Showing posts from October, 2007

Joseph O. Legaspi's "Imago"

The debut poetry collection of Legaspi, a friend of mine, is about rites of passage, in particular, the rite of circumcision, which many of these poems attempt to circumscribe. The title-poem begins:

As soon as we became men
my brother and I wore skirts.
We pinched our skirt-fronts into tents
for our newly circumcised penises, the incisions
prone to stick painfully to our clothing.

As these opening lines show, the movement of the book is narrative, the motor is memory, the voice gently humorous, and painfully aware, likeable. This poem rises to a meditation on how women help men pass their initiation into manhood. The delight here, as elsewhere in this book, lies in the specificity of local details. After expressing his preference for his "sister's plaid skirt," and his brother's choice of a grandmother's one, "flowers/ showering down his ankles," the speaker describes the mother's ministrations to a son's agonizing manhood.

As a cure, my mother boiled

The New Yorker, Oct 22, 2007

from "The Corrections: Abridgment, enrichment, and the nature of art" by Adam Gopnik:

Of the "compact" Moby-Dick produced by British publisher Orion:
...What the Orion "Moby-Dick" says abut the book is what a good critic or professional editor would say about the book. It's what they did say: there's too much digression and sticky stuff and extraneous learning. If he'd cut that out, it would be a better story.

Only years of careful inclulcation in the masterpiece makes us hesitate. And rightly so. For when you come to the end of the compact "mobdy-Dick" you don't think, What a betrayal; you think, Nice Job--what were the missing bits again? And when you go back to find them you remember why the book isn't just a thrilling adventure with unforgettable characters but a great book. The subtraction does not turn good work into hackwork; it turns a hysterical, half-mad masterpiece into a sound and sane book. It still has its phallic …

Poets Wear Prada Press website

I finally took a good look at the website of the press that published my chapbook Payday Loans. Roxanne has done a terrific job. The main page has more than the covers of the list; it has a moving banner at the top to announce author readings and book signings, and, at the bottom, a slideshow that presents covers and authors side by side. Click on a book cover, and you will go to the book page. The book page quotes reviews and gives their links, as well as displays the author pic and bio, and a sample page from the chapbook. Mine shows two sonnets on facing pages, both sonnets about exercise. The look of the website is clean and uncluttered. The press is now a member of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP). Way to go, Roxanne!

The Book of the Body

“O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you…” —Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric”

1. Head

2. Neck

Practicing for survival, I broke the neck of a chicken with my hands
at Sarimbun scout camp, where boats disgorged the Japanese divisions.
I grabbed the hen by the neck
(tubular like a stethoscope)

and, in the way demonstrated,
swung it round
and with a flick of the wrist snapped
it to the ground.

The hen got up,
squawking, scrabbled the dirt, and shat.
Only mine got up, not the others
at the cooking fires of Kestrel, Eagle, Kingfisher, Merlin and Falcon.

I was Hawk. My patrol watching me, I seized the hen again
and this time did my job as a patrol leader should.
Someone else plucked the bird in hot water.
We baked it in mud, ate it with salt, and pronounced it good.

Sign Open Letter to Prime Minister to Repeal Anti-gay Law

From website:
The Penal Code of Singapore, in Section 377a, provides for a jail sentence for up to two years should a man be found to have committed an act of "gross indecency" with another man.
We are collecting signatures for a letter to the PM that explains why these laws should be repealed and why doing so is for the greater good of the country. Add your name to the list of online signatories. The call for signatures ends on October 19.The completed letter with all the signatures will be compiled and delivered to the Prime Minister after the closing date.

After signing the letter, I added this comment:

Dear Sir,
I am a Singaporean living in New York City. NYC, for all its problems, is creative, energetic and confident, a magnet for all kinds of talent. A large part of that is due to the city's celebration of diversity and its do-it-yourself spirit. This open letter to you, though avowedly about gay rights, is about much mo…

Non-declarative Art: Anon's reply

Anon replied to my answer posted on Sunday. I am posting his reply here, and my brief comments.

Hello. It's me again.
Hello, Still Anonymous.

Press Releases are, almost by definition, compact, incomplete and very frequently cliche ridden. They are meant to pique your interest and wet your appetite. They are meant to get you to a show. Not explain the work. In that function the press release was successful. You seem to have been piqued.
I don't see why someone, anyone, would think that cliches would pique the interest and wet [sic] the appetite of potential viewers to get them to an art show. I attended this show not because of the press statement, which I read only after I had viewed the drawings, but because my friend is exhibiting in it.

But then you took it to a whole new level. I feel it was unfortunate that your whole experience viewing the show and the fulcrum of your beef was based on the contradiction you saw in the press release and the work shown. I believe it was kind o…

Non-declarative Art: Take Two

In response to my take on the Non-declarative Art exhibition at the Drawing Center, Anon posted an objection that made me think. My turn in the conversation:

Dear Anon,
I've not replied immediately because I was busy, and also because I was thinking, intermittently, over my reply. Replying to Anon is also not motivating, to say the least; one so wishes to be talking to a person with a name. Still, your comment has made me wish to clarify myself to myself, and to others.

There is a distinction between the art itself being "non-declarative" and what the necessary press release, curators and artists "declare" about the work. This point seems to be muddled in the statement "Which is a lot to declare about art intended to be non-declarative." To follow your logic, it would be a contradiction to talk about or discuss "silence", because silence is supposed to be about not saying anything. "Non-declarative" doesn't mean the art can't …

Revision of "Head"


Today I open the book of the body and read about beheadings.

