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Showing posts from 2014

Haiku

the wind picks up
on the last day of the year
dry crinkled leaves

Dividing Lines and Sidelines

TLS December 19 & 26, 2014

from Jacques Rupnik's review of Michael Zantovsky's Havel: a Life:

It was in the 1970s that Havel established himself as the leading figure of Czech dissidence, both as a political thinker and as the prime inspirer of the human rights movement that became known as Charter 77. His "Letter to Gustáv Husák" of 1975 was, of course, not a letter to the party boss but a lengthy and profound essay on governance through fear and the way "we go in for various kinds of external adaptation as the only effective method of self-defence". This idea of habituation and critique of the "as if" behaviour prevalent in society was futher developed in Havel's famous essay of 1978, "The Power of the Powerless". In the post-totalitarian system, he argued, "the dividing line is not just between the party-state and society . . .  it runs de facto through each person, for everyone in his own way is both victim and supporter…

Begin Again, Les Enfants Terrible, a Haiku

Begin Again (2013), watched last Saturday, would work well on stage but the music performances would have to be much better if they are "live." Film glamorizes and idolizes, so that the mediocre acquires a kind of mystification through focus and angle. The film is worth watching for the performances of Mark Ruffalo as a has-been music producer, and of Keira Knightley, the unrecognized talent. It is written and directed by John Carney.

On Sunday, I watched Les Enfants Terrible (1950), directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, based on a novel by Jean Cocteau. Everything rests on the poetry, for the story is highly unrealistic and its characters strongly improbable. But the poetry of the images is arresting. The discovery of the dead mother in her room. The siblings' own room, a ramshackle hideout, where they could enact their games of fantasy. The final image of the bamboo curtains crashing down. As Elisabeth, Nicole Stéphane is magnetic. Edouard Dermithe, who plays her brother P…

Christmas Gifts

Gift exchange after a hearty Christmas lunch is a golden ritual at my lover’s parents. Having joined in the dusky afternoon twice, in the village of Cleves, twenty-one miles from Cincinnati, I thought I knew the form but was taken aback with delight when I opened a flat square box and found a bolo tie from his father. He had made it with braided brown and black leather at the ends of which coiled silver aiguillettes.

the slide of the bolo tie
is made of peach wood
from the tree that died

At the airport, as I thanked him for the stay, this veteran of World War II, a teacher of industrial arts, an avid card player, a father of five and lately a great-grandfather, said, Jee, you are like one of my sons. I did not mishear him, for my lover’s mother, knowing her husband’s deafness and darkening taciturnity, was so surprised that she repeated it to her son when he called her to say we are safely home.

Roberto Bolano's 2666

Finished reading 2666 and now I'm ready for 2015! It's a masterpiece from a master storyteller. I was completely absorbed by the different stories, the main ones and the many "digressive" others that enter so quietly and then leave with a memorable exit. The Part about the Critics, about a love quadrangle, is almost mathematical in the working out of the plot. The Part about Amalfitano is an acute psychological portrait of fear. The Part about Fate moves like an American TV series. The Part about the Crimes is almost unbearable to read as it recounts, like a police procedural, the serial killings of women in the city of Santa Theresa. The last section, The Part about Archimboldi, is the biography of a writer. Oscar Fate, a black reporter from New York is at the center of of his story, just as his section is at the center of book, his name raising obviously questions about fate and choice. Part 2 balances Amalfitano's fear of losing his daughter against Part 4'…

On-line Pillow

THE PILLOW BOOK is now out in Kindle! Thank you, Team Awai Books, for turning the book of zuihitsu electronic!

Haiku

in the winter sun
a group of leaves glow
like prized marbles

Jason Irwin's "Where You Are"

The virtues of Jason Irwin's poetry are again on full display in his latest work, a chapbook titled simply Where You Are (NightBallet Press). The feeling for the dailiness of life's disappointments. The devotion to a plain yet eloquent diction, associated with the working class. The discovery of metaphor in the course of living and writing. I have been reading Jason's work since we were together in the Creative Writing MFA at Sarah Lawrence College, and this new book strikes me as a powerful argument for persisting in the same vein. There are, however, at least two new features in this small volume. One is the addition of prose poems to a body of work mostly written in supple free verse. These prose poems provide formal variation, but they lose the intentness of Irwin's line breaks. The other is the subject of a marriage gone south. True to its gentle spirit, there is no recrimination or hysteria here, but an aching remembrance of loss. Where You Are, it turns out, is …

Haiku

a cocker walking
on uncut claws
clicks like a clock

Haiku

a bowl of noodle soup
like this long winter
i paid too much for

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï

Was captivated by Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï (1967) last night. Alain Delon plays Jef Costello, a contract killer who finally and ritually plans his own suicide. Beautiful minimalist cinematography, with a spare palette of silver and blue. Minimal dialogue too. But there is a less noticeable extravagance too. It seems that the whole of the Paris police force is out to get him. As one imdb comment notes, Costello is not just a child of Sartre. The killing of Reyes, in its magic impossibility, is pure Nabokov.

