Showing posts from 2006

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art

The Museum opened in its new home in 2003. The special exhibition, when we visited it, was William Dunlap’s “Panorama of the American Landscape,” a fourteen-paneled work. Half of it depicted a snow-covered landscape in which a row of deer heads continued into infinity. According to the curatorial note, the deer heads stand for the human casualties at the Battle of Antietem during the Civil War. The other seven panels of the panorama were verdant, with two horse-riding hunters in the background, and a troop of hunting dogs occupying much of the foreground.

The juxtaposition of an upper class sport and a terrible battle was strongly dissonant, and made me unsure how to read the painting. The hunters didn’t seem to be responsible in the painting for the harvest of deer. They were figures of grace and civilization, whose elegant houses dotted the green landscape unobstrusively. The dogs were painted with loving detail that ennobled them without anthropomorphizing them. In an exhibition n…

New Orleans

Written on 12/29 Fri:

Winston and I have been in New Orleans for five days now, and we’ll be flying back to NYC tomorrow. The idea of a working vacation has been a success for me. I spent the mornings revising and rearranging Payday Loans, my 30-sonnet sequence, for publication in January. It helped to have a spacious hotel room to work in, $75 a night at the Sheraton, and not some quaint but claustrophobic bed-and-breakfast.

Afternoons saw us wandering round different neighborhoods: the French Quarter, the Garden District (where we saw Anne Rice’s house, Rosegate, and Lafayette No. 1 Cemetery), Uptown, the Faubourg Marigny (with a gay bookshop, to our surprise), and the Warehouse District.

Wednesday night, we went to Oz, a gay bar, where we sat beside two godly-sized lesbians from Yorkshire. When I asked one of them if they hailed from York, she repeated Yorkshire, and went on to explain what a county is. The drag show we saw there (Oz, not Yorkshire) was amateurish and poorly-hosted. …

Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s

I will be away in New Orleans from Christmas Day to the day before New Year's Eve. My first visit to that city, and I am looking forward to tramping round it, eating Cajun and Creole food and hearing some jazz. And doing some writing and reading in the mornings of the 6-day vacation.

On Friday, I viewed the Met exhibition on German portraits by artists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, Rudolf Schlicter and Max Beckmann. Known as the Verists, a branch of the New Objectivism, the artists prided themselves on depicting their subjects dispassionately, even cynically. Such "realism" was deemed the only adequate response to the crises of German society after World War II.

Otto Dix's paintings scrutinize his subjects mercilessly, exposing their weaknesses and vices. I have seen a few of the same paintings in the Dada exhibition in Washington D.C.. The Dada exhibition framed Dix as one example of an European and American artistic "movement," and emphas…

Terry Eagleton on "How to Read a Poem"

I'm enjoying this how-to book quite a great deal. Eagleton combines close reading of famous poems with a quick overview of poetic theory and criticism, in the belief that close reading and theory must inform each other. He is particularly good on the semiotics of YuryLotman. The style is witty and opinionated.

Eagleton defines a poem as "a fictional, verbally inventive moral statement in which it is the author, rather than the printer or word processor, who decides where the lines should end." He readily admits that the definition sounds "unpoetic to a fault," but defends it as "the best we can do."

I am particularly intrigued by the element of morality in his statement. He writes,

...morality in its traditional sense, before the advocates of duty and obligation got their hands on it, is the study of how to live most fully and enjoyably; and the word 'moral' in the present context refers to a qualitative or evaluative view of human conduct and ex…

Ron Mueck, Annie Leibovitz, John Currin

Last Sunday, I saw two exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum: Ron Mueck and Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005. Mueck made puppets for children's television before moving to sculpture, while Leibovitz's photos first appeared in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue. Both artists thus began their careers in popular culture before they were taken up by the mainstream art world.

Mueck creates very lifelike sculptures out of fibreglass and silicone, almost Madame Tussaud, except they are much bigger or smaller than life-size. I liked The Spooning Couple, a small and delicate piece, in which the man and woman look so alone though lying down in that most intimate position. The other piece that held my attention was that of a young adolescent boy squatting down and looking sideways at himself in a mirror. It seems to capture so subtly youth's vulnerability. I did not find the other pieces interesting. Too often I had the impression that technique overwhelmed the mes…

I want to live with a beautiful man

I want to live with a beautiful man.
I want it so badly
I’ve waved good-bye, good-bye! to God and, worse,
embarrassed family.
I want him so badly.

I’ve seen the beautiful man in church
worshipped by the choir.
Last night he toweled in the locker-room
his cock, a pinkish pacifier,
and my heart rose like a choir.

I want to tie him to my bed, each limb a sweet arrow
pointing to the keep,
take him in my longing mouth
and there the beautiful man keep.

All day I want to live with a beautiful man.
All night I lie down with me.
I know the world is not a breast
but when did we start starving babies?
Look! When I spin very fast, the mobile stars revolve round me.

