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Showing posts from 2015

New Year Letter to Lovers of a Better Singapore

New Year Letter to Lovers of a Better Singapore 

I’d wish you a happy new year if last year had not been so bitter. We had high hopes that Singapore would become a freer, fairer, and kinder society after the death of Lee Kuan Yew. We had high hopes that the 50th year of our independence would herald a new phase of social, political, and artistic maturity. For only the second time in my forty-five years, I was able to vote. With Lee Kuan Yew gone, the PAP did not enjoy a walkover in Radin Mas constituency, but faced two challengers. On Election Day, I made my way in the rain to the Singapore Consulate in New York. I knew the PAP would win Radin Mas, but I had to make my voice heard and my vote count. Like many of you, I had high hopes that the general election would prove a watershed in the history of our country. We had high hopes that, despite the gerrymandering, vote-buying tactics, state control of mass media, and creeping influence of Christian fundamentalism on government, the pe…

Vision and Touch

I read Rachel Urquhart's The Visionist over Christmas, an appropriate time for reading about the mysteries of faith, sin, and redemption. The Shaker settlement and the outside World of mid-19th century Massachusetts are both meticulously and convincingly brought to life. The novel is narrated through three points of view. Sister Charity of the City of Hope and Simon Pryor from the World both speak in the first person, as they struggle to understand the throes of events around them. Sister Charity, the self-deceiving innocent, bears much of the novel's psychological burden whereas Simon Pryor, the fire investigator, bears much of the narrative burden. The stroke of genius here is to narrate Polly Kimball's point of view through the third person. Polly, the outsider who becomes the insider on false pretenses, is thus seen with sympathetic detachment. The third-person becomes a delicate method of apprehending her trauma and her victory without inhabiting them.

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TLS October 3…

Justin Chin (1969 - 2015)

I never met Justin Chin, and now it’s too late. He died on Christmas Eve after his family took him off life support. Two people wrote me separately to ask if I knew Justin Chin. Why ask me? Because we both moved from Singapore to the States, and we both are poets and gay. Born in Malaysia, Justin Chin grew up in Singapore. He was just one year older than I am. He probably went to Anglo-Chinese School. I’m guessing from the comment on an obituary left by Singaporean actor and comedian Hossan Leong. Hossan Leong was a classmate of Justin Chin’s since six, and Hossan Leong studied at ACS and ACJC.

After ACS, Justin Chin went to the University of Hawaii before transferring to San Francisco State University. In the 90’s he made a name for himself on the San Francisco poetry scene, writing and performing work that was full of “humor and raw vulnerability,” as the POETRY Foundation website describes it. The website also calls him “fiercely political.” Justin Chin published many books, of poe…

Haiku

How warm-looking
the graying bristles on the man
selling Christmas trees

The American Diary of a Japanese Girl

It is imperfectly written but it has the charm, as Charles Simic said of his earlier poetry, of awkwardness. The introduction written by Laura E. Franey outlines the collaborative process between Yone Noguchi and his editors in writing the book, the diary's critique of turn-of-the-century Japonisme, and Morning Glory's performance of authenticity and identity. The Afterword by Edward Marx surveys the book's reception and afterlife in the USA and Japan. It suggests usefully the different genres in which the diary may be placed: women's confessional diaries popular in the late 19th century in Europe and the USA; Japanese diary literature, or nikki bungaku, whose roots reach all the way back to The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon; the New Japanese Novel; Asian American literature; American trickster tales; and queer literature. The notes to the text are full and enlightening.

My favorite bits:

"Japan teaches nothing but simplicity. Simplicity is the philosophy of art.&qu…

Honor and Haiku

An American honor! Steep Tea makes the "2015 Poetry Books We Love" list from Split This Rock, joining such terrific poets as Marilyn Nelson, Nicholas Wong, and Timothy Yu.