Haiku

falling off-kilter
on the corner fruit stand
snow at five pm

New York Festival of Song

Attended the concert last night with HA. Kaufman Music Center and New York Festival of Song present "Harlem Renaissance" in song and poetry. Julia Bullock sang soprano, Darius de Haas tenor, and James Martin baritone. On the piano was NYFOS was Artistic Director Steven Blier and Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett.

The Joint is Jumpin'
Music by Thomas "Fats" Waller; lyrics by Andy Razaf and J. C. Johnson
Sung by Ensemble

A Porter's Love Song to a Chambermaid
Music by James P. Johnson; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Mr. Martin

Aint'-cha Glad
Music by Thomas "Fats" Waller; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Ms. Bullock

L'il Gal
Music by J. Rosamond Johnson; poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Sung by Mr. Martin

Death of an Old Seaman
Music by Cecil Cohen; poem by Langston Hughes
Sung by Ms. Bullock

The Breath of a Rose
Music by William Grant Still; poem by Langston Hughes
Sung by Ms. Bullock

Day Dream (a concert highlight for me)
Music by Billy Str…

Haiku

this townhouse
a rest stop in the itinerary
of the stone

Haiku

under the sun
snow falls from trees
losing more of my eyesight

Draft of Preface for "Shadows of Japan"

The art of the haiku is the art of the unsaid. Saying so is already saying too much.

The Great Fish swims in the Great Ocean and the little fishes cannot understand it. How can it plunge to a depth of a thousand miles and still live? I can only dip in my pond to the distance of ten times my length. It cannot be true. And then they hear that the Great Fish changes into a Great Bird, and, as a bird, flies ten thousand leagues in a day. Now we understand, they say, it has been a bird all along.

After Zhuangzi

Haiku

what do i have
to do with clouds
but look

Haiku

in the sunlit corner
of the neue galerie
a mandala of sparrows

Let us give thanks for celluloid

Watched a slew of movies during Thanksgiving stay with Ty and Di. On Wednesday, when we arrived, we watched an hour of the stand-up comedian Louis C. K., before turning in. Across the Universe (2007), directed by Julie Taymor, is visually entrancing, although the boy-meets-girl story is all too predictable. The fun here is hearing the Beatles songs mesh with the loosey-goosey plot. Evan Rachel Wood plays upper-class American Lucy and Jim Sturgess plays the working class Liverpudlian Jude.

Another visual entertainer, but in a very different way, Getting Go, the Go Doc Project (2013) is framed as a video documentary by a college student named Doc (Tanner Cohen), of his crush on NYC go-go dancer Go (Matthew Camp). Written and directed by Cory Krueckeberg, this is a better gay movie than most. The acting is believable. I love all the split-screens and frames-within-frames that convey the multiplicity and simultaneity of on-line life. After this, I'm off to stalk Matthew Camp on Facebo…

Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus

A thought-provoking set of essays. The main writer Donald Low is persuasive about how widening income inequality in Singapore is destroying the social compact between the government and the people. He argues for income redistribution and the strengthening of social nets, and against the shibboleths that stand in the way, such as elite belief in trickle-down economics, moral hazard, and decreased global competitiveness. He wants policy-makers to look hard at the empirical evidence, instead of being confirmed in their prejudices by past experience raised to the status of ideology.

Low is particularly good at using insights from cognitive research to explain why the governing elite is so slow to adapt to a fast-changing environment. His reliance on such findings is telling. He mainly believes that governmental failure is primarily a failure in thinking. Correct the thinker, and he will correct his policies and processes. At one point, Low assures the reader that the governing elite that …

Haiku

winter berries
provide birds that stay
a last supper

Lydia Kwa's novel "Pulse"

As it self-identifies, Pulse is not a whodunnit, but a whydunnit. A young man kills himself, and his mother's ex-lover, a woman who migrated with her own parents to Toronto, Canada, may be the only one to understand why he does so. Natalie, an acupuncturist, shares with the dead Saleem an interest in kinbaku, the erotic art of Japanese rope bondage. She is only willing to do the tying, whereas Saleem relishes the pain-pleasure of being tied. Both long, however, to transcend their bodies, the sites of their trauma, while knowing that the body is the only means to such transcendence.

The body is also the limit of our knowledge of one another. We have to interpret, after all, one another by means of visual and verbal cues. Chris Lee, a Canadian critic quoted on the back cover, puts it well: "Pulse relentless explores the limits of knowability--cultural boundaries of knowledge, the seemingly impassable divide between one person and another, and the temporal gaps that render memor…

Haiku

from the movie house
into the bright fall day
are they airsick too


After watching The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 yesterday.

