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Showing posts from July, 2012

Flight tonight

Flying to Singapore tonight. I'll have to start packing soon. And mail off MC's book to TS for review. And get a haircut from my favorite barber at Woodside, and then lunch at Sripraphai. And buy presents from New York Historical Society, which was closed yesterday when I forgot that it would be and walked from 86th Street to 79th. I am really looking forward to spending time with my nieces, H and L. They must have grown so much since I last saw them. Now H is 8 and L is 4.

The summer is flying by, and taking me with it.

Raise the Chungking Express?

Watched Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express (1994) last week, and found in both the triumph of style over substance. The themes of both films are straightfoward--concubinage in the first, and lost love in the second; neither has anything new to add to its theme, except the exotic settings of 1920s China and Hong Kong in the 1990s. To make up for that lack, Zhang indulges in heavy symbolism whereas Wong shows off the trendy technique of shooting with a handheld camera.

Bound by the ritualistic structure of Zhang's film, Gong Li had barely the wiggle-room to develop the character of her Fourth Wife believably. The friendly Second Wife is discovered to be the villain of the piece while the hostile Third Wife ends up the victim. The plot is soap opera-ish.

In Wong's film, pretty boy Takeshi Kaneshiro is completely unconvincing as a cop. The business with the canned pineapple is laughable, rather than insightful, the stuff of teen…

"Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations"

Really enjoyed the Schiaparelli and Prada show "Impossible Conversations" at the Met yesterday. Civilized, subversive, intelligent. I liked it much more than the over-the-top spectacle of last year's Alexander McQueen.
The Met's Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, explores the striking affinities between Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, two Italian designers from different eras. Inspired by Miguel Covarrubias's "Impossible Interviews" for Vanity Fair in the 1930s, the exhibition features orchestrated conversations between these iconic women to suggest new readings of their most innovative work. Iconic ensembles are presented with videos of simulated conversations between Schiaparelli and Prada directed by Baz Luhrmann, focusing on how both women explore similar themes in their work through very different approaches.
The show was divided into seven themes: "Waist Up/Waist Down," "…

Sydney Theatre Company performs "Uncle Vanya"

With EN last night, I watched Sydney Theatre Company perform Chekhov's Uncle Vanya at the New York City Center. It was an excellent production that accented the tragedy with comic overtones, so that love and ambition appeared pathetic in both senses of that word. Astrove, the suave doctor, fell backwards from his perch on the windowsill while oratorizing. Yelena, the second wife of the Professor, played a silly prank on Sonya by pretending to see a figure in the window behind her step-daughter. When Vanya came in, trying to shoot Professor Serebryakov, Yelena rode on his back in order to stop him. He missed shooting Serebryakov a second time, and the failure seemed the culmination of a long string of bad jokes that fate had been playing on these people.

The director Tamás Ascher is reckoned to be one of the foremost interpreters of Chekhov. His experience with the absurdist drama of Ionesco and Witold Gombrowics certainly colored his take on the Russian. I liked very much his inst…

Events Line-up in Singapore's Pride month

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In its 8th edition this year, IndigNation, Singapore's Pride month, is "an annual showcase of Singapore LGBT community's multi-facetedness." Check out the Facebook page for the events line-up in August. The opening event, a screening of three short films followed by a panel discussion of LGBT history in Singapore, requires registration. The other events don't. They include discussions, readings and a Pink Picnic in the Botanical Gardens. The launch of my new chapbookThe Pillow Book is also part of the celebration.


Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance"

A deeply humane and beautifully written novel about India in 1975. Through the lives of four people, brought together in one household by chance, Mistry captures the ancient and modern cruelties of India and the power of ordinary Indians to endure. Living in an unnamed city by the sea, Dina, a young widow, has to struggle ceaselessly to maintain her own independence. Maneck is a college student who cannot forgive his parents for sending him away from their idyllic hill station. Ishvar and Om, uncle and nephew, are tailors fleeing from caste violence in their native village.

They will move from distrust to friendship to love, only when they tell one another their stories, the same way by which the reader gets to understand them. Mistry is, however, sensitive to the limits of storytelling. Sometimes, friendship is just not enough, and the novel, having brought them together, inexorably separates them as they confront growing up, marriage, political corruption, religious violence, the Em…

No Diagnosis

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.