Welcum Yule

A friend, Kate Irving, sings in the New York City choral group, The Canticum Novum Singers, founded and directed by Harold Rosenbaum. On Saturday, the Singers performed a concert of carols at St. Paul & St. Andrew Church, and Mark Nickels was kind enough to ask for me, and Kate kind enough to give, a complimentary ticket.

The sixteenth century Spanish carols, which opened the concert, sounded as if they were inspired by folk songs. They seemed to be suffused with a ruddy good cheer, and a wild rural spirit rattled out by the tambourine.

I really enjoyed the two works of Josquin des Prez (c.1440-1521), especially the Ave Maria. The soprano voices soared with such purity till they appeared to be coming out of the mouths of the two full-sized, wing-extended angels high up on both sides of the altar.

In contrast, the English carols after the intermission were full of earthy, Dickensian good cheer. The cherubs in Mendelssohn’s Hark the Herald Angels Sing were more akin to the Victorian an…

Fred Sandback

On Saturday I saw Fred Sandback’s work in David Zwirner gallery. An American artist (1943-2003), Sandback composes sculptures made of “lengths of yarn stretched horizontally, vertically, or diagonally in a variety of configurations that include rectangles, triangles, U-shapes, and floor-to-ceiling vertical lines” (exhibition press statement).

The works in the exhibition range from wall reliefs to whole-room installations. I like the installations that “inhabit” a whole room. Though yarn is such a lightweight and thin material, the lines are not overwhelmed by the space; instead, the colored lines divide and multiply one’s perspectives of the pure white room.

Untitled (Sculptural Study, Seventeen-part Right-angled Construction) consists of 17 parallel L-shaped lines of red yarn, that begin from one side of the room and end about three-quarter way across the room. I tried to figure out the “reason” for the length of the horizontal yarn-lines, and for the spacing between each L. Standing b…

Changi Prison Chapel

The makeshift chapel, the man reads
from the plaque, is a replica,
a diorama of memories.

The seventh pew, where he was bent
double by dysentery, is not
scratched along its seat of lashed

poles, not with a pocket pen-knife
or any flinty implements
found in the flat dirt of the camp.

His fingers brushed the dark unscratched
pew, the wall planks, the altar stand,
like touching glass, hand in a glove.

Pinned to a cork bulletin-board
are handwritten notes on cards
or paper torn out of a journal.

Many wrote their fathers, husbands,
brothers and uncles were here. One
bride-to-be thanked all the soldiers.

Old quarrels. Old injustices.
Older than the altar cross
made from an artillery shell,

that used to promise suffering
cut, turned, beveled and set by love
into a shining salvation.

But let that jagged fragment stand,
he prays, for man’s love for making
do, for man’s makeshift love for man,

for among cholera and lice
someone, a soldier, found something
shiny in the dirt, something sharp,

and made the cross all of a piece…

Crabbing at Changi Beach

At the north-eastern end of the island,
an end extended by makeshift piers,
narrow planks floating on oil barrels,
sampans ride the harsh glint of the sea.

Fires in the water are ghosts of the sun.

Past the small brick customs office
boat-riders bob, as if still at sea,
smelling of fish, motor oil and tarpaulin.
Their hands are empty trawling nets.

The sea hawks its old throat and spits.

Three boys leaning over a wooden bridge
lower into water their crabbing nets,
and wait, expecting something close
to land will side-walk into their hands,

some years too young to launch a boat.

For A Cousin Who Married Young

She climbs out of the sighing bed,
weighing her body on her toes,
soles, so as not to disturb him.
There’s tap-water to boil for tea,

but now a moment to herself—
stare out of kitchen window to
opposite windows black with sleep,
and hear the stray cats mew for god

knows what—she finds herself among
the old appliances. The new
alarm clock beeps. She wakes the three
children, the man she lets him sleep.

While the drowsy faces eat, she slips
into her uniform, and checks
their wallets for snack money, and
their bags the school-books for the day,

the Math the children scrawled before
her eyes last night. They kiss her, leave.
Now she wakes him up and, when sure
he lies awake, picks up her bag.

In the next room, the dowager
appears asleep, though she can’t tell
for sure. The quarrel last week meant
the children ate nothing for lunch.

She slings her bag, decides to call
home twice, during her lunch and break.
Her thoughts turn with her steps to work,
those long hours making someone happy.

Thank You, Thank You

I leave your house with a shoebox of rejection slips
editors enclosed in my self-addressed envelopes.
Good stationery. Polite form letters. Different types
of no to poems posted with thirty-nine-cent hopes.

A few took the trouble to scribble their subjectivities.
(These poems don’t meet our present needs.) Four
softened the blow by mildly singling out for praise
the flirt, the grovel, the hurt valve, or the soft core.

There's one, burgundy half-letter-sized, kept
face up, raised by the others sleeping facedown.
This one, generous in its plural pronoun, abrupt
in its brevity, added an afterthought, Try usagain.

Submission seasons come and go. Every Sept-
ember burns in a shoebox, because of this one.