Haiku

january snow
in the navel of november
what will new year bring

Haiku

finding
neruda's water glasses
by the light of lemons

Haiku

you can say
anything in a haiku
except fuck you

Haiku

Reading Zakir Hussain Khokhon’s poem “Pocket 2,” which won the first Singapore migrant workers poetry competition, I was moved by its heady fragrance.


in Shahbag
the bakul tree flowers
out of season

Haiku

inside coils of clay
fired by the onggi master
fermented cabbage


for Michelle Slater

Lee Kang-hyo, 'Onggi Master"

Haiku

fall leaves by the road
blaze brighter than spring flowers
november eaves

Dysclosure, the openness to the multiple

TLS October 24, 2014

from Jean-Pierre Boulé's review of David Caron's The Nearness of Others: Searching for tact and contact in the age of HIV:

Self-disclosure lies at the heart of Caron's book. The argument is accessible, but also intellectually sophisticated and convincing. Caron's experience has taught him that coming out as HIV-positive means exclusion from the gay community at large, hence the paradox of being closeted as HIV-positive. However, the author starts to rethink disclosure, outside of regimes of truth, policing and control (references are made to both Michel Foucault and Jacques Rancière) so that contact between the directly affected and the indirectly affected is possible. He coins the term "dysclosure", "closure vulnerable to dysfunction", as a mechanism for sharing, premissed on equality. In response to questions about one's status, he suggests the answer "undetectable" (referring to one's viral load) as an exemp…

Haiku

the moon in madrid
is the oldest you will see
says my marco polo

Haiku

big round pear
fresh from the fridge
first ice on the road

Haiku

the wind is rising
i'm listening to the dark tints
of a crow etching

Haiku

so many crinkled faces
around a few crinkled stalks
of discount choy sum

Haiku

in the 4 o'clock dark
the electric streetlights shine
like the eyes of pike

Haiku

on the dining table
yellow, red and brown leaves
a nōkanshi has been

Haiku

the thought of losing
the ritual re-enactment
of the sun setting

Haiku

like a hangover
it thickens my tongue
the thought of losing

Haiku

grinding my teeth
down to the white pith
tasting sugar cane

Haiku

Judges Gwee Li Sui, Leong Liew Geok and Boey Kim Cheng awarded the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize (English poetry category) to Joshua Ip and Yong Shu Hoong. On the morning of hearing the result, I was very disappointed. While I was turning the disappointment over in my mind on my way to school, a jogger, silver-haired, in his fifties, ran past me without shoes.

a sore loser i'd start writing in spanish if i can run barefoot

The Real Thing

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Watched Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" at the American Airlines Theatre yesterday. Directed by Sam Gold, the production boasted of stars such as Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Cynthia Nixon (in the leads) and Josh Hamilton. They were all over-shadowed by Ronan Raftery (Billy), who spoke his words with emotional clarity and distinguished relish, and whose physical presence lit up the stage. The first half was tedious, but the second half picked up, mostly because of a terrific monologue spoken by McGregor comparing good writing to a well-made cricket bat, and because of Raftery's performance.



Ronan Raftery. Photo from United Agents.

Haiku

the lavish slant
of a himalayan pine
solicits the eye

Haiku

With some friends from out of town, we walked the High Line yesterday, a cold fall day. After running parallel to the Hudson for blocks and blocks, this most linear of parks curves in its third and final section toward the river and floats over the storage and maintenance yards for Long Island Rail Road.

at hudson yards
the trains laid down like rain
in hiroshige

Poetry Reading at BGDQD

Read on October 19 with Eduardo Martinez and Adam Fitzgerald at an event organized by Eduardo Corral under the auspices of the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division. The Bureau has relocated to the LGBT Community Center. It still has a wonderful selection of books and prints. Greg and Donny were such genial hosts. Eduardo asked me two good questions about some remarks that I made in interviews. One remark was about trying to find an English word that means "soul-body." Asked if I have discovered a poet who comes closest, I mentioned Cyril Wong and described his poetry of meditation. What did I mean when I said that I was a lyric poet living in an anti-lyric age? I meant that our age is justifiably suspicious of the unified and universal lyric self, but as a lyric poet, I yearn to be unified and universal, or, to put it another way, I am suspicious of the suspicions against the lyric. Thanks very much, Eduardo, for putting together this lovely reading. It was very kind of…

Haiku

the wind is rising
and crashing on the coast
of my ear

Haiku and Pub

when the sun drops
another view of fuji-san
holding up the feet



In PN Review 220, a celebration of Eavan Boland. Many tributes, from Sapphire, Mark Doty, Paula Meehan, Tara Bergin, Colm Tóibín, Yusef Kommunyakaa, and Sandra M. Gilbert, among others. I have a small piece that looks at Boland's sense of humor in "The Fire in Our Neighborhood."