It took three strokes to hack off Mary Stuart’s head,
the first struck the back of her head,
the second bit her shoulder and through her subclavian artery, spraying blood like a garden hose,
the third did the job.

Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur, who warned,
the mind remains in the mind and so death seizes him by the hair,
was decapitated for refusing to convert.
The book says that at his wedding Tegh Bahadur’s face was handsome as the moon.

The heads of looters stuck on poles outside Singapore’s Cathay Cinema
where Japanese officers manned the radio and watched American movies
broadcast the same message
as the execution of Daniel Pearl, and those of others who did not make it to video.

If the head was taken away, how did they identify the body for burial?
Perhaps the mother claimed her daughter by the birthmark on her left buttock.
Perhaps the father asked for his flat-footed son.
Perhaps the disciples placed his rough palm on their shaved head…

Poems in The Chimaera

The first issue of The Chimaera, the offspring of Shit Creek Review, has just been delivered. It looks major and feels intimate. I have three poems in it, and a prose piece that started life as a blog post. Rhina P. Espaillat has a really good poem on the subject of home. Alison Brackenbury, whose first book Dreams of Power I read and loved in Singapore, is also here. And poets I first knew from PFFA: Rob Mackenzie, Rik Roots, Anna Evans, and Salli Shepherd. And a poet I first heard on the NYC poetry circuit, but who has now moved to Dublin: Quincy Lehr. And, in a strange return, a poet I knew from Singapore, an expat himself, Chris Mooney-Singh.

Tia Ballantine Reviews "Payday Loans"

Some moons ago Rob Mackenzie suggested I send my chapbook to Happenstance Press for review. I mailed them two copies, uncertain if a small Scottish independent press would want to give any space to a Singaporean poet writing in the States, and published by a less-than-one-year-old press. They would, spelling my name wrongly twice as Jee Leongh Koh, in the Contents page, and review headline. Tia Ballantine's review appears in Sphinx issue 7. She nailed my name.

The first thing I noticed when I picked up Jee Leong Koh's Payday Loans was the overly cutesy name of the publisher and the sloppy stapling of the pages. Hmmm, I muttered, this might just be yet another fashionable product of th glitzy American 'Po-biz' (I was particularly grouchy that day). When I turned the pamphlet over and read Marie Howe's comment: "Smart, irreverent, often unnerving, these sonnets smirk, smile, argue and bless...Cash in your paycheck and buy this book", I settle down somewhat. …

Non-Declarative Art at The Drawing Center

The Drawing Center is the only fine arts institution in the country to focus solely on the exhibition of drawings, both historical and contemporary. I visited it for this first time this afternoon to see the "Non-Declarative Art" Fall Selections, 2007, which presents the work of thirteen emerging artists.

According to the press statement, the artists in Non-Declarative Art
intelligently explore ambiguity, the minimization of information, and the rejection of overt meaning. If "declarative" art seeks to inform the viewer about the artist's views, non-declarative art seeks a lack of explicitness, putting the onus on the view to determine its meaning. By obscuring clear and obvious readings, these works allow for open-ended interpretation, empowering the viewer and activating the viewing experience.
Which is a lot to declare about art intended to be non-declarative. A lot of catchphrases too. The descriptions of the individual artists also declare what they are abou…

Mark Morrisroe at Clampart Gallery

Self Portrait at Home with Diane Arbus, 1985, Gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches

Working with large print formats and polaroids, Morrisroe (1959-1989) made "trash" art out of narcissism. Though the experimental self-portraits are defiant and absorbing, the photographs of his lover Jonathan Piersman are delicate and lyrical. I also like very much a portrait of a nude woman in front of a dark doorway. The play of light and shadow across her sculptural body is beautiful. Unfortunately, I cannot find the image on the gallery website. Morrisroe died at the age of thirty of Aids-related complications.

Self Portrait in Drag (polaroid #86), 1980, Polaroid print (unique), 4.25 x 3.25 inches, sheet

Jonathan (Jack Pierson), May 1, 1982, Chromogenic print, 20 x 16 inches, sheet, 15 x 15 inches, image

2 Triolets

Blue Triolet

Little Boy Blue, blow your horn.
Blow it till the cows come home.
They mess with wheat. They mess with corn.
Little Boy Blue, blow your horn.
They mess at night. They mess at dawn.
All day they roam, they roam, they roam.
Little Boy Blue, blow your horn--
blow it!--till the cows come home.

Hill Triolet

Every day we climbed the hill,
Jack said, sinking into my couch.
Till the day we took a spill,
every day we climbed the hill.
What are you doing? You're no Jill,
though I've wondered once or--ouch!
Every day we climbed the hill,
Jack said, sinking into the couch.

George Held's Review of "Payday Loans"

George Held is the Co-editor Emeritus of The Ledge Poetry & Fiction Magazine, the outfit that published and nominated my poem "Brother" for the Best New Poets Anthology 2007. His review of Payday Loans, in Home Planet News, is mixed:

What are the odds that a gay Singaporean would or could publish a book of sonnets inspired by Paul Goodman (1911-72)? In Goodman's day, nil; in 2007, low. Yet for its debut chapbook, Poets Wear Prada has produced this beautifully designed and printed collection of thirty sonnets, one for every day of April, presumably 2005. Each poem bears the date as its title. Thus the first poem is "April 1, Friday," and in it the speaker asks "Mr. Certain Death" to "lend me thirty," with the promise, "You'll get them back on my payday." This is the payday loan that gives the book its title. Note that Koh uses "them" to refer to "thirty," an example of his sometimes unidiomatic English.