Saturday, September 27, 2014

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 culture of cute, or kawaii, was evident everywhere. But I went to Japan to launch the Japanese translation of my Pillow Book, my homage to Sei Shonagon. The launch was well-attended by a youngish crowd, who listened appreciatively to my Singaporean re-working of this Japanese classic. Afterwards, a young woman approached me and asked me shyly why I called a verse a tanka when it does not have the traditional five lines. She shared that she was studying medieval literature at school. In that hip, artistic crowd, there was at least one person who looked back to Japan's past for enjoyment and education. She couldn't have been the only one.

Haiku


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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

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 Manhattan Lit Crawl. I read with Jeremy Tiang and Amanda Lee Koe. Paul Rozario-Falcone introduced and moderated the Q&A. Over 60 people at the reading, and 12 copies of the special issue sold.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Haiku


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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Monday, September 08, 2014

Haiku


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