Haiku

eating too much too late
they say, can give you dreams
black bears in new jersey

Love Is Strange

Movie watching is out-stripping movie reviewing, even movie remembering. The only solution is a list, before everything dissolves away.

Ida (2013) is about a Polish novitiate who discovers from her only living relative that she is Jewish. The film is directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and stars Agata Trzebuchowska as Anna/Ida, and Agata Kulesza as Wanda, her free-living, depressed aunt. Beautiful cinematography. Absorbing narrative, except for the rather facile ending.

In Cloudburst (2011), two old lesbians escape to Canada to get married. They pick up a young male drifter and teach him a few valuable life lessons. Written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald, the movie stars Olympia Dukakis as Stella and Brenda Fricker as Dot. Ryan Doucette is the young hitchhiker with the symbolic name of Prentice. Heartwarming and convincing.

Guy and I watched Love Is Strange (2014) at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. After Ben and George got married, George is fired from his teaching job. Both have to fall b…

Haiku

from google hangout
to black bears in new jersey
a quick noisy lunch

Haiku

what stops me in my track
an overhanging branch of leaves
the colors of tiger

Haiku

Yesterday, some friends and I hiked to the top of Breakneck Ridge. The weather was full of changes. The clouds were white one moment, and black-gray another. It was sunny, and then it was raining. The wind blew at us at the top. At the bottom the air was quiet and still.

sunny october day
under a rock a lizard molts
rolling up its sleeves

tramping ungainly
down the stony channel the stream
tingles in my feet

 how many gay boys
does it take in Cold Spring
to screw an antique bulb?

Haiku

the hunter's trail
to the top of bear mountain
i didn't take

Haiku

right after the rain
little birds peck at the dirt
e-a-t e-a-t e-a-t

Haiku

all through the night
the sound of rushing waters
pachinko parlors

haiku

the tall blonde tourist
puts her bag down by the tree
where the dog pissed

Haiku

the blue bucket
of the morning's bubble man
makes a dark moon

Haiku

in the fall evening
green flies glint
like mica in granite

Haiku

fall foliage
lodged in the line of trees
cheese in the teeth

Alex Kerr's "Dogs and Demons"

Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons (2001) is a polemic against the wrong direction that Japan has taken in in the closing decades of the last century. The charge sheet looks serious. Excessive construction is destroying the environment. Bureaucrats are enriching themselves at the expense of national interest. The country is piling up its national debt but losing its technological edge. Schools are teaching rote-learning and social conformity. Culture has degenerated into manga and anime, plastic flower-arrangement and context-less architecture. The unremittingly bleak picture makes me doubt that I visited the same country last summer that the author is describing. Still, I remember things in retrospect that fit with Kerr's picture. The Kamo River in Kyoto was barricaded on both sides by concrete embankment. Pachinko parlors contributed to the noise pollution in Shinjuku in Tokyo, where we stayed. Manga took up more than half of the shelves of the bookshop in one train station. The cu…

Haiku

little urban sprawl
between tokyo and kyoto
the bullet train is fast

Haiku

Broadway souvenirs
in a miniature bar
Les Misérables

Haiku

the Kamo river
cuddled by cement shoulders
hello, hello kitty

Haiku

a tree fell in the night
what does it matter
what kind of tree?

Sky Farm Fortress and Starry Island

Chelsea galleries walkabout with GH, S and R last Saturday.

At Jack Shainman Gallery, Nick Cave's series Rescue "comprises sculptures that incorporate found ceramic dogs sitting on furniture within elaborate grottos or dreamlike dens," decorated with branches, bead necklaces and fake birds.

At Mike Weiss Gallery, Tom Fruin's Color Study, an exhibition of new work: "structures, illuminated from within, flash and dim to their own internal rhythms becoming beacons of color and temples of light dotting city skylines and community parks...." I like the gridded colors of a cover for a water tank.

At Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Jorge Queiroz's "large-scale drawings suggest surrealist landscapes or dreamscapes in vibrant color and amorphous forms."

At Mary Boone, Jacob Hashimoto's Sky Farm Fortress was full of childish wonder.

*

In the evening, the launch of Starry Island: New Writing from Singapore at the new St. Mark's Bookshop, part of Manha…

Shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize

My collection of zuihitsu The Pillow Book has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. It joins five other works in the shortlist for the category of English Poetry. The other works are Cordelia by Grace Chia, The Viewing Party by Yong Shu Hoong, Circle Line by Theophilus Kwek, Tender Delirium by Tania De Rozario and Sonnets from the Singlish by Joshua Ip. I am grateful to Michael Schmidt for first publishing the work in PN Review, and to Kenny Leck and the Math Paper Press team for publishing it as part of their Babette's Feast chapbook series.