The production of Macbeth by the National Theatre of Scotland that GH and I watched last night took the despairing speech above and made it literal. Set in a psychiatric ward, which filled the entire Rose Theater stage and so dwarfed any human action, the production starred Alan Cumming as a mental patient who played all the major roles of the play. Cumming put in a virtuosic performance, switching from character to character fluently, declaiming almost non-stop for 1 hour 45 minutes. But the virtuosity of the performance created a problem for me. I was so engrossed in looking out for the switches that I was never fully immersed in the drama. The characters might have been cleanly delineated by the actor but they were not fully inhabited. Could they be, by any single actor?

Perhaps the patient…

"To Rome with Love" and "Starry, Starry Night"

GH and I went with P and J last Saturday to watch Woody Allen's new film "To Rome with Love" at the Angelika. I liked it more than his last movie "Midnight in Paris." For one thing, the Rome movie, unlike the Paris one, did not hang on a single conceit, and an endless procession of semi-believeable mimicries of famous personalities of 1920s Paris. "Rome" consisted of four stories, unrelated in plot, but connected through the common themes of love, fame and aging. The best story had a pair of Italian newly-weds coming from the countryside to the Eternal City for the first time to meet the husband's influental relatives. For them Rome was a place of confusion but also of experience. They returned to their small town, wiser and surer of their rightful place. Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi were pitch-perfect as the hapless innocents.

Another story had Alec Baldwin finding his younger self (played by Jesse Eisenberg) in Rome when he was f…

Poem: "Life and Time"

Life and Time

life is one thing/and time something else
Hasina Gul, “Life and Time,” translated from Pashto by Sher Zaman Taizi

A dog bounding through the swirling smoke of sand stirred by its own running.

Poem: "Airplane Poems"

Airplane Poems

I have only now become acquainted with the meaning of migration.
Yasmeen Hameed, “I Am Still Awake”


You said, every Singapore poet has an airplane poem. Takeoff. Ascent. Window view. Turbulence. Landing. We are a race of travelers and write what we know, the illusion of reaching and leaving easily anywhere, the airplane, in the language of logistics, an airbridge.
Belting up, on my annual flight to Singapore, I think, migration is the opposite of travel. It initiates a break that one tries to stuff with one’s body, like a psycho pushing the bag of his victim into the back of his car. Or one tries it with flowers, a paper cone of gerberas
lighting the edge of the grave of every vanished place. Or else with airplane poems. Years I used to fall asleep the moment the plane took off and sleep until landing. Not any more. The belt pinches. The seat constricts. I’m kept awake by the cabin light and the body’s aches.

for Ruihe

Lyndall Gordon's "Lives Like Loaded Guns"

This is a biography of Emily Dickinson and an examination of who gets to say who she was after her death. On the Life, Gordon is at pains to dispel the legend of a retiring and reticent poet, an image so at odds with the poetry. Gordon shows that Dickinson used her correspondence as so many "lassoes" to grapple kindred spirits to her. A chapter is devoted to her love affair with Lord Judge, to whom Emily wrote expressively, even passionately, of her feelings. Regarding her brother Austin's adulterous relationship with Mabel Loomis Todd, Dickinson was prevented by her dependency on her brother from attacking the affair directly, but she wrote many subtly barbed letters to Mabel Todd and refused to see her at all, despite approaches by the latter. Emily, in Gordon's hands, appears as a fierce and uncompromising spirit. Her seclusion, Gordon argues persuasively, was not due to disappointed love, as legend would have it, but the stigma of epilepsy. The Fit, as coded in m…

Poem: "Carp Swimming"

Carp Swimming

this dissension into fish or birds
dg nanouk okpik, “For-The-Spirits-Who-Have-Rounded-The-Bend”