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Gray day
another salon lights up
for coloring nails

Haiku

Night is day
and day night
streetlamp rainbow

Haiku and Kessler

The moon tonight
tosses its horns
at the trumpet’s lion


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Last night heard William Fung, the video artist and scholar, gave the Kessler lecture at CLAGS. He showed snippets of Re-Orientation, which features 7 of the original 12 interviewees in the groundbreaking video Orientation made in the early 80's. 30 years later, the participants have visibly aged and, less visibly but more vitally, diverged in their paths as LGBT work becomes professionalized and LGBT workers more accepted in big corporations. Fung reflected cogently on how his own work has changed under the pressures of neo-liberalism and corporatism. He made me think about my own arts organizing, in particular, the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Lit Fest in NYC. What is the point? How best to do it? At the very least, I've decided to drop the name of festival chair in favor of festival organizer.

Haiku

Family needles
on these Christmas trees
cut from Canada

Haiku

Young men in polyester shorts
running past the low chin-up bar

Translations of an insignificant Japanese poet

For those of you who have been reading my haiku, I must now reveal that they are not my own works, but translations of Japanese originals. Six of these English translations have now been re-translated into Chinese by Zhou Decheng, and published in the Chinese-language Poetry Monthly. The story of my English translations is as follows:

In February 2011, when I moved into my Upper West Side apartment, not far from 80 Riverside Drive, where Yone Noguchi boarded for a time, I found a sheaf of haiku in the bedroom closet, almost as if it had been left for me. To my surprise, the poet made numerous references to people and places that I knew from living in New York City. I was thus compelled to translate the poems from the Japanese. As I worked on these exhilarating, enigmatic pieces, I found myself searching out the street corner, the tree, and even the bird that had so enraptured our poet. In this manner I traced the route taken through Central Park—entering at 86th Street on the west sid…

To be less established

This Middle Ground article provides a useful summary of events and views about censorship and arts funding in Singapore, for those coming into the discussion mid-way.

From the discussion so far, I've read stated either directly or indirectly that I could stop asking NAC for funding because I am already an "established" artist, whatever that means. The implication is that less established artists cannot afford to stop asking NAC for funding. I just want to point out (at the risk of sounding as if I'm tooting my horn) that I did not apply for NAC funding even when I was trying to establish myself. I quit as VP of a secondary school in Singapore to move to New York City to study creative writing. I was rejected by four different graduate programs before I was accepted by one that did not offer any financial aid or teaching assistantship. I spent all my savings on the program before I received a financial gift in my second year from the college for my work.

After graduat…

Haiku

He took his wet pants off
the competitive swimmer

Haiku

Hands uplifted
a virgin waits in stone robe
late December



Looking
for the wood
and the trees

To my fellow Singaporean artists and arts lovers

It appears that after NAC CEO Kathy Lai wrote to the Straits Times to defend state censorship of the arts, NAC Chairman Chan Heng Chee defended the same in her speech as guest of honor at the Singapore International Film Festival. Her speech is an insult to the festival, which has prided itself on its support for freedom of expression by taking a principled stance against showing any film censored by the state. Chan’s speech also raises in an acute form the question of artists applying for and accepting state funding. In short, she claimed that the state has the right and the obligation to decide on what to fund, based on other considerations besides the artistic merit of the application. In response to the argument that the public purse belongs to the public and not the government, she countered that the public would prefer to spend more money on welfare subsidies and education, and less on the arts. This last point is meretricious: it is not a question of either-or. One may as well …

Chelsea Gallery Hop

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We went to see the Andy Goldsworthy show at Galerie Lelong, but knew we would make other discoveries along the way. The motorized sculptures of animals and lamps by the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (1925 - 199) were a lot of fun to see. Shown at Gladstone Gallery, they were made of junkyard scraps and dime-store finds; the old motors, often decommissioned from 78rpm phonographs, produced unpredictable motions when you stepped on a switch on the floor. At Marlborough Chelsea, the black-and-white photos of Richard Kern in the viewing room were compelling takes on his friends living in druggy squalor in New York City. Taken in the 80's, the photos showed acts of sadomasochism and non-acts of ennui. There was one very different, rather sweet, "Brian with TV, 1981"





Over at Luhring Augustine, the British artist Rachel Whiteread was showing new sculptures made from casting windows and doors in colored resin. The pieces are then mounted on concrete casts of bricks, so the promise …

Haiku

gingko leaves—
dropped
stamp album

Haiku

Deep fall shadows
in the dark pool of water
gingko fins

The Full Interview

The Straits Times published a story about Steep Tea making the list of Best Books of 2015 in the Financial Times. The Singapore paper included only part of the email interview with me. The full interview below. Read it and you will understand ST's selectivity.