A Tale of Two Gregs

On Saturday I heard my friend, Greg Bynum, play his recorder as a guest with the Brooklyn Baroque at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. The details of the concert program are below. Greg was the soloist in Boismortier’s Sonata in G Major for Recorder and Continuo. I thought his playing was particularly fine in that sonata, natural and sweet.

The soprano, Elizabeth Baber, sang the Bach and Telemann much better than the Scarlatti, to my untrained ears. Her voice was controlled and expressive, her interpretation of the Germans dramatic and persuasive. I thought, with her flowing blond hair and strong features, she looked like a Rhine Maiden. Greg’s playing in the Telemann matched her expression and intensity. I really like the Telemann piece, with its lurching rhythm in the opening lines.

Saturday night ended with another Gregg, Araki, on a very different note. Having enjoyed his well-directed "Mysterious Skin," I entertained some hopes of the earlier "Doom Generation." It was d…


Mark Nickels wrote a poem for me. I think this is the first poem someone wrote for me, not counting verses penned by my students on cards. "Then hump in the catacombs while the highway thrums" is my kind of a line!

Last Line

A last line of a poem hangs, like an empty picture frame, on a nail in my head:

a nude is not more nude than when he moves

Independent and Small Press Book Fair

During last weekend, I attended the Fair held at the Small Press Center. The Center is a member of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, a society whose quaint anachronism pleases me. The Fair itself was of a good size, with exhibitors in multiple rooms on four different floors. When I say "exhibitor," I really mean one table displaying the press's publications, ranging from one to, perhaps, twenty.

I picked up a number of poetry books at a good discount: The Good Thief by Marie Howe, Sakura Park by Rachel Wetzsteon, Cinder by Bruce Bond, Poems of NazimHikmet translated by Randy Blasing and MutluKonuk, and Open Field: Thirty Contemporary Canadian Poets edited by SinaQueyras.

I also bought H. L. Hix'sWild and Whirling Words: A Poetic Conversation. In Hix's project, thirty-three poets contributed one of their poems, which was then sent, without the poet's name, to six other poets for their comments. Besides the poem, the commentators got to read the com…

The Cloisters

The way from 190th Street Station to the Cloisters lay through Fort Tryon Park. The Park had a collection of heather that was as showy as that subdued plant could be: quiet mauvre, obscure yellow and pale green. Perched on a hilltop below which the Hudson and a busy motorway ran, the park was named after the last British civil governor of Manhattan. Isn't that a strange choice of name?

The Cloisters itself was built, in the neo-medieval style, on the highest point in that area. I liked how the building incorporated into its own structure architectual elements from its collection. The Fuentiduena Chapel, with its high ceiling and half-barreled apse, was impressive.

During my visit, I was attracted to the silver-stained roundels in the Glass Gallery. The roundel pictures displayed a keen sense of drama, as well as composition in that tricky circular format. Besides the expected saints, martyrs, biblical characters, allegorical figures, there were two bare-breasted women holding herald…

Little Men

They behaved just like their names. Mr. Happy
was always happy despite the cloud in the story.
Mr. Tickle learned when not to tickle but tickled
every other time. And when friends righted him,
Mr. Topsy-Turvy turned wrong side up again.

Chinese names, unlike Mr. Worry's, aim
too high. Yang Yang plays for glorious glory.
Swallow Peace, my sister, loses patience.
And mine raises the stakes: JeeLeong
shoots for (don't laugh) universal goodness.

What disappointments Chinese children are! What
a hoot to find out adults are like old cartoons.
There slinks Mrs. Divorce. Here comes Mr. Knife-
in-the-back smiling. And at her father's funeral,
radiant Miss Sun dries her eyes on the flowers.

Squirrel Hill Thanksgiving

for Jason

Believing good friends should not live with ghosts,
though ghosts warm up a wintry student dorm,
bewail a good man’s fall in wedding toasts,
and wonder at coincidence and form,
I came to play the guest to your good hosts,
to your love nest at Squirrel Hill, your home
away from the home dreamed, New York City,
and from Dunkirk of childhood memory.

The ghosts would not leave us alone. Seduced
by spirits, round the table, poems we read
spoke: Wendi spilled a past life, wife abused
for bearing a son not resembling dad;
you wrote of foreign women who refused
to bend under the trash but in the yard
danced and danced in the direction of light;
I read my “Payday Loans.” Called it a night.

Next day, we drove to Dunkirk where your mum
welcomed us three and showed me her Elvis
memorabilia in a back room:
posters, snow globes, baseball caps, ashtrays,
head portrait in red wool, clock pendulum
rocking both quadrant legs and arc pelvis.
Only that room, the brightest, played music
since you left. Other rooms stor…

Three Minutes and Ten Seconds

The bus to Pittsburgh rushes down the tunnel
and so I start to time how long it takes
to come up on the other side of the Hudson.

On my right, a boy, of college age, is reading
Genet's Funeral Rites. The book holds him
quite still, his body carved to hold the book,

just as my watch, a lover's gift, holds me
eyeing its hand wiping its white face. When
he turns a page, the bus sees day again.

