment, Old
Glory, De Terminator
pumping their fists
in victory and vengeance?
All gone. The World
Championship
Punkin Chunkin
has been canceled.
A machine exploded
two years ago
and hit
a female TV crew.
We don’t wish
for anyone,
anyone,
to be hurt,
but where will
the boys go now
with their Universal
Soldier, their
Bad to the Bone?

Friday, April 06, 2018

NaPo Day 6

Colorado

After the gold, the silver,
it was the turn
of the carnations,
the precious metals
of a rush
of colors,
the historic medals
coaxed
from the ground,
won and worn
on the lapel
by queers and presidents—
first to grant
women’s suffrage
by popular vote,
first to repeal
Prohibition,
first to legalize
the recreational use
of cannabis—
you can get high
and green
just thinking
about it.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

NaPo Day 5

California

Arnie has no more
devoted follower
than Olympus Chan
from Guangzhou.
For at least a year,
between fifteen and
sixteen, he went so far
as to put on
the Austrian accent.
Trained and won
Mr. Universe at age
20, same age as Arnie.
Moved to Hollywood
to be in the movies.
Had his big break
not as Conan, but
Young Confucius,
breaking his opponents’
jaws when they did not
heed what he said.
Grew rich selling
herbal supplements,
grew famous too.
Then the ultimate
test, the gubernatorial
contest, he loved
saying “gubernatorial”
with a Cantonese twang,
which he won
handily against the
El Salvadoran, on the
back of a huge Asian
turnout, and not a few
El Salvadorans, at last
striking gold as Asian
American and universal.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

NaPo Day 4

Arkansas

for the Little Rock Nine 

It’s KAN-sas
but it’s AR-kan-SAs,
the final “s” is silent.
Here you can dig
for diamonds—prospect,
it’s called—
and name them
Hallelujah,
Amarillo Starlight,
Okie Dokie,
Superman’s,
Bleeding Heart,
Uncle Sam,
Brown Rice,
Limitless,
and Sweet Caroline.
Little rocks,
the markers of the change
from delta plain
to the Ouachita foothills.
Little rocks,
the final “s” is not
silent.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

NaPo Day 3

Arizona

Remember “Raising Arizona”?
Infertile couple,
a convenience store
robber and a cop,
kidnap one
of the “Arizona Quints”
and raise the baby
in their desert trailer.
Daddy’s bounty
hunter finds them, and they
blow him up.
You want to know
my interpretation
of the Coen Brothers movie?
The couple, Nicholas
Cage and Holly
Hunter, are European
colonialists, white
trash, Papa Arizona
is the Injuns,
and Junior is the land.
The kidnap
is all very fine.
When Cage & Hunter
return the kid
in the end, it makes no
sense.
Remember the reviews?
Technically brilliant.
Incoherent story.

Monday, April 02, 2018

NaPo Day 2

Alaska

You like the sea?
You’ll like Alaska,
34,000 miles
of tidal shoreline.
Not for nothing
is it the object
to which the sea
is directed. It is
something of a
marvel, a marriage
of extremes,
the sea locked
solid in an iceberg,
the outcrops
of rock
melting and running
over all forms of life,
even the hardy
shield ferns
that cling
to these
unpromising islands.
You like volcanoes?

Sunday, April 01, 2018

50 States in 50 Days

It's National Poetry Writing Month again, and I've started a project tentatively titled "50 States in 50 Days," as a way of getting to know this country better. Suggestions welcomed. Here's Day One:

Alabama

Why would you
want to see
a natural disaster,
even if
it’s the greatest?
Visit the Vulcan
instead,
cast-iron god
holding up
his new spearhead
to the sun.
You can’t see
the impact crater,
even though
the impact rim
is intact.
You can only walk
in the maze of rings
of fractured rock,
more than 3 miles across,
hope to find
in the ground
a splinter of shocked quartz,
which proved
this is indeed
a star-wound.


*

PB invited GH and me to a sake tasting last night. Terada Honke has brewed sake for more than 340 years in Kozaki, in Chiba Prefecture, 87.5 km to the northeast of Tokyo. The lecture was by the 24th Head, Masaru Terada, who married into the family, like the two generations before him. The brewing house specializes in so-called natural fermentation, which allows the rice malt to ferment naturally with micro-organisims in the air, without artificial additives. The only "ingredients" added are white koji mold and a yeast called Shubo. The sake we tried were Gonin Musume, Kaiko Shu, Shibotta Manma, Musubi, and Daigo No Shizuku.





Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dolphins

PB invited me to join him last Sunday to watch documentary on the US incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Part of the 11th Annual Peace Film Festival, organized by Yumi Tanaka and a band of volunteers, Resistance at Tule Lake (2017) by Konrad Aderer was less about the resistance than about the remembrance of this infamous episode of American history. Tule Lake camp was where those who refused to answer, or answered no-no to, the government's loyalty questionnaire were sent. There was a special segregation center inside the camp for those judged especially resistant or disloyal. The government also mounted a campaign to persuade the prisoners of all ten concentration camps to give up their US citizenship and be deported to Japan, even though most of them had never seen that country. Fearful and angry, many Tule Lake camp inmates joined the pro-Japan faction called the Hoshi-dan. The film showed them running in squads and doing other physical exercises to train themselves up to be fit for Japan. With the exception of one incident, when inmates refused to obey an order and were sent to stand outside in the wintry cold, some in their underwear, the film was stronger, more interesting, about the split in allegiances among the prisoners. It is a split that has haunted generations of Japanese Americans after the war.

Read two of the books bought at AWP. The Affliction by C. Dale Young is a set of intricately interlinked stories, narrated by the same person whose identity we only discover at the end. What I like most about the book is the use of the trope of disappearance for being gay, for exile from family and community, and finally, for death. The magic realism of the plot does not color the style much. The language is workmanlike. Better known as a poet, Young's prose is, well, rather prosaic. Here's the opening paragraph:

No one would have believed Ricardo Blanco if he had tried to explain that Javier Castillo could disappear. What was the point in trying to explain it to someone, explain how he had seen it himself, how he had watched as Javier Castillo stared deeply as if he were concentrating and then, slowly, disappeared. Ricardo always began the explanation in the same way, by stating that it wasn't a sudden thing, that no, no, it was gradual thing that took sometimes as long as three minutes.

Too many iterations of "explain." Overly familiar language such as "stared deeply" and "always began the explanation in the same way." Vagueness in "someone," "a sudden thing," "a gradual thing." Should the verb "stating" have any place in a novel if the character is not making a police statement? A human who can disappear and reappear somewhere else is a miracle, but the language fails to convey the miraculous.

The other book was a short novel Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono, translated by Angus Turvil. Published by the independent press Two Lines, it is also about abandonment by a parent, but Ono brings the reader right into the experience of the trauma. The language, as translated, is spare, and so gives lots of room for breathing and imagining. Not much happens, but what happens is elemental. The betrayal of loved ones. The kindness of strangers. And the enormous hope one can invest in a healing dolphin.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Turning 48, or Post Your Birthday Wish, If You Wish, Below this Post

Turning 48, or Post Your Birthday Wish, If You Wish, Below this Post 

I’ll write one true thing a day in the week running up to my birthday.

John Ashbery is boring and I’d rather eat cardboard than read his poetry.

I’m a poor judge of character, which is my saving grace in making friends.

Angrier. Sadder. Heavier. I look at the young and am disconsolate.

There are no moral phenomena, but I have to act as if good and evil exist.

Last week I wrote a respectable poem about sex with a party of cyborgs.

 John Ashbery is boring but “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” is brilliant.

Love, I have been under increasing pressure to make a false allegation.


 Photo by Guy E. Humphrey. I name it "Wallflowers."

Old Rendering Plants

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge. The premise is intriguing: a black Bostonian family, the symbolically named Freemans, join a research institute to teach sign language to a chimp called Charlie. The situation is set up for a scathing social critique of racism, some of which Greenidge delivers. The most effective, because the most moving, involves the allure of white trickery to a stern but lonely black schoolmistress. Nymphadora is the most searing portrait of the novel, and she burns the other characters out of the stretched canvas.

Old Rendering Plant by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole. Published by Two Lines Press, which I discovered at AWP, after Tim Tompkins suggested looking for its editor, and his good friend, Olivia Sears, this German novel is dense with the poetry of a wasted landscape. It is haunting, a nightmarish reckoning with history and holocaust. After reading it, I was filled with the excitement of imitating it, but found I could not, its sensibility being so antithetical to mine.