How does it feel to be one of the four poetry works named by the FT as best of 2015? 

Amazed. Humbled. Grateful that someone likes the book so much. We just celebrated Thanksgiving here in the US. I'm so thankful for the encouragement given by Maria Crawford, the FT editor who selected Steep Tea.

Looking back, what were some challenges you faced in writing Steep Tea? 

I couldn't have written Steep Tea without moving to the US to come out as a poet and a gay man. The poems in the book reflect the experience of finding my rightful place in New York and a useful perspective on Singapore. The poems were written over the course of 12 years, as both place and perspective come slowly. You might say that I had to steep myself …

Thanksgiving 2015

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So I returned from my Thanksgiving getaway to learn that my book Steep Tea has been listed by the Financial Times as one of four best books of poetry of 2015, along with the new annotated Poems of T. S. Eliot by Christopher Ricks and Kim McCue; Horace: Poems ed. by Paul Quarrie; and Citizen by Claudia Rankine. Completely unexpected, completely floored.

"The Singapore-born poet’s first UK publication is disciplined yet adventurous in form, casual in tone and deeply personal in subject matter. Koh’s verse addresses the split inheritance of his postcolonial upbringing, as well as the tension between an émigré’s longing for home and rejection of nostalgia." - Maria Crawford in UK's Financial Times

The time away was otherwise dominated by reading Amy Sueyoshi's study of Yone Noguchi's romantic relationships in a book aptly titled Queer Compulsions. Through the study of the correspondence between Yone and his lovers, Sueyoshi persuaded me that his most passionate and …

A Student's Response to "Eve's Fault"

Two weeks ago I held a Skype discussion with eleventh-grade students of Garden International School, Kuala Lumpur. Under the guidance of their teacher Renie Leng, they had been studying two poems closely, Derek Walcott's "Adam's Song" and my poem "Eve's Fault." I was chuffed to be studied alongside the great Walcott. Over Skype, the students asked me many keen questions from theme and characterization to the use of particular words in my poem. The questions spoke very well of their thoughtful preparation for the discussion. Afterwards, they wrote an essay analyzing and comparing the two poems. The essay is for their CIE IGCSE coursework teacher's choice component. Contrary to current educational thinking in Singapore, the Malaysian and International students proved more than capable of enjoying and learning from poetry. Shame on Singapore schools for abandoning the teaching of literature at the higher levels. The whole exercise also showed me the po…

Haiku

Sunset blossoms
on the cold dark boughs
second wind

Andalusia: A Zuihitsu

"Andalusia: A Zuihitsu" has just appeared on Concis Journal. Thanks, Chris Lott, for accepting it.

Brearley Book Festival

Last night read from Steep Tea at The Brearley Book Festival. Couldn't have imagined it ten years ago when I was hauled up to defend this racy blog. It was a pleasure to read with seven other authors (faculty, alum and parents), particularly with Rachel Urquhart (The Visionist) and George Hagen (Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle).

Jane Routh reviews STEEP TEA

"Eavan Boland is the poet he responds to most frequently – probably because she understands the subtle oppressions of colonial rule, one of his main preoccupations. He also uses her as a springboard in a different direction: “The toxins of a whole history” leads into a poem about the history of relationships for gay men, looking beyond his immediate personal moment. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin sparks a fair few poems too – but I’m also introduced to a much wider range of poets like Tzu Pheng Lee, a Singaporean poet whose phrase “some curio of the change” provokes ‘Hong Kong’, a poem about choosing a keepsake, and the Mayan Xunka’ Utz’utz’ Ni’, whose poem about a new house has the poet echoing her prayers. Both entertaining and thought-provoking, this book is also a serious conversation between poets and cultures, and an education."