It is not what you think. I have not been
resurrected through this fair freshman
and his encounter with a deathless art,

but this young man has touched eternity
because in the unheated Greyhound bus, the day
before Thanksgiving, I have taken time.

Night Call

Lying down beside the man I love,
I think of you, your late night call that woke
my body's heat and blood. I think of you,
your tiny hairs curled tight against your head,
your strong back matted like a burlap sack,
your sex rubbing between my legs. I think
love is dreaming while desire's wide awake.

The men I slept with were good

The men I slept with were good
with electronic devices. Troy jiggled
the wire antenna before he came
to bed, and my radio clock sang.
Ren downloaded the latest virus
protection program to my laptop
while massaging my anus. After Nick
climaxed, he showed me how to text-
message and shook his head, laughing
over my primitive cellphone. So
when I message some man whose eyes
sang last night while I jiggled him,
I think of Nick and his tremendous
laugh, and thank in my heart these handy men.

River Blindness

The river breeds the humped black fly
which stitches in
the broken skin
the worms that slip-swim to the eye,
bear tinier worms which in turn die,
loose from its fin
the pathogen.
The cornea clouds up like the sky.

To stop from going totally blind,
you modify
your hosting body, drug your mind,
or kill the fly,
or climb upslope and leave behind
the river, eye.

Poem out in Crab Orchard Review

A happy package greeted me last evening when I returned home: two copies of the fall/winter issue of Crab Orchard Review, published by Southern Illinois University Carbondale. My modified villanelle, "What's Left," appears in the issue, alongside poems by Neil Aiken, Jeffrey McDaniel, Jon Pineda, and Cathy Song. The review is only $10, so get it if only to make me happy! The review is inviting submissions for its next issue, and for its first poetry book contest.

For More

Don't ask me more than I can give.
Don't ask for more, for more
I cannot give. So let us live
and promise no more.

Don't ask me for my heart my heart
has eaten to the core.
Don't ask me for the teeth-marked part.
Don't ask me any more.

Don't ask me for a steady arm
for rowing to the shore.
A broken oar will do more harm
than settling for no more.

Don't ask me for my voice my voice
echoes in encore,
until it's hard to tell my voice
from yours asking for more.

Reading for Queer Ink

I am one of three features at the Queer Ink reading this Sun. Here's the shout-out from organizer, Richard Loranger:

Please do join us for the Queer Ink reading series this coming Sunday, November 5, from 4 to 6 at the Bowery Poetry Club. Queer poets in the month of Scorpio – how much hotter can it get? This time, we’ll feature three gay poets who will read from recent work, and we will have a brief open mic, so bring a short poem or two if you like. We’ll run it for about 20 minutes, and I’ll allot time according to how many sign up. I will host, as before, as graciously as my Scorpio nature allows, if I can control myself at all,that is.

This Sunday, Queer Ink features Jason Schneiderman, author of the recently released Sublimation Point; Michael Montlack, a finalist this year for the Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award; and Jee Leong Koh, a terrific reader whose work has been published in both Singaporean and American journals. Copies of their books and journal publications will be avail…

Julius Caesar: Afterwards Deified

Knowing no Latin (and even less Greek), I am reading Robert Graves's translation of The Twelve Caesars, by Suetonius. The first Caesar is Julius. I have scanned reports of his MSM activities before, and now read the original account with profit and pleasure, as the formula goes.

The second-century historian wrote,

Caesar first saw military service in Asia, where he went as aide-de-camp to Marcus Thermus, the provincial governor. When Thermus sent Caesar to raise a fleet in Bithynia, he wasted so much time at Nicomedes' court that a homosexual relationship between them was suspected, and suspicion gave way to scandal when, soon after his return to headquarters, he revisited Bithynisa: ostensibly collecting a debt incurred there by one of his freedmen.

Julius did not even have camp conditions to blame since his liaisons took place at court where, presumably, a variety of entertainment was available. I wonder how old Julius was then. He couldn't have been more than twenty (or yo…

Sevenling: In the end

(if there's one) the good (if there're such)
will separate from the goats, shinny up
ladders to (if there) paradise.

The goats will butt the ladders down,
do what goats do best (check the trash,
couple, bleat) and goats do worst (dream

of the good dancing down some stairs).

Sevenling: In the beginning

I thought the myth explains the light
because we fear the dark; explains
life because we fear death; or love,

loneliness. I don't mind the dark,
family lost because they live,
but unmeasured time makes me pray,

Let me rest on the Seventh Day.

The Wooden Doors

They're leaving the church. Sunday mass over
at Saint Sebastian's Roman Catholic Church.
The three wooden doors, through which they pour,
resemble the doors set in the Greek skene

where, for an audience, violence always happened
off-stage. They might see the empty elbows
or the swinging body, but they would not see
the eyeball greeting the pin of the brooch.