GH and I saw the film Comfort and Consolation in France (2017), written and directed by Vincent Macaigne, at Film Society Lincoln Center yesterday. After squandering their inheritance abroad, Pascal and Pauline return to their family estate and face the envy and resentment of their friends. Intelligent dramatization of the continuing class struggle, fleshed by a strong cast of three couples. The couple in the middle, torn between class pride and attraction to old privilege, was finally the most sympathetic. GH thought the film dated, since it did not mention immigration or the refugee crisis in Europe at all.A good point.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Poems in BPR

I have three poems in Birmingham Poetry Review (Spring 2018 number 45), a publication of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The issue features the great poet Gerald Stern with new poems written in his 90s, and a perspicacious essay by Lucy Biederman on him titled ""And I Go On and On": Gerald Stern's Poetics of Protest." It's bracing to read about how Stern has integrated his politics into his poetics from the start. Some terrific poems in the issue. I particularly enjoyed Saara Myrene Raappana's "Heroic Origins" (it's about bees), Chelsea Rathburn's "The Corinthian Women" (who stood aside while Medea murdered her children), and Gary Soto's two Untitled poems based on Henry V 4.1.98-99 and the bard's Sonnet 150.9. Thanks, Adam Vines and Gregory Fraser, for accepting my poems. Annual subscription is only $10.



Friday, March 16, 2018

Hyphen Interview

THL and JEHL: If the city could answer your questions, what would you ask it? Why are these important issues to you?

JLK: Will you ever change your survival and authoritarian mentality, which prioritizes economic development and political control above all else? How can you be changed? Will you remember me? And how will you remember me?

THL and JEHL: Also let’s consider the reverse. What would your city ask you? Why?

JLK: Who are you?

Thanks, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Jason Eng Hun Lee, for the interview.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Cyborg Sex

Last Tuesday, went to the Morgan Library to see the show of Peter Hujar's photographs: "Speed of Life." The creator of the iconic image of the Gay Liberation Front, showing 2 lines of young people walking down the street, arms linked, fists punching the air, Hujar was really a portraitist. The most compelling photos are headshots, followed by those of the body in half-recline.

Since I was there, I also looked into the Tennessee Williams show, "No Refuge but in Writing." The final plays are really the results of lots of earlier stories, aborted versions, and messy revisions, suggested by Eliza Kazan and others, as much as by Williams's own muse. He exploited his life for his materials, as all writers do, and his life included other people's lives.

*

Wrote "Returning from the Women's March in DC" on Friday, tinkled with "Judy" on Saturday, and "Cyborg Vs The Grim Reaper" this morning. Cyborg sex: the wave of the future!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Square

Wrote "The Morning After Trump's Election (Watusi)" from Connor's perspective yesterday. Today added a small section to "Handheld Devices" and refitted the sequence to reflect the aging of both men.

Watched The Square (2017) with MH yesterday, after lunch with LF and JT. Written and directed by Ruben Östlund, it stars Claes Bang as the chief curator of a prestigious Stockholm museum who is trying to promote a controversial new exhibit. As MH confirmed, the film is spot-on in its satire of art institutions and their patrons. What was less expected was how moving it was in illuminating the seemingly obvious, but infinitely complex business of creating a public square of mutual trust and equal rights.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Connor and Seal: "Later, at the Same Dance Party"

Another retro-fit today, with some small revisions to fit it into the overarching narrative.


Connor:

Later, at the Same Dance Party

Finally he withdraws his sweet body
from the kiss, and the veil descends.

I’m completely involved with someone, 
he says, he’s coming back tomorrow. 

Thrust together by his words, we taste
each other’s mouth through the silk.

Then all the names of the world—
body, kiss, tomorrow, his name Seal—

swaddle in a wet underwear
the things they designate.

When he backs off again, a cry
I cannot recognize passes my lips,

Take me home with you. 
It does not pass the cloth of gold.

He presses through the crushed bodies,
 pulling his tee-shirt down as he goes.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Connor and Seal: Meeting Seal at an 80's Dance Party on Throwback Thursday

Today's offering retrofits an old poem (from "The Book of the Body" sequence") with a new title.


Meeting Seal at an 80’s Dance Party on Throwback Thursday

It is time to bring your face into focus
before this lens moves below the chin to other features harder
to identify as yours.
The best image is that of the cheeks.

The right cheek and the left cheek do not meet.
Like the back of the hand and the palm,
like the head of a silver coin and its tail,
the cheeks do not see each other except in a mirror or a photograph.

This is true of my cheeks
until my right brushes your left when we dance and, in that flash of flesh,
the coin turns up both head and tail,
the back of the hand shakes hands with the palm.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Connor and Seal: Identity House (New York)

Connor:

Identity House (New York)

Shirtless bartenders
popping the cork.
Drag queens hosting
What-the-Fuck.
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee,
can such places be?

Flirtations flit.
Beauty meets.
Grown men deep
kissing on the streets.
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee,
can such places be?

Talk we must about
coming out
in the calmness of
Identity House.
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee,
can such places be?

No more need for
metaphors
unless we are figures of
speech, yes, us,
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee.
Can such places be?