-- Jane Routh on STEEP TEA. Read the rest of the review in MAGMA 63, and poems by Eoghan Walls, Emma Wilson, Michael Henry, Sophie Baker, Raymond Antr…

Sonny Liew's "The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye"

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A biography of the artist as a hero, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is full of swagger even as it pays tribute to its comics predecessors. The virtuosic display of different comics styles, the mind-boggling meta-meta-meta narratives, the political satire. The result is an astounding feat, which sets a high bar not only for Singapore comics, but also for Singapore fiction. Yet much remains familiar. Singapore history may be re-interpreted but its periodization is not challenged. The reading of the historical protagonists may be flipped, but there are still clearly heroes and villains. And the greatest hero of all is the artist, who is depicted as uncompromisingly dedicated to his art. Singapore art needs such a heroic image, perhaps, given its frequent and forced accommodations to authority. Still, the terms of the artist's exaltation are traditional: he foregoes a love interest; gives up having a family; disappoints his parents. Heterosexual love, family, and happy parents are…

Haiku

November night
nothing breaks the silence
save the choppers

STEEP TEA poems in Asia Literary Review

Four of my poems from Steep Tea appear in Asia Literary Review, edited by Phillip Kim and Martin Alexander. You can read one poem for free, and take out an e-book subscription for the other poems and the rest of the issue. Enjoy!

Open Letter to Singapore's National Arts Council

Open Letter in Response to National Arts Council CEO Kathy Lai’s Letter to the Straits Times (November 7, 2015)

I am greatly saddened by the NAC CEO’s defense of censorship in response to Ong Keng Sen’s radio interview and Haresh Sharma’s Cultural Medallion speech. In his hard-hitting interview, Ong Keng Sen criticized state censorship of the arts for infantilizing the populace. Haresh Sharma, in his speech, called for unconditional support of our artists. In response, NAC CEO Kathy Lai wrote a reply that managed to be obfuscating, ingratiating, and high-handed all at once, with the sole aim of defending the status quo. Jason Wee has rebutted the letter soundly in a Facebook post, so I will not repeat the objections here. What’s worth remembering is the recent actions taken against the arts. If we remember them, we will know to take the letter for what it is: a whitewashed tomb.

There were high hopes in the last days of Lee Kuan Yew that Singapore society would breathe more easily and…

Haiku

Sole dry thing
in the rain-soaked park
an inkling of death

Arthur Miller at Lyceum

Saw the Young Vic production of "A View from the Bridge" at the Lyceum Theatre this afternoon, with Mark Strong as Eddie, Nicola Walker as Beatrice, Phoebe Fox as Catherine, Michael Zegen as Marco, and Russell Tovey as Rodolpho. Gripping but finally unsatisfying.

Skype Lesson with Garden International School (KL)

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The students of Garden International School (Kuala Lumpur) had such good questions about "Eve's Fault." One asked why I chose the Snake, instead of God and Adam, to be Eve's intellectual lover. Another asked about the possible meanings of "God entered her." Yet another wondered if I intended to criticize patriarchy when I wrote that Adam scratched down and believed his own story of the rib. The students had annotated and discussed the poem before the Skype lesson, so they came very well prepared. The hour flew by. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday evening. Thanks, Renie Leng, for arranging for it.



Eshuneutics reviews "Steep Tea"

"Each of the forty-six poems begin with an act of reading: the resultant creations aren't reactive fictions or attempts to better the originals. They are, to carry on with Duncan's ideas concerning poetic (gay) creation, extensions of a ground, acknowledgements of the fault-lines where poems break from." Eshuneutics reviews Steep Tea

Haiku

Home in time
the last blaze of trees
new water cooler

Singapore Launch of Steep Tea and SWF

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Thanks very much, everyone who came out to the Singapore launch of Steep Tea tonight. You were, in a word, overwhelming. Your support, love, and friendship. I am so grateful. I'm just sorry that there wasn't time to talk to everyone properly. I hope we will see one another when I visit again next summer. If you fancy hearing me talk cock sing song about "Raising the Profile of Asian Literature" (10 am) and "Getting Published Overseas" (2:30 pm), come to the Singapore Writers Festival at The Arts House tomorrow (Sat). For those of you who couldn't get a copy of my book tonight, it will be available at the festival bookshop at The Arts House from tomorrow to the end of the festival. Thanks again, Boedi Widjaja, for the cover image and for coming out tonight. Thank you, Anthony Koh Waugh, for hosting the launch at your wonderful bookstore. You are a sweetheart.