The prizewinner will be announced at the Awards Ceremony, during the Singapore Writers Festival in Singapore on November 4.

Haiku

the wind is rising
the shadow of the pine
holds its ground

Haiku

the boy in the window
at the back of the school bus
a cricket in a jar

Haiku

to make a living
on the slope of a volcano
mining sulphur

Haiku

old green leaves
on the frangipani tree
beside the bulldozer

Haiku

Tender Delirium 
I close the book in bed
the moon is up

Haiku

how many writing spiders
did the wild pheasant eat
before ending on my plate?

Haiku

In summer's heart
the haiku
of no haiku

Several Theories, Four, Lots!

TLS August 15, 2014
from Michael Hofmann's review of Stephen Parker's Bertolt Brecht: A literary life:

Brecht was extremely hard-working, got up early, wrote every day, and believed writing was a function of the health he actually didn't enjoy.   *  Often too, there is something to be dropped or switched. "A contract is good, you can always break it", was a piece of advice in a particular situation, but then any arrangement and any idea can be picked apart or reversed with Brecht's mental agility. "I'm continually forgetting my opnions", he wrote, as if he cared. And then, instead: "A man with one theory is lost. He need several of them, four, lots!" - which of course got him in trouble later on, when he was at the mercy if people who had precisely one theory - or rather, one certainty - and guarded its purity against whatever they saw him as advancing, avant-gardism, sectarianism, formalism, Proletkult, cosmopolitanism, you name it. …

Amanda Lee Koe's "Ministry of Moral Panic"

There is a deftness of touch, a sureness of intent, a knowingness of accomplishment that makes it hard to believe that Ministry of Moral Panic is Amanda Lee Koe's first book of fiction. She has marked out in virgin territory a realm of her own, a kingdom of weird, non-conforming, stubborn passions in Singapore. And she has done so without resorting to the usual pieties of understanding and tolerance. She has looked directly at the contorted subject and drawn every contortion that she could see. Love between a senile Chinese high-society woman and a successful but aging Malay rocker with three wives? Read the opening story "Flamingo Valley." Art as vengeance by a Chinese Singaporean artist for unrequited love from an Iranian Muslim reporter? Read "Carousel & Fort." The manipulations of love? Read "Pawn" to find who is making use of whom, the middle-aged Chinese Singaporean office virgin or the Chinese Chinese food-stall boy. The attraction between …

In Memory of Bob Hart, gentleman-poet

I learned, with great sadness, from Eric Norris and a FB post by Jane Omerod that Bob Hart passed away on the morning of August 13, Saturday. I met Bob Hart at a Pink Pony reading at Cornelia Street Cafe, NY, in 2005. Or rather, it'd be more accurate to say that I heard him first. The mellifluous voice at the mic was strikingly different from anything that had gone before, and It made me sit up and take note. You know the sensation when you know you are hearing poetry, and not prose? Bob Hart never read any prose; he is, was, all poetry. The writing was lyrical, exploratory, musical and witty. It was inspired by the greats like Shakespeare and Donne. I got to know the man a little better when I edited and published his second book, Lightly in the Good of Day. When I asked to see his poems, he gave me a cardboard box filled with tissue-thin sheets of paper, covered with his slanty handwriting in blue or black ink. Over a decade of writing. He dated his poems, and the revisions, and…

Reading at Booktique

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Waiting for a friend, I walked into The Cathay, in Singapore, and stumbled upon Booktique, the pop-up bookstore owned and run by the inimitable Anthony Koh Waugh, who promptly invited me to read at the closing party of his present shop. So I did last night, and sold six more copies of my Pillow Book. Zed Yeo read next from his collection of hybrid writing, Unapologetically Insane Tales, the first Singapore book to be produced through crowdfunding. Zed was a very engaging storyteller. It was fun to see shoppers popping into the shop to hear me and Zed read, and to speak with many writers unfamiliar to me. Anthony is a great supporter of writers. After a well-deserved break, he will set up shop in another location. Do watch out for the next iteration of Booktique, the writers' bookshop.






Launch of Japanese/English Edition of "The Pillow Book" in Singapore

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Thanks, everyone, for coming out to the book launch on Wednesday. It was lovely to see so many familiar faces, and quite a few new ones too. Thank you, William Phuan and Aliah Ali from The Arts House, for hosting the event in such a professional and helpful manner. Thank you, my publishers Matthew Chozick, Keisuke Tsubono and Midori Ohmuro, for flying all the way from Tokyo to lend a touch of glamor to the event. Thank you, Keisuke, for reading so beautifully in Japanese. Thank you, Chong Li-Chuan, for your musical piece, which touches the surface and sounds the depths, an aim shared by my little book. Thank you, my parents Robert Koh and Susan Cheong, for coming to the event, and for getting the Bengawan Solo kueh-kueh (they were much heavier than we expected). Thank you, my love Guy Humphrey, for your support and encouragement. You always step in when help is needed. I read this extract last night for us. Happy birthday, dear.