Because I can look for hours at carp swimming, red lightning, gracious torpedo, although bullfrogs croak for a groggy season, and mosquitoes breed irritation into fever, Aedes mosquitoes, flying rats, carriers of breakbone fever, water poison, although the Chinese water snake, crepuscular in its habit, olive brown, “a longitudinal stripe of dark salmon extending from head to tail,” is hunted and killed for manufacturing snake oil to cure arthritis, killed for being useful, because I can stare for whole days at carp swimming, although the willows bend their heads and cry for god knows what, because I can look at carp swimming and see the lightning, I have hope that I will survive the bullfrogs, the mosquitoes, and even the snares of snake oil makers, the hooked nets of usefulness, because I can look at carp, my gracious quarrel with the world, I will survive the depredations of the spirit and live …

Poem: "Homage to Emily Dickinson"

Homage to Emily Dickinson

Born—Bridalled—Shrouded—/In a Day—
Emily Dickinson, “Title divine—is mine!”

Survivors—all—they tell of Burns Inside the cell of Brain. The polish shines the—groping—breaks That lit—before—the grain.
There’s one—can blow apart and show What fits her for the Hit, The Aura of approaching—Sense Into household white—
To find the Fork—the Juncture found And travel—twisting—both Down to the Smallest Severance, Unspoused Lightning—unearthed—

DruidMurphy

Druid Theater Company, from Galway, is performing a cycle of three plays by Tom Murphy as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Director Garry Hines describes the order of the plays as an archaelogical dig to find out how the Irish got to where they are today. The three plays share the common theme of immigration. LW and watched the whole cycle yesterday.

The first play "Conversations on a Homecoming" exploited the Irish genius for talk. Michael comes home from the United States to a small town in Galway in the 70s, and is forced by his drinking pals to realize the failure of his acting ambitions. I thought Marty Rhea was weak as Michael when this play required him to be convincing as the eternal optimist and romantic. Garrett Lombard who played the cynical teacher was much more believeable.

Next was "A Whistle in the Dark," the play that brought Tom Murphy to prominence, and comparisons with other Angry Young Men of the period. Niall Buggy was stupendous as the fat…

Poem: "In Japanese, "longing for springtime""

In Japanese, “longing for springtime”

I feel as a weight almost too heavy to bear
Tzu Pheng Lee, “Seki Shun”


In your last picture of me, I was carrying a machine-gun, a reluctant 22-year-old recruit.
Now, at 42, I am more likely to chaperone a martini amongst a different troop.
I prefer the martini but I want that strong young man.

for Debbie, on reconnecting after 20 years

Poem: "Temple Art"

Temple Art

from here to the base of the statue is quite a long way
Diana Bridge, “Sequence, Sarnath”

The scorpion, ink black, looks out from his muscled back, its eyes pierced and piercing, its tail poised to strike.
How like the temple guardians of China. With sure violence, invisible noise, they leave in you a grit of lion.
Look too long at scorpion jet and you are left with a drop of poison: you are in the forecourt. This is as far as you get.

Travels in China

Second journey to China, from June 9-30. This time, Beijing was the first leg of the journey, and so I saw it with fresher eyes and spirit. Again, I like visiting the Temple of Heaven most, for its atmosphere of worship, not completely disappeared from the remaining structures. Square Earth, Round Sky. Basic shapes and symmetries. As other tourists left the compound towards the end of the afternoon, the place became ever more quiet, and so recovered its sacrosanct nature. The Summer Palace, which I visited for the first time, was truly impressive, especially for the temple built on a tremendous rectangular rock base, but the Temple of Heaven was much, much older. It was an ancient place of sacrifice.

Returning to Kunming felt, to some degree, like returning home, if I could ever feel at home in China. I changed the program so that we would practice tai chi with enthusiasts at Green Lake Park on a Sunday morning. So glad I did. Tai chi was the combination of strength and gentleness tha…

Short, Fast and Deadly

My sequence of poems "Reproductive Rites" is featured in the June issue of Short, Fast and Deadly. The sequence was written by incorporating four consecutive words from each poem of Julia Alvarez's sonnet sequence "33." I am grateful to editor Joseph A. W. Quintela for featuring my work in his innovative magazine for short verse.

Matt Shoard wrote a highly imaginative analysis of the vowel-sound "o" in my poem "Razminovenie, or Nonmeeting" over at the blog of Cha. The Hong Kong-based journal, edited by Tammy Ho, first published the poem, which then appeared in my second book Equal to the Earth.