Showing posts from July, 2009

Call for Submissions for Reginald Shepherd Memorial Poetry Prize

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS (ONLY 3 DAYS LEFT TO ENTER): The 2009 Reginald Shepherd Memorial Poetry Prize. Final judge: Carl Phillips. Deadline: 8/1/09. Prizes include $300, $50, and $25 gift certificates to Powell's Books and publication of winning poems in Knockout.


Readers' reviews of "Equal to the Earth"

Three brief reviews of my book on Lulu.

Change. No Change.

What has changed in Singapore: another new shopping mall, called Ion, selling more Prada and YSL and their ilk; the loss of the old National Library building to a road tunnel; Clarke Quay made-over with posh restaurants and bars, including a huge club called Zirca; bigger traffic jams; greater animus against Christian proselytizing and intolerance; specialized schools like the NUS High School for Math and Science; ever more obvious presence of mainland Chinese in service jobs, and Singaporeans who keep commenting on it.
What has not changed in Singapore: political cant; Singapore soccer team crushed by Liverpool 5-0; homophobic laws, and gays who want to let sleeping dogs lie; more private condominiums; saccharine songs in the run-up to National Day; my poems to be vetted by the government before I could read them at Indignation; the weather; over-eating.

Iris N. Schwartz's "If I Should Try to Replace the Late, Great Stella Graciella"

I'll be up in the air tonight, and come down to land only on Friday at 6.30 AM, Singapore time. In the meantime, here's a delightful poem by Iris N. Schwartz, a poet I enjoy hearing on the NYC poetry scene.
If I Should Try to Replace the Late, Great Stella Graciella…by getting twocats, I would name themEros and Thanatos.More than likely, though,I will adopt just one,because I want a pet that pinesall day long for me.A singular human-felinebond sanctions no pussy-footing with a third.If I bring home one cat,I might name itEtch-A-Sketch,Gossamer,or Sven, becauseit would be indecorous,in the evening, calling out for Eros or Thanatos, alone.

Hedwig and Harry Potter

I was all ready to like Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), but found myself disliking it. A transsexual punk woman from East Berlin tours the US with her band, playing in diners rather than clubs, as she tells the story of her life and follows an ex-lover who stole her songs and became a teen idol. What could have been a complex look at an injured soul became a me-me biopic. For Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell, who also directed, and wrote the book with Stephen Trask), the world is divided into two camps: those who love me, and those who don't. Such narcissism is a potent subject, but the film does not acquire any distance from it for any analysis. The fall of the Berlin wall was a metaphor taken up the film sporadically. I am not a fan of punk rock, and the many numbers in the film, sung live by Mitchell over a pre-recorded band mix, did not change my mind.
I have not read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and think that if I had done so the movie, directed by David Yates, wo…

Now I am on Brooklyn TV too

from George Spencer, the indefatigable host and producer of the Poetry Thin Air Cable Show:
Brooklyn Poets & Others;Hopefully we are up and going with B-CAT.We will be on at 5:30 PM every Wednesday thanks to the hard work of Iris Berman, our Brooklyn Producer and Doer of Magic in organizing this.This Wednesday is Jee Leong Koh and Miriam Stanley. They're on 35, 42, 68 and 83.If you want to watch it via the internet stream go THE VLC PLAYER THEN GO TO BCAT online Now that you're on BCAT, LAUNCH BCAT 2 PLAYER4. If it asks you to choose an application, check the VLC you just downloaded5. The VLC player will pop up but the show won't play until you press the forward arrow.Stay TunedGeorge

Francis Bacon at the Met

I saw again last night the huge Bacon retrospective at the Met. I had been dreading a second look because I had read some less than worshipful reviews in the meantime, and I wondered how they would affect another encounter with the works. I am glad to report that my worship has cooled down, not to disappointment, but to a strong admiration for the painter. It has become reasonable.
It is not easy to be reasonable with Bacon, because his paintings elicit--strive to elicit, in fact--visceral reactions. That contorted, broken body on the divan: if you don't submerge your eyes in its pain, you will only see the ridiculous melodrama--the faulty epistemology--of paint imitating blood and semen. It's no longer a surprise to see modern works splattered with blood and semen--and shit--but Bacon is more painterly than that. The effect must be achieved through paint. That intransigency is a strength. No collages for him, no "real-world" objects. He relies on photographs but use…