If the tree were blooming, a close examination would sho…

Book Launch in Tokyo

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Of all the readings that I've done, yesterday's book launch at Tokyo's Editory stands out for its combination of charm, warmth and sincerity. It was a special delight to meet Mariko Hirasawa, who illustrated my Pillow Book. Mariko, thank you for expressing so well the feelings that you received from the work. You spoke with wonderful animation during the interview. Matthew Chozick, a writer cannot ask for a better publisher. You are always so respectful and enthusiastic. Midori, you touched me when you remembered "Kimiko" from the book, having read the collection three times. Keisuke, I look forward to reading again with you at the launch in Singapore on August 13, and in New York in November. Thank you for introducing me to your loved ones and friends. I am honored to call you my friends.





You can purchase the book here.

July 26 Reading at BooksActually

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Math Paper Press re-issues my first book of poems Payday Loans in a beautiful new edition designed by Shellen Teh, with a new critical preface by Joshua Ip and an interview with me conducted by Chloe Miller for Eclectica Magazine.




To launch the book, I read at BooksActually's reading series "An Evening with..." on Saturday, July 26. Ian Chung moderated the session, asking me questions about each of my books that I read from. I was really pleased to see familiar and new faces in the audience. I won't remember everyone, so my apologies in advance, but here are the faces that flash across my mind: Robert Yeo, Leong Liew Geok, Toh Hsien Min, Zhang Ruihe, Shawn Chua, Tania De Rozario and her lovely partner, Chong Li Chuan, Boedi Widjaja and his gracious wife, Weetz and his partner .... Shawn took the photo of me and Kenny's cat.



Speakeasy #14 Gwee Li Sui and Koh Jee Leong

Read with Gwee at Speakeasy #14 organized by Pooja Nansi at Artistry Cafe last night. Video taken by Alvin Pang.




Open Letter Regarding the National Library’s Book Ban

Open Letter Regarding the National Library’s Book Ban

What the National Library has done—banning, and pulping, three children’s books because they depict untraditional families—horrifies and saddens me. I love the National Library, first in its original Stamford Road edition, and then in its modern translation in Bras Basah, for its vast repository of knowledge and pleasure. But the “generous giver,” as poet Edwin Thumboo calls it in his poem on the old library, has now taken away with a closed fist, and not just taken away, but will destroy the books.
I feel the destruction on the pulse because I identify as gay. All the ways in which the state, supported by an apparent majority of citizens, criminalize and discriminate against the LGBT community have not hit home as hard as this act of vandalism. The object to be pulped is so innocuous. And Tango Makes Three, one of the three books, is about a pair of male penguins hatching an egg and caring for the chick. It is about love and fami…

SLF in The Straits Times

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Received & Recommended

My Seven Studies for a Self Portrait has been "Received and Recommended" on the MANOA blog. Frank Stewart and Pat Matsueda, thanks for liking the book so much. The blog is a treasure of contemporary poetry, much of which is from Asia.

Summer Exhibitions at MoMA PS1

Just want to remember that I saw the installations and political performances of Christoph Schlingensief, the paintings of Maria Lassnig, the painting and installation of Korakrit Arunanondchai, and the sculptures and ephemera of James Lee Byars. Had a lovely lunch with LW at a Peruvian restaurant around the corner afterwards.

Donate to Singapore Literature Festival in New York

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1932831070/singapore-literature-festival-in-nyc

Dear Friends and Readers of this blog,

For three days in October (Oct 10th to 12th, 2014), sixteen Singapore writers will converge on New York City to share their exciting works. It is a wonderful opportunity to hear and engage with the most distinctive voices of the island-state, which celebrates its 50th year of independence next year. The Singapore Literature Festival will help deepen the dialogue between East and West, between Asia and America. 

The festival will take place in various locations around New York City including 92nd Street Y, NYU Writers House, Book Culture, and McNally Jackson. 

Ten writers will be flying in from Singapore, to be joined by six writers based in the US. The exciting line-up: Alfian Sa'at, Alvin Pang, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Christine Chia, Colin Goh and Yen Yen Woo, Cyril Wong, Haresh Sharma, Jason Erik Lundberg, Joshua Ip, Kirstin Chen, Ovidia Yu, Pooja Nansi, Tania De …

Cover for Japanese Translation of "The Pillow Book"

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The cover for the Japanese translation of my Pillow Book. I love it! It pays tribute to the original cover by Math Paper Press, but the new design is at the same time so typical of Awai Books. Thank you, Matthew Chozick and team! Thank you, Mariko Hirasawa, for the wonderful illustrations! And Keisuke Tsubono for translating it.