Friday, February 09, 2018

Connor and Seal: A Tale of Two Cities, Three Maybe

Connor:

A Tale of Two Cities, Three Maybe

She’s a baby from Vietnam,
from Saigon, if the truth be told.
She’s a girl from Nebraska City
and she’s sixteen years old.
 She’s unusual, that’s for sure.
She asks him out for ice cream
at Nancy’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor
by Dick’s Movie Palace of Dreams.

She’s in love with the boy
She’s in love with the boy
but after a whole year of eating pussy
he knows he’s not in love with Katie.

First, an ice cream, and then, a movie.
One thing leads to another.
She’s smart, a looker, but he has eyes only
for her quarterback brother.
In the lab, she makes up excuses
to peek at his dissection.
He sneaks his looks in the locker room
at Tommy’s pink ass and Joe’s erection.

She’s in love with the boy
She’s in love with the boy
but after a whole year of eating pussy
he knows he’s not in love with Katie.

He tells her at the Farm Aid show
he’s applyin’ to New York University.
This town’s too small for big dreams,
he explains, to let her down easy.
With her mother’s heart condition,
she knows she’s not going anywhere.
Trisha Yearwood looks so very small
as her voice lifts off into the air:

She’s in love with the boy. 
She’s in love with the boy
but after a whole year of eating pussy
he knows he’s not in love with Katie.


With apologies to singer Trisha Yearwood, and songwriters John Charles Ims and Jon Ims.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Connor and Seal: Art Show at the Center

Connor:

Art Show at the Center

On a black dummy,
a shawl—not cashmere,
cigarette butts.

Apple seeds arranged
like tea cozies
around the roots of trees next door.

So this is what art is!

You are one thing and you are
used for another.

Slightly built, curly haired,
the Artist-in-Residence
smiles from New Jersey.
 Close enough to New York,
if you ask me.

The star of the show:

3 blocks of yellow soap,
the height of my chest,
carved
voluptuously
to look like—urinals.

Oh, the urge to use them!
To spray them
and be clean.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Connor and Seal

Connor:

Nebraska

From the bluff
we turned our backs on the river
and opened a trail,
as Lewis and Clark.

We spotted the grizzly,
Tom did, glummer than Meriwether,
and gave him wide berth
slowly on our stomachs.

When I hit
some raccoon shit, Tom changed
my name to Pvt. John Collins
and tied my paws to a tree

and whipped me with the whip
of a branch,
rubbing himself until he let go
gum from the orange.

We hurried home, it was getting dark,
and watched dad slam the boot
on boxes of his stuff
and drive off.

I was the one to break
the silence, kept during the whipping—
Tom, let’s go back
and tie me up.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Book of Emma Reyes

Given to me by Elda Rotor in a bag full of literary goodies, The Book of Emma Reyes is a revelation. Godmother to Latin American writers and artists in Paris, Emma Reyes was illiterate until her late teens, escaped from grinding poverty and the convent in Columbia, to Buenos Aires and then Paris, to re-invent herself as painter. The memoir, written as a series of letters to Colombian historian and critic Germán Arciniegas, won praise from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As translated by Daniel Alarcón, the style is artfully simple and wholly faithful to the world. No literary flourishes, no imaginative metaphors. Just a sustaining belief that the material itself holds its own interest.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Autoclaps

Last night, watched The Toilers and the Wayfarers (1995), written and directed by Keith Froelich, set in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Matt Klemp, who played the beautiful young Dieter, showed real talents as an actor. But he seemed to have acted in one more movie before calling it quits.

This afternoon, watched Ghost in the Shell (2017), directed by Rupert Sanders, and starring Scarlett Johannson as Major, a crime-fighting robot with a human brain. It was more exciting and pleasurable than I thought it would be. I've never seen the anime original, so have nothing to compare the move to. The plot is predictable but the pacing is good.

Also finished this afternoon Kei Miller's third novel Augustown. It is well written but the stock characters, including a flying preacher, a racist teacher, a well-meaning white school principal, a blind old woman who could smell the forthcoming autoclaps (disaster), preclude real emotional engagement.

About two weeks ago, I finished Gershom Scholem's biography Walter Benjamin: The story of a friendship. Respectful and loving, but by no means hagiographic. For Scholem, Benjamin was a mystic, even when he was a materialist. The little I've read of Benjamin suggests that Scholem is right. Scholem takes pains in his biography to list Benjamin's intellectual influences and contacts, the people and the books. Benjamin saw in Scholem "living Judaism."Scholem supported the idea that Benjamin committed suicide.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

About Painting

I'm a sucker for movies about writers and artists. Always eager to learn some secret to success, I suppose. As if there is one. Local Color (2006), written and directed by George Gallo, is too simplistic and sentimental to be truly inspirational. The acting by Armin Mueller-Stahl (Nicholi Seroff, the older artist) and Trevor Morgan (John Talia, Jr., the younger artist) makes the film watchable.