For the celebrants at mass, violence happens
elsewhere too. Images commemorate facts
and so are not the facts: nails are not
the nails and, even if they are, have stopped

their piercing realization; and the flesh
tastes so much like mercy on the tongue,
round, hard and bland until saliva salts
and softens it, the wafer always tastes of us.


Discussion at American Poetry Journal:

Sevenlings by RODDY LUMSDEN

The sevenling is a poem of seven lines inspired by the form of this much translated short verse by Anna Akhmatova (1889 - 1966).

He loved three things alone:
White peacocks, evensong,
Old maps of America.

He hated children crying,
And raspberry jam with his tea,
And womanish hysteria.

... And he married me.

tr. D M Thomas From Selected Poems (Penguin)

The rules of the sevenling are thus:

The first three lines should contain an element of three - three connected or contrasting statements, or a list of three details, names or possibilities. This can take up all of the three lines or be contained anywhere within them. Then, lines four to six should similarly contain an element of three, connected directly or indirectly or not at all. The seventh line should act as a narrative summary or punchline or as an unusual juxtaposition. There are no set metrical rules, but being such as short form, some rhythm, metre or rhyme is desirable. To…

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments on homosexuality in Singapore

Video in which PM Lee responded to a press question about how his government views "the gay issue." He frames the question for his government as: "how do we create the maximum space (for gay people to live their lives) without causing it...without it becoming intrusive...and oppressive on the rest of the population, without causing a backlash which will lead to polarization and animosity..."

From Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses"

Two questions to ask of any idea: when it is weak, does it compromise, and when it is strong, does it conquer?

Sean Scully's "Wall of Light"

Fall afternoon light streamed into the Met’s mezzanine where I saw the exhibition of Sean Scully’s “Wall of Light” series. Scully painted the first watercolors of the series in 1983-4 when he was studying the stone walls of Maya ruins in the Yucatan. These watercolors look like studies. Their basic element is the brick-like oblong, arranged in sets of three in one painting, and in sets of four in another. Six other works experiment with the use of one, two or multiple colors.

Scully returned to these watercolors in the 90s and after, developing them into a series of meditations on the concrete and the evanescent, the abstract and the figurative. The “walls” comprise bricks, or stripes, with soft edges, colors that don’t stay within their lines, and brushstrokes that evoke what the curatorial note calls “a blurry luminosity.” In many of these paintings, for example, “Wall of Light Dark Orange,” 2001, the same color shines between the bricks, suggesting a light behind the wall. The grid …

Reading and Singing St-John Perse

Images a Crusoe, Op 11, by Louis Durey
Scenes d'Anabase, by Paul Bowles

Beth Anne Hatton, voice
Ishmael Wallace, piano
Vita Wallace, violin
Text read by Jee Leong Koh

Excerpts from Exile,
text read by R. Nemo Hill

Date: October 16, 2006 (Mon)
Time: 8 p.m.
Place: The Stone, 2nd St & Ave C (
Tix: $10

St-John Perse, or Alexis Leger, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960. Born in Guadeloupe, the young Alexis felt like an exile when the family moved to France. His sequence, Pictures for Crusoe, gives voice to an old Crusoe who lives, barely, in the city and dreams of returning to his sensual island paradise.

From the section titled "The Wall":

...It is the sweat of saps in exile, the bitter oozings of plants with long pods, the acrid insinuation of fleshy mangroves, and the acid delight of a black substance within the pods.

It is the wild honey of ants in the galleries of the dead tree.

The style is a little too rhapsodic and overblown for my taste: too many excl…

Vigo's L'Atlante

I watched L'Atlanteat the Anthology Film Archives on Sunday night. Hailed for its poetic realist style, the film struck me as more charming than realist. This is probably due to my distance, both temporal and spatial, from its depiction of a provincial wedding and a honeymoon voyage in a barge. In the film, new wife, Julette, tells her husband, Jean, that, before they have met, she has already seen him in the water of a bucket in which she has plunged her head. If only water has such oracular power! Or the unconscious, which water may symbolize, tells us such certain truths. Still, the idea is charming.

Hopper, Picasso and the Americans at the Whitney

The Whitney devotes the entire fifth floor to Hopper’s paintings and drawings, as a part of its “Full House” anniversary exhibition. The first room looks at Hopper’s Paris apprenticeship. In choosing river and bridges for his subjects, Hopper was clearly influenced by the Impressionists’ emphasis on outdoor light. The paintings, however, do not display the textured brushstrokes that aim to capture the phenomenology of light; they consist of regular shapes colored in with brushstrokes that efface themselves.

Hopper’s preoccupation with light is seen in the titles of some of his more famous paintings. “South Carolina Morning” depicts a black woman dressed sexily in red, standing in a doorway, and looking out at bright fields and sky.

In “Cape Cod Evening,” an elderly couple, in front of their house, watches their dog play in their long-grass lawn. The grass is light golden, echoed and enriched in the golden brown fur of the dog. Next to, and behind the house, stand dark blue trees. Light …

This water streams between the banks

This water streams between the banks
of a subterranean track.
It cannot carry pulp or foam
nor shrug them off its back.