New at the Morgan

Many interesting items at the exhibition, "New at the Morgan: Acquisitions since 2004." An Irving Penn photograph of T. S. Eliot has the poet seated, cross-legged, and hiding his hands behind him. Another Penn photograph has Norman Mailer sprawled on a chair, crotch defying the viewer. A Diane Arbus photo of Auden and Marianne Moore, arm-in-arm, taken at an Auden reading. A letter from Eliot to a college pal when both were in their late twenties, and Eliot was already famous includes a jokey poem about buggery at the altar. A letter from Robert Frost to Conrad Aiken about a tennis date, which reminded me his stricture against writing without meter. A letter from Henry James to Zola supporting the latter's public protest in the Dreyfus affair. An early draft of "In the White Giant's Thigh" by Dylan Thomas: his handwriting is, surprisingly, small and neat. A still life drawing, with chocolaterie, by Matisse showing the impact of van Gogh's draughtsmanship…

Poetry Thin Air Cable Show

A message from George Spencer, who hosts the Poetry Thin Air Cable Show. I'm on it on July 22.

Poets, Friends of Poetry Thin Air,

Tune in to our Poetry Thin Air Cable Show early Wednesday 12:30am to 1:00am (eastern time) for great interviews with George Spencer and guest poets, plus sharp video work by Mitch Corber.

This July 22, we feature Miriam Stanley and Jee Leong Koh. The show will be aired on MNN/Manhattan Neighborhood Network's Channel 67. Note: if you live outside Manhattan, or do but can't get MNN Ch 67, get the live internet stream of the show by following the instructions below.

PC USERS (2 steps)......
1. Download Windows Media Player here
2. Click on your channel 67 stream, here

MAC USERS (4 steps)......
1. Download Windows Media Player here
2. Download Flip4Mac Player for QuickTime viewing…

Nietzsche's "The Birth of Tragedy"

Nietzsche published this essay in 1872 at the age 27. He explains the birth of Greek Tragedy by focusing on the chorus, which existed before drama, and gave rise to it. The chorus, sung by satyrs, and devoted to the worship of Dionysus, was deeply associated with the god. Its dithyrambic music invited union with all of nature, and loss of individuation. When this music was cast into an image, in the form of the dramatic scenes, Tragedy was born. This clarification into image and persons Nietzsche associates with Apollo. The sweet calmness of the Greeks was Apollinian (Walter Kaufmann, the translator, follows Nietzsche's spelling), but Nietzsche's point is that we cannot fully appreciate Greek civilization if we do not understand the Dionysian passions it brought under control.
Less persuasively, Nietzsche associates the death of Greek Tragedy with Euripides. In the later playwright rose the spirit of Socrates, whose rationalism destroyed the power of the Greek myths. So Euripi…

Continuous suspension in the air

I first saw plans for the High Line at an Open House New York four years ago. Seeking to rescue the old freight train tracks from demolition, the plan was to transform the elevated tracks into a long narrow park winding its mid-air way, on the west side of Manhattan, from the Meatpacking District to the Clinton and Hell's Kitchen neighborhoods. The first section of the park, running from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, opened on June 9.
I visited it yesterday, with GAPIMNY, and saw the plans turned into reality. A stone walkway running in the middle of the park guides the strollers. The slots cut into the stone at various places echo the pattern of railway ties, much of which remains by both sides of the walk. The same pattern is repeated in the many benches placed at strategic points for interesting views. The walkway widens into common spaces at a few points. One such space, provided with theater seating, overlooks 10th Avenue.
The plants flanking the walkway are ones commonly …

Firsts in Death, Music, Art, and Poetry

TLS July 10, 2009
from Alex Burghat's review of Danielle Westerhof's "Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England":
The tight-knit relationship of body and soul was thought to continue even after death. The Church preached a connection between putrefaction and sin--whereas run-of-the-mill cadavers decayed, the bodies of the saints remained as incorrupt on Earth as their souls would be in Heaven. . . . Medieval nobles, Westerhof shows, extended this idea by seeking to conserve the form of their bodies, even in death. The crucial factor in this was the developing mindset of a new knightly caste which strongly valued and guarded its own physical prowess. So it was that the bodies which were preserved in life by ornate armour were, after death, preserved through embalming or (by the early thirteenth century) in stone effigy.
from Guy Dammann's review of the Aldeburgh Festival 2009:
Readers of Paul Griffiths's invaluable book Modern Music learn on the first page t…