*

I did not know David Hockney started out as an Abstract Expressionist at the Royal Academy. That was probably the greatest revelation of the Met show. In those early works, there was already a keen sense of color. The Room Tarzana (1967) is my favorite of the works on show, beating out all the swimming pools, glass-curtain buildings, Californian landscapes. It has this wonderful sense of coolness about its sexual heat. The most penetrating, psychologically, is "Henry Geldzahler & Christopher Scott" (1969), about the Met curator, ensconced on his throne, and his supplicant, the trench-coated boyfriend and artist.








Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

An outrageous satire that skewers race politics in the USA. I have to resort to a cliche: the book is unputdownable. I raced through the book, lapping up all the wonderful set-pieces and snappy one-liners. It made me laugh out loud quite a number of times. And you know what I used for a bookmark, my police report about my lost iPhone in Singapore. The opening sentence of the book: "This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I've never stolen anything." Uproarious! Finished it around Jan 3, only now blogging about it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Conspiracy Theorists

1987: Singapore's Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On, edited by Chng Suan Tze, Low Yit Leng and Teo Soh Lung.

A valuable collection of testimonies and memories by the detainees, their family members, their lawyers, the campaigners for their release, and other supporters. This is not the place to obtain a full historical understanding of Operation Spectrum, the detention of 22 people in May 1987 for allegedly conspiring as Marxists to overthrow the state of Singapore; the pieces here are too fragmented and personal to give a steady picture. This is the place, however, where an agonizing silence has been broken, as the different participants of the historical incident recount, explain, and wonder aloud. The two most penetrating insights to emerge are, one, the then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew might have ordered the detention to initiate the new generation of government leaders, including his son Lee Hsien Loong, the current Prime Minister, into the blood sport of politics. They found themselves having to accede to and explain the draconian and unjust action. The few who could not do so, such as S. Dhanabalan, ultimately quit politics. The second insight, which is also part of hindsight, is that Operation Spectrum set back civil society and social advocacy for 20 years. Singapore was not allowed to grow up.


The Art of Advocacy in Singapore, edited by Constance Singam and Margaret Thomas.

A valuable collection of the experiences of social advocates and activists in trying to change government policies and enlarge the space of civil society in Singapore. The remit of the different individuals representing different organizations is helpfully wide: Ageing, Animal Welfare, Health, Heritage and Environment, Human Rights, Literature and Theatre, Media, Migrant Workers, Sex Workers, and Women. It is clear that the most successful of the organizations have been those who back up their arguments with research, engage the authorities privately and publicly, and soften any confrontational language, in other words, they have abided by the rules of engagement set out by the authorities. This approach works best for issues against which the main forces of resistance are ignorance and prejudice. When the issue has to do with political power - as in the struggle for freedom of expression and other democratic liberties, this approach cannot work, for no amount of research, reasonableness, and outreach will persuade the government to give up its political controls. A sufficient political force must be mustered to contest the present dominance. Lacking such a force, to ask the current regime to give up its overwhelming power is like asking a lion to surrender its teeth.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Living in a Time of Deception

Living in a Time of Deception by Poh Soo Kai (Singapore: Function 8 Ltd, 2016).

Dr. Poh Soo Kai was detained without trial for a total of 17 years on the false charge of being a communist out to subvert the state of Singapore. What he shows convincingly in this historical memoir is that, like many of his fellow detainees under Operation Coldstore, he was not a communist, but an anti-colonialist and socialist, in other words, a patriot. He was detained for so long because he refused to sign any statement that suggested otherwise. Such a powerfully principled person deserves a hearing at the very least. If you read this book and give him a hearing, as I did, you will make astonishing discoveries about Singapore's struggle for independence from the British, and the legacy of that struggle. After reading this book, I am outraged by the political chicanery for personal ends, but I am also inspired by the heroism of a few good men.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Star Attractions of Singapore



Star Attractions of Singapore: when will Parliament reverse the injustice that makes me a second-class citizen in my own country? Leaving Singapore tonight after giving away 33 out of 50 tank tops. Our biggest challenge is our (self-)imposed invisibility. Putting on an equality singlet is a small but significant way of saying, we're here, we're queer, get used to it. Looking forward to coming back for Pink Dot 2018 to join everyone in claiming and celebrating the right to love. #gaybutnotyetequal #singaporeunbound