Banana Yoshimoto's "Kitchen" and Tse Hao Guang's "Hyperlinkage"

The two books are linked only by being carried in my bag to Fire Island last weekend. Banana Yoshimoto's book Kitchen is really two stories, a longer one, "Kitchen," and a shorter one, "Moonlight Shadow." Both deal with mourning for loved ones who died. After the death of her grandmother, her last relative, Mikage was "adopted" into the household of transgender woman Eriko and her son Yuichi. Neither Mikage nor Yuichi quite comes into focus, for me, as characters. It is Eriko, the embodiment of charm, who dominates the story with her personality, and whose death constitutes the true tragedy of the tale. She is Yoshimoto's update of the famous Chinese story by Li Yu, "A Male Mencius's Mother." The ending of "Kitchen" is charming. It is about the power of food, in particular, katsudon, to save one from numb despair. It reminds me of the nori-wrapped cucumber in Murakami's Norweigan Wood.

The other story in the book, "…

Celebrating 10 Years of Being Queer

In gay terms, I am ten years old this year, a young un. I was not out as a gay man to myself for the first thirty-four years of my life, even though I knew since primary school that I was strongly attracted to boys. I had to move from Singapore to New York in order to come out as gay. Unlike many friends, I lacked the courage to come out in Singapore. It was not easy to come out in New York either. I remember walking back and forth in front of a gay bar, terrified of going in. I had to join a coming-out group at Identity House for group therapy and discussion. I was not sick, but you don’t need to be sick to need therapy. You only need to be damaged. The first time I plucked up the courage to attend a meeting of the Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY), I made sure I did not cross my legs in the room filled with gay Asian men; I did not want to appear effeminate.

But it was at the next GAPIMNY meeting, which of course ended with supper in a Chelsea restaurant, that I m…

Osamu Dazai's "Self Portraits"

Translated by Ralph F. McCarthy, Self Portraits: Tales from the life of Japan's great decadent romantic comprises 18 short stories by Osamu Dazai. The long introduction by the translator provides a useful biographical context for the stories. Dazai wrote a form of biographical fiction, which amounted to a light fictionalization of his actual life. The life was certainly decadent. Born into a wealthy and politically influential family, Dazai left his class by marrying a young geisha. He forsook his university education in order to be a writer. He had romantic liaisons with many women. He was addicted to drugs and alcohol. He tried committing double suicides with his lovers, and finally killed himself at the age of 39.

The Tales are, however, not romantic with a capital R; they do not seek transcendence of the mundane. Instead, they are wistful, even comical in places, full of consciousness, and self-consciousness, of life's suffering. They are non-resistant to life. "Cherr…

Rachael Briggs Reads "A Lover's Recourse"

The wonderful poet Rachael Briggs read and recorded the entire divan of 49 ghazals that concludes my book Seven Studies for a Self Portrait. What a feat and honor! The hero of the ghazals is a man whom I dated only twice, but fell head-over-heels for. The ghazals, however, are also crowded with other lovers. In her dramatic reading, Rachael teased out a great variety of tones and moods. Find a comfy seat. The whole reading takes only 1 hour, 12 minutes and 43 seconds. Let Rachael Briggs take you through "A Lover's Recourse."

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/17337066/A%20Lover%27s%20Recourse.mp3


Haiku

60 Dutch guilders
what price would I pay
in May at Inwood?

Starry Island

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Order information for "Starry Island: New Writing from Singapore," the summer 2014 issue in the MANOA series of international literature published by the University of Hawai'i. Edited by Frank Stewart and Fiona Sze-Lorrain, this issue features the work of over two dozen writers and translators, including Kim Cheng Boey, Philip Jeyaretnam, Jee Leong Koh, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, O Thiam Chin, Wena Poon, Alfian Sa'at, Jeremy Tiang, Toh Hsien Min, and Cyril Wong.



Haiku

smell of garbage
no garbage truck in sight
the fly follows me inside

Haiku

short summer night
in two months I will be tramping
the streets of Edo

Starry Island: New Writing from Singapore

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I'm in this anthology of new writing from Singapore, the 2014 summer issue of MANOA, published by the University of Hawai'i, edited by Frank Stewart and Fiona Sze-Lorrain.