I've waded in the muddy Nile
and walked with Eliot's Thames,
dreamt by carp-bellied Singapore,
delivering gurgling names.

Sure, this foul trickle does not grow
from glaciers or from glades,
but from the fractured concrete cast
silently cascades,

still it descends from the same sky
as the Ganges and the Styx,
elementary the water
a rat, fat with rats, sips.

Tan Peng, gay artist

"Can't Sleep", 1993, pastel on paper

Artist's link

This voice you hear is not my voice

This voice you hear is not my voice
stuttering on the phone,
snapping at the ghostliest slight,
or singing all alone.

This voice you hear snags on the branch
of my pelvic bone.
This voice is small enough to fit
the span of the headstone.

Reading at The Stone

Here's a repeat annoucement: R. Nemo Hill's Active Ingredients is presenting a series of poetry readings every Monday in October. I'm reading with Jane Ormerod, Paco and Thomas Fucaloro on the first Monday. It'd be lovely to see friends there, if you are in New York.

Date: 2 Oct 2006 (Mon)
Time: 8 p.m.
Tix: $10.00
Place: The Stone, 2nd St. & Ave C

Honesty and Pride

How hard it is to be honest
and think well of myself,
hard to decide which ornament
to show off on the shelf.

One owns the virtue of diamond
cut to make it shine.
The other, fired earthenware,
is a vase I may call mine.

Men chase the value of the stone
in action and in word.
They embrace the other in love’s bed
or in the silent ward.

And I, much too poor to be proud,
much too weak to be good,
must leave the old shelf empty,
standing where it has stood.

Up the Stairs

You are afraid he will see you
escaping up the stairs.
You see the other seekers eye
their feet or someone's ass.

The river is wild, and I don't know why

The river is wild, and I don’t know why.
There was no rain yesterday. Too early
for snow. No tanker to upset the waves,
but motorboats, tossed from hand to hand
as if they're motorized and finned grenades.

Poetry and the Renaissance Machine in Singapore

Note: Please read Gwee's response to this post in the comments.

I read Gwee Li Sui's essay on Singaporean poetry (Harvard Asia Quarterly, Volume IX, Nos. 1 & 2. Winter/Spring 2005) in Cyril Wong's blog. The essay attempts to explain the lack of major Singaporean poets between Edwin Thumboo and Alvin Pang by analyzing poetry's withdrawal from the national sphere during the desert years. In his analysis, the interim poets disengaged from a national culture increasingly bureaucratic and economically-minded, and thus limited their artistic ambitions and impaired their poetic strength. Besides Lee Tzu Pheng, Gwee cites Boey Kim Cheng as another example of this impaired poetry:


We speak therefore of how poetry had only reassumed its pure space of freedom in the general failure of a stable sense of self and home to arrive distinct from infrastructural and economic concerns. We also assert that the catalytic conflict was indeed the key to its own mediation: what the …

Exile and the Kingdom

I'm reading my first Camus, his short story collection, given to me by Winston after he read my blog-post, Exilic Time. I like the stories with their variations on the dialectic between exile and kingdom. The most impressive one, so far, is "The Guest," set in colonial Algeria. The white schoolmaster has to decide whether to hand over an Arab, accused of murdering his own cousin, to the white police. His final action is both humane and plausible to the character. The writing is economically suggestive; every detail counts. The hilly and rocky landscape assumes symbolic significance for moral decisions in the midst of the dangerous political situation.

These Are My Hands and Feet

I could not count to ten till I turned eleven.
The chicks were softer than the straw in the set.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

They scratched the grass beside the shops for men.
They were the best present a boy could get.
I could not count to ten till I turned eleven.

Mother called out from above. That was when
I stepped back to answer her, stepped on my pet.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

The grass turned black. Its head was not broken.
Father could fix things but he was not home yet.
I could not count to ten till I turned eleven.

The Shopgirl cried out, Poke it back in! The mitten
with one loose strand was moving. It felt wet.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

My hands did what the woman said. Even then,
I could not save it. But I could not forget.
I could not count to ten till I turned eleven.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

Pine Cones

I have sat in this corner often
because of its good lighting.
Today I unbend

from my book of poetry,
dazzled, the library full of light
extended by windows that reach to the ceiling.

In the corner, a Chinese fan palm
vents through a flaking stem
a spray of green intensity.

Outside the window, pine cones,
not the ones seen on the road,
small crushed porcupines on dead leaves,

but hanging delicately from the tip
of a fir branch, bells
almost, a knot.

Mouths perfectly suited to sucking the fibrous teats,
they hang on with their teeth
for the one life they know.

One afternoon, strings unloosed,
they will descend
to join their fellows,

the journey long and different
from whatever
they experience and owe.

An Explanation to a Friend for Not Writing

You know letter writing requires a kind
of hibernation (the months I was silent).
The heart winters through it on minimum
nourishment. It lives by barely beating.

