Sunday, October 07, 2007

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. After all, I write sonnets myself. Then, still, prickling from the "poets wear prada" bizziness, I opened the pamphlet.

Now, after reading again and again Jee Leong Koh's fine poems, I want to stand on every street corner in every city and hand this chapbook to all who pass. Thankfully imperfect and patiently brilliant, this chapbook introduces a poet whose compassionate insightful voice deserves to be heard. Organized by time--each poem representing consecutive days during April 2005, America's National Poetry Writing Month--these 30 sonnets are indeed irreverent and smart but never supercilious or self-conscious, never sneering. And they never smirk. They are instead generous, honest, and lively--poems that illuminate the difficulties faced by a genuine poet alive in a world overflowing with bitterness and angst, a world angry with itself, that nonetheless can be (as these poems suggest) deeply ethical, tender and richly hopeful.

As introduction to his poems, Koh quotes the American poet, philosopher, and social critic Paul Goodman (one of the founders of Gestalt Therapy) who says that it is the "persistent attitude" of a poet that is the poem and that "the whole book is more [the] objective poem." Jee Leong Koh has successfully--and usefully--created such a gestalt and so I will not quote lines. I agree with Marie Howe. Buy this book, but contact the poet by email first: jeeleong.koh@gmail.com. My efforts to buy the book online were decidedly frustrating.


Tia wrote to me about her difficulties getting more copies of my book. Paypal gave her trouble. Select Bookstore, in Singapore, charged too much for shipping to the States. I mailed her five copies, for which she paid by check. Her persistence is immensely gratifying. She backed her words with actions.

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