World Without Walls

Thanks, Lola Koundakjian, for organizing last night's reading FOR A WORLD WITHOUT WALLS, in conjunction with the World Poetry Movement at Saint Illuminator's Armenian Apostolic Cathedral. What a tremendous cloud of poetic witnesses, embodied and voiced by the 18 participating poets. There were rousing calls to action, moving appeals to pity, satirical depictions of wrong, and sharp diagnoses of individuality.

I read Frost's "Mending Wall" and then one of my poems about Singaporeans in America, "The Ceramicist." While reading over the Frost poem in preparation, I wondered if anyone has ever noticed that the speaker, in distinguishing himself from his wall-loving neighbor, is also building a wall between them. Frost's speakers are not his mouthpieces (see the much-misunderstood "The Road Not Taken") but may be airing an attitude that the poet wishes us to be wary of, if not criticize. The speaker of "Mending Wall" speaks of "m…

"Pitiless Trains"

Brief remarks at the launch of John Marcus Powell's book of poems Veil On, Veil Off (Exot Books) at Suite Bar, NY, NY, on Feb 10, 2019:

I relate to John Marcus Powell's poetry in many ways. We are both flaneurs, and we love to walk through the city and allow the city to walk through us. We are also queer, and so share a history that is far longer than the 10 years that we've known each other. And we are both immigrants to the great city of New York, and so we look back at our homes with an eye that is loving but not blind, that is critical but not cynical. I will read you one of his poems about his native Wales, and then I will say a few words about it. 

"River" is unusual in John Marcus's poetry; it is rather more objective than subjective. In his other poems about home, he inserts himself either as the vulnerable but self-aware child that he was or as the knowing, playful voice of adult experience. In "River" John Marcus dials down his mesmerizin…

Time to Open the Archives

Weekly column written for Singapore Unbound's newsletter. Sign up here.

"They came to the coffee shop in Joo Chiat where I was working at 2am. About five or six officers came, and they took me to Outram [police station], where there were already many people. I was detained for four and a half years. I was a Singapore citizen but I lost my citizenship; they took me to the border. I couldn’t return to Singapore for years...."

YEH Kim Pak was 27 years old when he was arrested on February 2nd, 1963, along with over 110 anti-colonial activists on the mere suspicion of being Communists. Yeh was not a Communist, but he did fight for workers' rights through the Singapore Coffee Shop Employees Union. The British police operation, codenamed Cold Store, was supported by the Malaysian and Singaporean leaders who used it against their political opponents. In fact, there is evidence that Singapore's leader LEE Kuan Yew urged the reluctant British authorities to tak…

Posing Modernity

Saw the show "Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today" at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University. Curated by Denise Murrell as her PhD thesis, the show argued that Manet broke from the Orientalist and ethnographic depiction of black women current during his time, that Matisse took his cue from Manet in his painting of his black models, and that subsequent painters have been in part influenced or reacted against these two forerunners, in particular, Manet's famous "Olympia." I was particularly happy to see Matisse's "Dame a la robe blanche" (1946) in which negative space defines the woman's chest, and for a second time his cutout "Creole Dancer," now rendered visibly black due to this show. I was also taken with Charles Alston's "Girl in a Red Dress" (1934), showing a modern and sophisticated young Harlemite.

The Tropics and Other Experiments

Weekly column for Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here.

Interviewed by the online magazine Entropy, I had the opportunity to reflect on the point of setting up Gaudy Boy in 2017 as an imprint of Singapore Unbound. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission, the interview asked. I wrote, "We arise from, and hope to contribute to, the transnational ‘turn’ in literature and literary studies. We are interested in the various ways that writers and writings move across national boundaries to develop a circulation of influences, exchanges, and alliances. Instead of seeing the world in such dualistic terms as East versus West, North versus South, we envision the gathering of the most progressive elements everywhere, and the publication of such a gathering in our list."

Big words indeed, which do not hide the fact that Gaudy Boy is very much an experiment in its infancy. We don't know if we will succeed, but we are inspired by others who have gone before us. In…

Seal Speaks

7 poems from my new book CONNOR AND SEAL forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in Spring 2020. The poems in the voice of Seal are pessimistic in outlook (be warned!), whereas the poems spoken by Connor are the opposite. Together they capture something of the vacillations of this politically unsettling time, I hope. Big thanks to Dale Peck, for accepting these poems, the first poetry published in this reincarnation of a pioneering American journal that was launched in 1957 with the work of Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mark Schorer, and James Purdy, and that introduced to American readers the work of Genet, Grass, Ōe, Duras, Paz, Walcott, and Nabokov.


Watched Tom at the Farm (2013), directed by Xavier Dolan, who also co-wrote the script and played the part of the protagonist. Quite a tense film, a psychological struggle between Tom and his deadlover's homophobic older brother, but the film could have been so much better. Pierre-Yves Cardinal plays the older brother Francis.

Adventure in Selfhood

Ian McKellen is luminous as the titular protagonist of Mr. Holmes (2015), directed by Bill Condon. Laura Linney, as his housekeeper, is good, and completely adorable is Milo Parker, the young fan who tries to get Holmes to work again, but McKellen could express so much with just one twitch in his hangdog face.

American Wrestler: The Wizard (2016), directed by Alex Ranarivelo, is too much of a feel-good movie to be genuinely moving, let alone intellectually probing. The teenage boy, who escaped from Iran, does not question his compulsive desire to assimilate into America. He succeeds when he helps his struggling high-school wrestling team to win and when he gets the blonde. Still, when George Kosturos finally pulled off his baggy shirt and showed off his Greek body, all my criticisms expired eagerly. Kevin G. Schmidt, who plays his teammate, was also dishy.

Read about Robert Penn Warren's long poem about Audubon in Literary Imagination Volume 20 Number 1 2018, in the essay "Rob…