Then, mysterious as spring, the heart
takes a pen, breaks through the cocoon,
spins matter out of itself, develops feet
to crawl onto dry land, grows feathers.

I imagine you reading this in bed, your
cat curled against you, eyes opened,
wild to shred this fluttering thing
and eat, as one does after a long winter.

Reading at The Stone

R. Nemo Hill's Active Ingredients is presenting a series of poetry readings every Monday in October. I'm reading with Jane Ormerod, Paco and Thomas Fucaloro on the first Monday. It'd be lovely to see friends there, if you are in New York.

Date: 2 Oct 2006 (Mon)
Time: 8 p.m.
Tix: $10.00
Place: The Stone, 2nd St. & Ave C

Night Training

It’s like moving through a jungle,
alone in an Indian file of soldiers,
ears buzzing with insect static,
the radio held at the back squelched.

The jungle is so dark you only see
the half-inch blue cyalume straw
rubber-banded to the helmet in front.
You're a blue straw to the man behind.

Then the air flinches into lightning
and trees tilt into view. The soldiers,
like bayonets shedding green scabbards,
flash steel, then are sheathed again.

The lieutenant shouts, Antenna down!
You obey but your radio crackles
into life, a voice growling, Gold now,
gold! Final fire before the assault.

This happened many years ago
and you've always wondered
what it means or what it describes.
You are at a loss to explain it

though you know you are the radio,
and the lieutenant, and the men
in front and behind, in Indian file,
following a bobbing blue straw.

Gym Membership

I pound and pound this what-do-you-call-it,
Elliptical, EFX546,
pumping the body all that chemical shit,
shooting my morning its new daily fix,

instead of pondering over an old sonnet,
a room of straw for spinning into gold,
a debt requiring its pound of meat,
a mini made from an injection mould.

It’s true I haven’t moved although I’ve run
3 miles, and, like in writing, I’m as far
from what the mind wants and the mirror sees,
and though it’s true I pound like everyone
on manufactured wheels, my chariot-car
signals I’ve lost four hundred calories.

Floyd Burroughs

After viewing the Susan Sontag photographic exhibit at the Met, the images that stay with me are Walker Evans'. Here's one by that American social realist photographer, from the Snite Museum of Art collection:

ALABAMA TENANT FARMER (FLOYD BURROUGHS), 1936, printed 1950's silver gelatin print

In Alexandria

Still on Forster, here's an old poem about his relationship with Mohammmad, an Egyptian, when Forster was working for the Red Cross during World War I. This relationship might have been Forster's first sexual experience. The epigraph, found in Robert Aldrich's Colonialism and Homosexuality, quotes a secret diary, which Forster presumably never showed to Mohammad.

[Poem removed for submission to journal]

Revised Part 7 of "Only the Scene Has Changed"

I've revised "Parting Gifts," last section of the sequence, in order to round up the themes better. The original and the first six parts of the sequence are here. I will add the epigraph later.

7. Actual Landing

Here’s one more for your album. Let me give you Queens,
the one borough you couldn’t see. A boulevard
of body shops and billboards, it’s an old graveyard
abandoned by the Irish and Italians it weans

from suckling at familiar pubs and tombstone tits.
Others have moved in, with their gods and groceries,
and make (lawyers as mediums) with authorities
their various accommodations, their different debts.

In the day they maneuver, working their consoles,
their bodies up the stairs and round the city’s screen;
at night, the same computer game. Only the scene
has changed—-the maze, pitch or battlefield is the soul’s,

in which the aim, as in the day, is to arrive.
Their children, born American, will be their signs
of actual landing in the city, citizens
of Flushing, 56th Street or Forest …

Cynthia Ozick on "Maurice"

It is a shock to read Ozick's essay, "Morgan and Maurice: A Fairy Tale," written soon after the posthumous publication of Forster's Maurice. The shock lies less in Ozick's convincing argument that the novel is an artistic failure than in her evaluation of Forster's humanism, a humanism publicly demonstrated in his anticolonial writings and court appearances to defend artistic freedom of expression. Ozick's appraisal, or more accurately, a re-appraisal, resulted from the startling revelation of Forster's homosexuality. The question was, what does that homosexuality means for Forster's humanism? Ozick writes,

The shock of the publication of Maurice, then, is not what it appears to be at first sight: Forster as Forerunner of Gay Lib. Quite the opposite. He used his own position as an exemplum, to show what the universe does not intend. If that implies a kind of rational martyrdom, that is what he meant; and this is what shocks. We had not thought of h…

Or Your Money Back

After disaster there is disease controlled with a regimen of pills.

When the towers fell, you say, I was barebacking this guy from Therapy.

I watched on CNN the second tower fall and knew I had to get away to America.

Your boyfriend is a medical intern who thinks there’s no safe sex with you.

Cops underground everywhere but I’ve never seen unattended baggage.

Your boyfriend’s favorite line is, I’m courting disaster; his second favorite, I’m leaving on a jetplane.

My landlord told me yesterday he’s going to Montreal for counter-terrorism training.