At the Singapore Writers Festival, I was a panelist in two sessions.


"Raising the Profile o…

Pittsburgh and Haiku

Just returned on MegaBus from Pittsburgh. Last night I read with Jason Irwin and two other poets at Classic Lines Bookstore for the Under the Sign of the Bear reading series, organized by Michael Albright. It was good to hear Jason read again, so sturdy and genuine is his poetry. It was lovely also to meet Jenny Ashburn, and Jason's friend Scott Silsbe, and to spend the day with Ian.

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Full moon
sailing
through the blue moorings

Haiku

Crinkled leaves
yesterday’s sprinkling
of sunlight

NY Launch of Steep Tea

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Thanks, everyone, for celebrating my new book "Steep Tea" with me last night at Book Culture. The trains were acting up, the night was cold, but you came, some traveling for more than an hour, at least one person whom I know of walking 24 UWS blocks because of Sabbath. Your presence made the event special. Thank you, Cody and the team at Book Culture, for hosting the launch. A big thank-you to Simpson from Chomp Chomp for sponsoring the delicious reception. Thank you, Doug and Chris, for bringing the food to the reading. Thank you, Raj, for the Tiger Beer sponsorship. And thank you, Meiko, for helping with the reception.

It was wonderful to hear Cindy Arrieu-King again. Thank you, Cindy, for coming in from Philly to read with me. Your poems are beautiful and brave. They confront the horrors of our contemporary world, not in some far-off war-torn country, but right here among our daily struggles. Softness, you remind us, is a form of kindness. Your soft touch is born of great…

Haiku

October park
the lamps are going out
the trees are lighting up

Richard Scott reviews Steep Tea in Ambit

"Koh is at his best when he’s writing about lust; his massively understated poems detailing homosexual desire are marvellous."
Thanks, Richard Scott and Ambit, for this no-holds-barred review of Steep Tea.

Haiku

They have torn up the surface of Lexington Avenue again.

Tar dust in my nose
after twelve years
I'm still walking home

"Telltale: 11 Stories" edited by Gwee Li Sui

A fine selection of short stories by literary critic, poet, and graphic novelist Gwee Li Sui. I appreciate the emphasis in his introduction on the humanistic dimensions of these stories, instead of their representations of Singapore. Powerful stories by Alfian Sa'at, two from his collection Corridor, and one new story about a man waiting on death row. Dave Chua is represented by his moving story "The Drowning" about the impact of the Asian tsunami on a family. My biggest discovery is Tan Mei Ching, whose story "In the Quiet" rings absolutely true about how a precocious teenage girl learns about death. Jeffrey Lim's stories "Haze Day" and "Understudies" are clever constructions but somewhat thin in characterization. Still, they display an experimental daring not usually found in the Singapore short story. They push against the social realist tradition of fiction-making that the other stories in this anthology exemplify.

Dia: Beacon

Visited Dia:Beacon for the second time yesterday. Enjoyed looking at John Chamberlain's sculptures of crushed and twisted auto parts, Imi Knoebel's wooden forms stacked against the walls, Robert Smithson's glass and sand sculptures, in particular, "The Map of Glass (Atlantis)" and Joseph Beuys's piles of felt weighed down or pedestaled by copper plates. Two very different artists brought close to home the feeling of the sublime. Richard Serra and his colossal elegant forms. Fred Sandback and his drawings in space using yarn. As Sandback himself said, he does not aim to transform the space so much as to co-exist with it. His yarn sculptures do not take up room but they are as solid as Serra's thick sheet metal. How to write and present haiku like that?


Haiku

Green is going out
leaves litter the park
so many sea shells!

Haiku

Baking in black
the young man stops the tourists
and shows the menu

Haiku

The small bird calls
like a shrill electric saw
my chains gone

Haiku

Birdsong bursts
from the tall roadside tree
pardon my coughing

Ian Pople reviews STEEP TEA

"In these poems, the grace and elegance mentioned above mix with Koh’s imagination, to create a fine sense of play in his material. The final effect is a charged, nuanced lyricism."

