Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 26 Reading at BooksActually

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.




Thursday, July 24, 2014

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.




Sunday, July 13, 2014

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 family. It is based on a true incident. But it is deemed so corrupting of our youth that it must be indexed and banned. Nothing before this act of censorship has shown me the true extent of the fear, loathing and hostility that are directed against LGBT persons and families. It stops the heart.

But this destructive act also offends me deeply because I identify as a Singaporean, and what the state does, through its agencies, misrepresents me and my values. I have lived for many years in the USA but I visit Singapore every one of those years because I have the means and the inclination. I have a green card, but I will never give up my Singapore citizenship. Singapore is still my country. In the years away, I have discovered the truth of the truism: you can take the boy out of Singapore, but you cannot take Singapore out of the boy. Against the forces of homophobia, I will insist that I am a gay Singaporean. Whether you like it or not, I am a part of your “social norms” and “family values.” You have to take my pink I.C. and my red passport, my National Service dues and my Education Service record, into account.

Finally, and most personally, I am outraged by the book ban because I am a writer. Writers often compare books to lives for very good reasons. Not only do books distill the best thoughts and feelings of writers, they conduct the widest and deepest dialogues with their societies. Books are the founders of global democracy. So it is with great admiration that I read about the principled stand that some Singapore writers have taken against the book ban. Ovidia Yu, Cyril Wong, Tania De Rozario, Gwee Li Sui, Prem Anand, Felix Cheong, Adrian Tan, Joshua Ip and others are boycotting National Library events; a number are also boycotting the Singapore Writers Festival, for which the National Library is a program partner.

I have never been invited to participate in National Library events nor the Singapore Writers Festival, so it is presumptuous of me to say the following, but in order to express my solidarity with these courageous and thoughtful writers, I will not participate in a National Library event nor the Singapore Writers Festival, if I am asked, until the National Library restores the three children’s books to their proper shelves, unsegregated and unmarked by any warning label. Because books are like lives, these books must be treated the same way as other children’s books. They should not be herded into a reservation nor forced to wear a Star of David.

Instead of destroying books in the name of protecting our children, how should a National Library provide for its youngest guests? In the heart of the Bras Basah edifice stands a special collection of books donated by Edwin Thumboo, who is, according to the National Library website, “widely regarded as the unofficial poet laureate of Singapore.” In his poem “National Library, 2007, nr Bugis” about this new library, the grandfather of seven expresses his hope for the library and the country in this way:

“Let the young, including my seven butterflies, explore,
Grow, discern and cherish; test shifting worlds, judge and
Prefer. Learn to check their walk and track that serpent
As we re-arrange our gardens, our declensions of heart…”


Koh Jee Leong
New York City
July 13, 2014

Monday, July 07, 2014

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.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

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.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Donate to Singapore Literature Festival in New York



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 Rozario, Verena Tay, and Wena Poon. 

We need your support to make this dream come true. We are a group of volunteers, Singaporean writers and creatives who are proud to call New York City home. We have secured sponsorship for the costs of mounting the festival. The writers have received partial funding for their airfare and are willing to make up the difference, even if it means crashing on someone’s couch. As the organizers, we want to help our writers by raising funds for them. Your donation will go toward paying the writers. It will also pay for professional video recording and photography, so that the readings and conversations will be preserved and made available for future use. 

Please contribute generously to our Kickstarter campaign. We have come up with some fantastic rewards for various levels of sponsorship. How would you like to own a piece of art by one of our writers? Or have your name written into a poem or story? You can show your support by contributing an amount as large as $1000 or as small as $10. Every dollar counts. 

Please feel free to forward this appeal to family and friends. You can follow us on the festival website (http://www.singaporeliteraturefestival.com/) or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/singaporeliteraturefestival).

Make history with us by supporting this independent literary venture!

Yours sincerely,
Paul Rozario-Falcone and Jee Leong Koh
Co-chairs of Singapore Literature Festival


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

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Cover for Japanese Translation of "The Pillow Book"

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.





Tuesday, July 01, 2014

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, "Moonlight Shadow," as its name promises, is more mystical. The narrator, another young woman, always parted from her boyfriend Hitoshi at the bridge over a river. When he died after a car crash, she is given a chance to say a final good-bye to him at the bridge by a mysterious woman called Urara. The story itself refers to the Chinese legend of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd. Translated by Megan Backus, the writing is simple, light and fresh, and despite of the literary allusions, not overly literary.

Hyperlinkage is Tse Hao Guang's first book of poems. There is intelligence here, both in the handling of the subject matter and in the lyricism of the voice. The poems in the voice of a Mrs. T (a figure presumably based on the poet's mother) are observant and musical. Tse wears the feminine voice lightly and convincingly. The poems inspired by the Internet (the hyperlinkage in the book's title) are far less moving, to me. They seem overly cerebral and calculated. The second-to-last poem "Frangipani" is a stunner, however. The poet is experimenting with different methods in this debut, as he should, and I very much hope that he will find the right one for his talent.