Indignation V

Singapore's pride month, Indignation V, will take place from 30 July to 30 August 2009. The month-long celebration includes film screenings, plays, art shows, discussion panels, talks and literary readings. I will be reading from Equal to the Earth at the opening reception on August 1 (Sat).
That evening will also celebrate the launch of a booklet entitled "Coming Out" by Sayoni, the women's group, as well as the premiere of a short firm entitled "The Same Ties That Bind."

Not Live but Interrupted

On June 25 the National Theatre broadcast live its production of Racine's Phedre to 73 cinemas in London and 200 more around the world. I watched the film, with TCH and HS, at the BAM last Thursday. Not live, alas, but we still enjoyed the infrequent interruptions of satellite transmission. The show was sold-out, even after a second smaller cinema was opened to accommodate the excitement.
I think it is fair to say that the audience was less than impressed after the show. There was little spontaneous applause, unlike the enthusiasm reported by the Guardian's reviewer watching it live in London's Chelsea Cinema. I don't think the scattered applause at the BAM was due to the convention of not clapping after a movie. I have seen audiences clap wildly after a terrific film. The response was lukewarm towards the production itself.
Helen Mirren playing the Queen who has fallen in love with her step-son was good, but not revelatory. Her first entrance struck a note of such emo…

Autolatria, Fantasia and Habit

TLS July 3 2009
from Peter Hainsworth's review of SONGBOOK: The selected poems of Umberto Saba, translated by George Hochfield and Leonard Nathan:
Poets usually write about themselves, even when they are pretending not to. But few can have put themselves forward quite so much as Umberto Saba, the Triestine writer who has sometimes been rated one of Italy's best poets of the twentieth century and who, in his own opnion, was quite simply the greatest since Leopardi. What is strange is that the more you read Saba, the less the "autolatria" or self-worship, as Montale called it, seems off-putting. Rather than self-aggrandizement, it comes over more as an unstable, knowing series of self-projections, which the reader is implicitly asked to recognize and sympathize with and which, when everything goes well, give rise to poetry.
In 1921 Saba gathered together the considerable body of work he had already published as his Canzioniere, literally perhaps Songbook as Hochfield and…

Kartika Review's Inaugural Year Print Anthology

Asian American literary journal Kartika Review publishes its inaugural year print anthology. You can preview and buy the book here. I have a poem in it, "Childhood Punishments," which the journal nominated for the Pushcart. Fiction is edited by Christine Lee Zilka, Poetry by Sunny Woan, and Non-Fiction by Jason Wong.
From the journal website:
Kartika Review launched in September of 2007 as a national non-profit journal in support of the Asian American literary and arts community. We focus our efforts in two main directions: first, on challenging writers to bring forth innovative work that transforms preconceived limitations of "the multi-culti narrative" and second, on presenting creative writing that will cause readers to reconsider those preconceived limitations of "the multi-culti narrative."

Toni Morrison's "Beloved"

The novel is a brutal indictment of slavery. Its protagonist, Sethe, a runaway slave, tries to kill her children when their owner catches up with them, and she succeeds in killing a daughter. Beloved haunts Sethe's house 124, first as a ghost, and then, when Paul D, Sethe's fellow slave at Sweet Home, chases it out, returns in person. And so the plot itself embodies the novel's truth: slavery is not over even when it is over. Its horrific effects continue to lash the freed, who will never be free.
The novel moves by visiting and revisiting the past, as one character, and then another, recalls ("rememories") their enslaved life at Sweet Home, their escape, their attempt to live as freed slaves (to lay down the sword and shield, as the novel puts it). Common memories, of great pain and sorrow, bind those who share them, and exclude those who don't. Different memories delineate the different experiences of men and women, and so encompass different kinds of savage…