Subtitle and Haiku

I think I may have the subtitle of my next collection: an album of haiku-like pieces.


girl on bike
grandfather on foot
short summer night

Haiku

short summer night
the cops are eyeing the holes
in the donut joint

Kafka on the Shore and a Haiku

In alternate chapters, two plots that begin far apart come together. In the first, Kafka Tamura, a fifteen-year-old abandoned by his mother at the age of four, runs away from home and finds refuge in a library. There he meets Oshima, a young transgender man, and Ms Saeki, who may or may not be his mother. Before reaching the library, he also has his first sexual experience with Sakura, who may or may not be his sister. Kafka's father is murdered, and the cops start searching for Kafka. In the second plot, Satoru Nakata lost all his memories, including the ability to read and write, on a mushroom-hunting expedition with his schoolmates. As an old man, he is an expert cat-finder as he is able to speak to cats. His murder of a cat-killer Johnnie Walker, however, puts him on the run. Helped by the young truck driver Hoshina, Nakata tries to find the entrance stone and is drawn inexorably, and mysteriously, to the library where Kafka hides. The novel is a good read, but I find it ultim…

Haiku

water ring
on cherry wood
dining table

Haiku

spring morning
the averted eyes
of young girls

Haiku

far from home
a Chinatown feast
of soft-shelled crabs

Haiku

right on time
the jetspray shoots up
a flower-watering flower

Haiku

six speeding cyclists
a long silk scarf
loosed from a lady's hand

A Haiku for Octavio Paz

stars of the devil
lightning
at rest

i.m. Octavio Paz

Haiku

wild rosebush
a honeybee's dream
of red pavilions

Films and Haiku

Watched Stranger by the Lake at Ty and Di's house last weekend. Good movie directed by Alain Guiraudie. Also enjoyed Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, though I couldn't see why it should win the Oscar, as so many wanted it to. It's just a well-made movie, not that special. Last night, after dinner with Tim, I watched X-Men: Days of Future Past. Bryan Singer directed. Sexy scene with Hugh Jackman buck naked but he seemed strangely beside the point in a plot that really revolved around Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and her paramours Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (a very hot Michael Fassbender). Even minor characters such as Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Major Bill Stryker (Josh Helman) were more interesting.



from Panama
the first hummingbirds
schoolchildren at a waterfall

Bach and Haiku

Heard István Várdai play Bach's Cello Suites 1, 5 and 6 last night at Armory Park Avenue. Impeccable technique and dynamic shading. I thought that he lost the plot in some middle sections of all the suites. Suite 5 was especially moving. The experimental Sarabande--I want to hear it again. The performance took place in the recently refurbished Board of Officers Room. A stunning salon. Wine was served during intermission. The ticket cost only $25. A steal.



damp clothes
in a crowded bus
late spring

Haiku

in the sky
a small plane leaves
a trail of crumbs

Book Launch and Haiku

John Marcus Powell launched his book Glorious Babe at Suite Bar last Sunday afternoon. Published by Nemo R. Hill's Exot Books, and designed and illustrated by Julio, the book was celebrated with the artistic respect and warm affection that John Marcus has garnered in years of reading poetry around New York City. Hosted by Cordis Heard and John Foy, the launch was the last installment of the Red Harlem Readers series this season. Nemo led off the reading, followed by Thomas Fucaloro, me, and David Yezzi. As Nemo observed, all of us read a little like John Marcus, so powerful was the influence of the man's voice on us. The original came on stage and read for a most entertaining half-hour.

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I started posting the first two lines of a haiku on Facebook, and invited other people to complete it. The results were certainly interesting.

a tiny leaf drops
into my cup of tea


Gwee Li Sui provided the humorous "I ask for refund"; Eric Norris the witty "like Basho's litt…

Poetry Reading and a Haiku

Dorothy Wang invited, and we attended, a reading by John Tipton, Mary Margaret Sloan, and Michael Autrey at at Berl's Poetry Shop in Dumbo last night. Tipton read from his forthcoming book Paramnesia and his translation of Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes. The poetry of Sloan, a friend of Dorothy's, was more experimental. Autrey read from his book Our Fear. The rumbling of trains over the Manhattan Bridge made it quite difficult to hear the readers, especially since the men insisted on not using the mic. Before the reading, Dorothy and I had dinner at Almar, an Italian place just a block away from Berl's. We had a lively discussion, as usual, about poetry, politics, and friendships.


divided on race
while sharing a side
of broccoli rabe

Haiku

fallen clumps
of shriveled blossoms
Nabokov's brown wigs

for Eric


Haiku

hold your breath
on a dandelion stalk
full moon

Haiku

spring morning
one suit says to another
be good

Downtown Fair and a Haiku

The Downtown Fair was better than I had expected. I especially liked the paintings of Sheba Sharrow, and the photographs of Eric Forstmann and Julie Blackmon. Too many boring color field paintings and pop nothings.


a sandpiper
miles from the ocean
or a sparrow?

Second Saturdays #3 and Haiku