- Ian Pople in The Manchester Review. Read more.

Singapore at 50 and Haiku

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"Singapore at 50: Reflections on the Local, Global and Postcolonial," organized by Jini Kim Watson of NYU, was a thoughtful and stimulating presentation of work by academics from Singapore, the US and Canada. Joanne Leow, from the University of Toronto, read Singapore's Gardens by the Bay together with Kevin Kwan's novel Crazy Rich Asians and highlighted the uses of excess. E.K. Tan, from Stony Brook University, argued for a more complicated and expanded notion of Sinophone literature by looking at two poems written in a hybrid of Chinese and English. From Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, C. J. Wan-Ling Wee looked at the distinct character of the 1980's for Singaporean cultural productions, created during a fruitful gap after the state began to focus on high culture but before it produced its Renaissance City report and poured huge amounts of money into the arts. Cheryl Narumi Naruse, also from NTU, examined the transnational mobility of Singapo…

Haiku

October leaves
ten thousand reclining Buddhas
open their eyes

Union

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Last Sunday, the NY launch of UNION, an anthology that celebrates 50 years of Singaporean writing and 15 years of seminal American journal Drunken Boat. I read from The Pillow Book at Singapore: Inside Out, with Alvin Pang (editor), Ravi Shankar (editor), Sharon Dolin and Amanda Lee Koe. Photos by GH.





Mystery Plays and Dancing Space

TLS July 24, 2015

from Gerard Kilroy's review of Mortal Thoughts: Religion, secularity and identity in Shakespeare and early modern culture by Brian Cummings; The Bible in Shakespeare by Hannibal Hamlin; and A Will to Believe: Shakespeare and religion by David Scott Kastan:

Cummings explore the "condition of soliloquy" in the Confessions - "et cum ipso me solo coram te" (with myself all alone in front of you) - in one of the most rewarding chapters in the book, "Soliloquy and Secularization". Augustine is seen as the source both of the word "soliloquy" and of the genre. The soliloquy is both a meditation and a dialogue between an interior self that is true, and an interior self that is mutable and transitory. Long before Hamlet's most famous of soliloquies, Cummings finds Augustine in De libero arbitrio, meditating on not being: "It is not because I would rather be unhappy than not be at all ... , that I am unwilling to die, but for…

Haiku

Oh dad
look at the squirrels
they’re looking at us

Haiku

Charcoal black the long fall shadows I bring a match

Erica Wagner's "Ariel's Gift"

In Ariel's Gift, Erica Wagner composes a running commentary on the poems in Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters. The commentary calls on Sylvia Plath's fiction, journals and letters, and on Hughes' few public statements after Plath's death, in order to shine a light on the poems. Wagner is particularly good, I think, on Hughes's sense of fate in the making of his and Plath's poems, and in the events that overtook them. Critics of Hughes may see the avowals of ignorance and helplessness in the Birthday Letters poems as evidence of blame-shifting and self-justification, but the poems themselves convey the ignorance and helplessness in a very palpable way. To enter the poems at all, one must enter them, suspending one's judgment. Wagner tries to be very fair-minded but it becomes clear in the course of her book that she is more sympathetic toward Hughes. The last chapter shows the pain that the living (Hughes and the children, Plath's mother Aurelia) have to…

Haiku

I swipe the fly across my damp forehead without breaking my stride

Tara Bergin on Steep Tea

Tara Bergin, a poet whom I admire greatly, mentions Steep Tea in her reading list for POETRY magazine's Editors' Blog: "Particularly striking about this book is the way that every poem has an epigraph; brief quotations chosen from a diverse set of sources. The impression is of a writer for whom reading represents a vital part of the creative process."

Singapore Symposium and Haiku

Yesterday's Singapore Symposium was an experiment and a gambit. To host speakers from the different fields of academia, the arts, and social work, with their different concerns and languages, was to take a risk. I think the bet paid off handsomely. Adeline Koh's work on digitally archiving "Chinese Englishmen" provides a necessary counterbalance to the current focus on the major Victorian authors, all white, mostly men. Listening to Jini Kim Watson, I was struck by how many countries in the world aspire to build modern cities like Singapore and so replicate its social control and public order. E. K. Tan spoke about the politics of using dialect in Singapore's Sinophone literature. I especially enjoyed his close look at xinyao (Singapore ballads) and Kuo Pao Kun's play "Mama Looking for Her Cat."