How Not To Be Inclusive

Drunken Boat celebrates its 10th anniversary by publishing ten folios of work, ranging from electronic arts to tribal people. Four of my poems appear in the folio, Arts in Asia. The folio presents a corollary to the anthology, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond, edited by Ravi Shankar, Tina Chang and Nathalie Handal. So electronic folio and printed book combine to form a kind of hybrid monster.
In his introduction to the folio, Shankar explains that the editors do not intend the book-folio to be "canonical the way cages are," but "open-ending, a pointing outwards rather than a closing down." His key words are inclusiveness and capaciousness. However, I think the choice of media is somewhat at odds with editorial intentions. A book, no matter how big, cannot be all-inclusive, and so it dictates a selection, and therefore a principle of selection. I have not read the anthology, but the folio's introduction does…

Facebook Page and Rainbow Reviews

I set up a Facebook Page for Bench Press this morning. If you have a Facebook account, you can be a Fan of the press by clicking here
JS tipped me off about Rainbow Reviews. A review site for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered books, it publishes new reviews every Sunday. Guidelines for author submission can be found on the website. It also has a separate authors promotion blog.

J. Bronowski's "The Ascent of Man"

Based on the BBC television series of the same name, The Ascent of Man charts the development of human civilization through the lens of scientific progress. Though clearly intended to be only an introduction to its subjects, the book is tremendously wide in scope, taking in paleontology, architecture, alchemy, industrialization, quantum physics and genetics; noticeably, it has little to say about psychology. It is organised in powerful thematic chapters that are also more or less chronological. So it begins by looking at human fossils in Chapter 1 Lower than the Angels, and ends by discussing John von Neumann and game theory in Chapter 13 The Long Childhood. Since the book was published in 1973, I expect its discussion of contemporary science (and perhaps historical events and figures) needs updating. But, as the chapter titles suggest, the book is not so much concerned with presenting up-to-date facts as with creating "a philosophy for the twentieth century which shall be all of…

PN Review and Chroma

Six of my "Translations of an Unknown Mexican Poet" appear in PN Review 188 (July-August 2009). The current issue is not online, but you can buy it there. If you subscribe to the website, you will find a rich archive of past issues. I am inordinately pleased about this publication. I do see myself writing primarily in, and out of, the English poetic tradition (hello, Shakespeare, Keats, Auden, Larkin, and Gunn!), and this publication makes a private conversation public to an English readership. Serendipitously, the "Translations" are written in the form of English sonnets.

A British connection: Chroma, Britain's leading gay lit/art journal, published a long, glowing review of Ganymede #4. It mentions generously all photographers and writers, and this is what it says about my poems:

It’s fitting that Jee Leong Koh’s poetry follows after Panichi’s photographs as Koh is in a dialogue with the visual arts as well. Simmering with violence and bodily harm, Koh’s poetry…

Lynn Nottage's "Ruined"

Last night TCH and I watched this harrowing play, directed by Kate Whoriskey, put up by Manhattan Theatre Club, at New York City Center Stage 1.

Based on interviews with the women victims of Congo's civil war, the play trains the spotlight on Mama Nadi (played by Portia) who runs a bar-and-brothel in a small mining town. The girls recruited to please the soldiers and miners are already victims of rape, and "ruin." The play does not make clear the difference between rape and ruin, but suggests that ruin involves some kind of genital mutilation beyond that of gang rape. Scarred and traumatized themselves, the girls invite the soldiers to "forget their regrets," as one song puts it (all lyrics also written by Nottage), in the bar. A shelter of sorts, the bar is soon invaded by the surrounding war.

What makes the bar so richly symbolic is that it is not only a shelter from violence, it is also a sanctuary from love, and its painful rejections. If violence cracks the …

Launch of Bench Press

Bench Press: poetry that exerts pressure at every point, and so achieves a momentary rest
Bench Press, an independent publisher of poetry, will be launched on July 4, 2009. On that day its website will go "live," and unveil its logo.
The press is pleased to announce its first title: Jee Leong Koh's Equal to the Earth.

Of Koh's book, Vijay Seshadri writes: "Jee Leong Koh is a vigorous, physical poet very much captured by the expressive power of rhythm, rhetoric, and the lexicon. He is also, paradoxically, a poet in pursuit of the most elusive and delicate human emotions. The contradiction is wonderful and compelling, and so are the poems."
You can read and hear a poem from the book on the press website, and purchase a copy of the book. 
Thank you.