I love the city, you say, glass in hand, but does the city love me?

A Room With A View

I found myself happily vulnerable to Forster's brand of pagan humanism in this, his third novel, written between "The Longest Journey" and "Howards End." In a tale of heterosexual romance, the erotic center is the determinedly cheerful and healthy episode of 3 men bathing in the woods, two of whom are young in years, the third, a clergyman, young in spirit. Do they strip to their birthday suits or are they semi-covered in the obligatory loincloth? Forster is coy. Mr Beebe, the clergyman, seems to have jumped in with his underwear since, upon discovery by a trio of his parishioners, he crawls "out of the pond, on whose surface garments of an intimate nature did float." George, the romantic lead, confronts his discoverers "barefoot, barechested, radiant and personable against the shadowy woods." So he is presumably girded but the description lingers all over his nakedness. Pessimistic and passionate George, rumored to be a train porter (with p…

SQ21, Modern Metrics, After the Fire

Edited by Ng Yi-sheng, "SQ21-Singapore Queers in the 21st Century" is a collection of 15 coming out stories, told by men and women, including a mother of 2 gay sons (the Singaporean novelist, Suchen Christine Lim).

Modern Metrics:a new, independent NY press that publishes chapbooks of formal poetry.

Boey Kim Cheng's new book, "After the Fire," collects selections from his three earlier books and new poems written after this itinerant Singaporean's migration to Australia.

There Is No Safety in Distance

I've posted the different parts at different times but not the sequence as a whole. All sections except one were written in April this year, as part of the NaPoWriMo. The exception, Section 9, was written on Aug 14. I've been moving the parts around and also taking out and putting in other parts. I think the present sequence makes the most sense and impact, primarily through narrowing the focus and capitalising on repeated imagery.

There Is No Safety in Distance


The body is an authority
on heartache, burned or slashed.
The bottom of an amputee
drops like a bottle smashed.

The empty-chested veteran,
decorated with dread,
crumples like a soda can.
Despair, don’t you trash my dead!


The cause of pain is cruelty,
concentration’s wire.
Bodhisattvas disagree;
they claim the cause, desire.

Biologists explain that genes
are really quite germane
while bombers show just what cause means.
The effect is the same.


Tell me what your pain is like.
When did it begin?
In the ear of bone or muscle
or the eye o…

The Folded Star

Alan Hollinghurst's prose in this novel is as sensuous and sensitive as his later Man Booker Prize-winner. His style was an accomplished fact before writing "The Line of Beauty." Quiveringly and ironically, it traces the outlines of unrequited love and loss in the highly sexed-up world of homosexuals. What the earlier novel lacks is the political dimension of that world, the Thatcherite atmosphere and events so brilliantly captured in "The Line of Beauty." Though it depicts non-white and non-bourgeois characters, the earlier novel also lacks the texture, the tangled web, of class and race. What "The Folded Star" offers is an imagined Belgium, dreamed up by Edward Manners, the Englishman who falls in love with a boy he tutors. England, depicted in the middle of the three sections, is viewed in Edward's memory of his past romances, again giving the external world the feel of a dream, lost and irrecoverable, whether symoblized by the fatal motor acci…

Death Comes Like a Revolution

Pitchforks and pikes in hand, the women stroll,
all maenads, down the park to the menagerie,
cull the roses and smash the coterie
of apollonian statues. Guns explode
and urge. The women free the cognac-gorged
lions, zebras, the snorting dromedary
and, hunger-maddened, raid the aviary
for heron, parrot, goshawk and flamingo.

Likewise Death overthrows the body’s shed--
the zoo assembly, parliament or diet--
over which the king surveyed his power and pomp.
Dragoons, attendants, nobles, all have fled.
Night closes on the unaccustomed quiet,
hushes the squawk out of the draining swamp.

Night Country

I'm flying from a place that banned my poem
to one that gave the poem. I have my papers
and fingerprints, ready to enter your home,
pull one of your white cotton shirts over me,
and when you come to bed, my night country,
rest my uncovered head on your left shoulder.

Burn all flags except the flesh

Burn all flags except the flesh,
the banner hung from bone.
Soul, burn the five stars down to ash.
Burn the crescent moon.

Kiss the tits, the low brown stars
cresting heaving hills.
Kiss the folded belly scar,
kiss the testicles.

Kiss, oh, kiss the crescent slit,
uncover the full moon,
till the body present-lit
burns and does not burn.

Sheila Majid's Legenda Concert

Sheila Majid sang at the Esplanade Concert Hall last night a song selection from her twenty years in music. She was a consummate performer, artistic in her song delivery, friendly and teasing with the audience. I don't understand Malay but the language in her voice became fully expressive in a way I had not heard before. She sang the ballads with particular feeling; the sayang tenderness of the language, potentially cloying, sounded a range of emotional clarities and nuances. She helped me hear a universe of expressive possibilities in a language I had thought, in my ignorance, unsophisticated and derivative. She made me see again what artistry can do for ignorance, prejudice and callused hearts.