The artists came on next and spoke passionately about why they write plays, make ceramic works, and compose music. Damon Chua, Hong-Ling Wee, and Eli Tyler,…

Opening Party and Haiku

Last night was the opening party of Something to Write Home About, the Singapore arts festival in New York wholly organized by Singapore creatives and volunteers based in the city. The basement of La Mama Theater was transformed into an art gallery. There was plenty to drink. Peranakan food was served. The festival director Hong-Ling Wee was, naturally, flushed with excitement. I was again impressed by her ability to connect with people when she spoke to the room. It was lovely to see friends again and to meet new people, among which were an Indian classical dancer born in Ferguson, MO; a young Malaysian diplomat; and a Singaporean new-media artist based in Chicago.

Today, I'm speaking on the arts practitioners panel at the Symposium on Singapore Studies, and reading in the evening, with four other writers, at the Literary Arts event. I'm looking forward to stimulating conversations with the scholars, artists, writers and audience. It's my way of participating in the on-go…

Haiku

Shirt off
he drinks from the water fountain
sparrows make tiny splashes

Carol Rumens on "Steep Tea"

"In His Other House" is Carol Rumens' Poem of the Week in The Guardian. So happy about it. Thank you, Ms Rumens, for your insightful reading of "In His Other House" and your sympathetic response to Steep Tea.

Poem: "The Book of Nature"

The Book of Nature 


What if the wind is a hint
of the coming fall of leaves
so greenly gleaming, fully
numerical, I swear, they
read like everlastingness?
In print so fine it can’t be
seen, the wind annotates
the assertion of the green
or else it is to be, or not,
read between the lines.

Song

Song


I run so fast I leave the past behind,
the carrom board under my parents’ bed,
the uniforms I grew out of, the kind
evenings after the moon swung overhead,

I leave behind the blistering army songs,
the young man’s sense of being in the right,
the young man’s rights and the young man’s wrongs,
the wind keeping aloft the fighting kite,

behind, the smell of rain before it rains,
behind, the thousand gaudy island cast,
behind, the globe-spanning spinning planes,
I run so fast I run into the past.

Coleridge's "Biographia Literaria"

Edited by James Engell and W. Jackson Bate (Princeton University Press)

Our genuine admiration of a great poet is a continuous under-current of feeling; it is every where present, but seldom any where as a separate excitement. I was wont boldly to affirm, that it would scarcely be more difficult to push a stone out from the pyramids with the bare hand, than to alter a word, or the position of a word, in Milton or Shakspeare, (in their most important works at least), without making the author say something else, or something worse, than he does say.  *  And therefore is it the prime merit of genius and its most unequivocal mode of manifestation, so to represent familiar objects as to awaken in the minds of others a kindred feeling concerning them and that freshness of sensation which is the constant accompaniment of mental, no less than of bodily, convalescence.  *  I regard truth as a divine ventriloquist: I care not from whose mouth the sounds are supposed to process, if only the wor…

Haiku

So many seeds
in the self-seeding spider flower
pushing through the fence

Haiku

A sprig of leaves
from an old tree stump
spills

Progressive Poetics

"What must or might be said now about poetry?" I might have said something to the Progressive Poetics project, initiated and organized by H. L. Hix.

The Progressive Poetics project asks each contributor to respond, in light of something she or he has already said in print, to this question:  “Poetry makes nothing happen.” (W. H. Auden, 1939)  “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” (Theodor Adorno, 1949)  Though often cited as timeless, authoritative truths about poetry, those two pronouncements were made at particular historical moments, in particular cultural contexts, and from particular subject positions. But we (choose any “we” from those of us alive now) occupy various subject positions, live in various circumstances, and stand nearer the mid-twenty-first century than the mid-twentieth. It is not self-evident that we should (continue to) defer to Auden and Adorno, so:  What must or might be said now about poetry?