Koh Jee Leong's debut collection — discounting his intriguing chapbook of sonnets, Payday Loans (Poets Wear Prada, 2007) — can fairly be described as overdue. Koh is no journeyman poet, and the best of these poems make important contributions to the Singapore lyric, such as it is. (One dares to dream that had this book been published sooner, we might even have been spared some of the past few years' more dismal entries in that overcrowded genre.) His liberal use of poem sequences and rigorous forms is also welcome, both being fairly thin on the ground here. Regrettably, the less accomplished of his poems lack grace as well as that beauty which comes with certain sorts of awkwardness. When technique fails in this way, there is very little to hold one's attention, for Koh's poetry, although highly literary, is not in any sense difficult. He speaks a language any experienced reader can understand; you can gobble up a poem of his in one go, which is all very well when the poem is good (which is often enough), but makes it all too clear when the poem is insubstantial. [Read more]
It is a relief, too, not to be discussed in terms of one's background, but simply to have it taken for granted.