Showing posts from March, 2015

Two Films and a Haiku

Last two nights we watched movies borrowed from the library. The Jane Austen Book Club (2007), directed by Robin Swicord, could have been wittier and more literary, but it was watchable. Kevin Zegers plays a student who hits on his uptight French teacher, Prudie (Emily Blunt). Hugh Dancy is so immensely likable as Grigg, a computer geek. The women, drawn in very broad strokes, learn about courtship, heartbreak and second chances from Austen. No discussion about class, please. We are Americans.

At the age of 11, Li Cunxin was taken from his parents and poor village by Madam Mao's cultural delegates to Beijing to train as a ballet dancer. On a cultural exchange with Houston Ballet, he falls in love with an American woman and defects. Mao's Last Dancer, directed by Bruce Beresford, and based on Li's autobiography, is tightly plotted and beautifully shot. Unsurprisingly, it hews to the story of individual freedom so beloved by the West, and the story of poor boy made good so b…


printed in the tarmac
a branch with five points
alternative hollywood

The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky

Fabulous exhibition at the Met. Beautiful Indian artefacts from pre-contact to present time. Headdresses made from crow and eagle feathers, one feather for every notable victory in battle. Saddle bags, called parfleche envelopes, ornamented with porcupine quills and glass beads. Buffalo skins drawn with stories of war and hunting or with abstract patterns involving the Thunderbird, a guardian spirit. Pipes carved in the form of human effigies. A long courting whistle in the shape of a snipe. Graceful and concise wooden sculptures of buffalos small enough to be held in the hand. Horse masks. A long cherry wood branch transformed miraculously into a snorting galloping horse. A drawing with the silhouettes of more than 80 species of animals, birds and fish that made up the living environment of a people. A winter count chart, on which the the tribal historian drew a picture representing each year, and so provided the storyteller with a mnemonic: the 80th winter shows the lynching of thre…

Boyhood and Haiku

Watched Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, last night. I admire it for its technical mastery (filmed over 12 years) and for the performance of the main cast. Ellar Coltane, as Mason Junior, grows up before our eyes, with the kind of acting that never seems like acting. Ethan Hawke as dad and Patricia Arquette as mum turn in utterly convincing performances. And here's the but - the story is conventional and some of the minor characters are stereotypical. The Texan grandparents give Ellar a Bible and a gun for his birthday. The veteran husband turns to drinking. The Mexican worker goes to school, on Ellar's mum's advice, and makes good as a restaurant manager. The token Asian appears in the form of Ellar's sister's college dorm-mate. The children--both Ellar and his older sister--are remarkably unscarred by the abusive husbands their mother married. Throughout it all, Ellar retains a heart of gold and an air of innocence. He is dreamy, introspective and wee bit …


mist over hudson
most itself
when least


spring rash--
grass livid green and growing
from a withered field


Wowee! My first-ever advance for a book of poetry! Thank you, Carcanet Press! Photo and tea by Guy.


a pin prick--
cardinal singing
in a bare tree

A Memorial for Elise Partridge

Elise Partridge told me that she had met Goh Poh Seng. A brief encounter between two naturalized Canadian poets. I did not quiz her about it and now will never get a chance. She died of colon cancer in January. A memorial service was held yesterday in the Ceremonial Hall of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The windows looked out at Central Park, still in the grip of snow. Did the meeting take place in Toronto or Vancouver? I don't remember.

transfixed by the thorns
of the short-lived honey locust
the second day of spring

Turning 45 and a Haiku

Grateful to my well-wishers on Facebook:

Thank you for your birthday wishes! I had a terrific Day. Guy gave me a special breakfast treat - pastry and special coffee - and presented me with a chic striped shirt and neat blue jacket. Better still, he went in late for work! Then I worked on new posts for my arts website Singapore Poetry, before having a simple lunch of soup and cheese sandwich. After lunch, I started reading THE NEW VILLAGE, a collection of poems by Chinese-language poet Wong Yoon Wah, translated by Ho Lian Geok and Ng Yi-sheng. So much to learn about Singapore! For dinner, Guy took me to one of my favorite restaurants in New York, Commerce, on, you guess it, Commerce Street. I had a tasty Toscana and Guy an even tastier Rhone wine. My duck was delicious, just two thick slices, cooked just right, pink and crispy in the right places. Guy had a very flavorful curry with root vegetables. Then we had a couple of drinks at Monster Bar, before heading home. I feel very lucky.


waiting for spring
on the first day of spring
45-year wait

Boey Kim Cheng's "Clear Brightness"

These are poems of an assured mastery, of a voice arriving at itself, even as it speaks of loss. Although Boey has migrated to Australia and become an Australian citizen there, he cannot help but speak of Singapore--its loss due to time, urban redevelopment, deaths in the family, and migration. Poems such as "Dinky's House of Russian Goods" and "The National Theatre, Singapore" bring lost places back to the life. Sequences such as "To Markets" and "Chinatowns" are rich with details and associations, recalled in memory. Most impressive, to my mind, is "The Disappearing Suite," which produces from a very particular life a universal music. It touches the depths sounded in Eliot's "The Four Quartets," though without the latter's religious angst. Who said that a poet's task is to make of his or her life a symbol? In "The Disappearing Suite," and more generally in Clear Brightness, Boey has succeeded in do…


looking out of place
at the beginning of spring
ice leavens the sod

Joseph H. Carens's "The Ethics of Immigration"

I read the TLS review of the book and knew I had to read it. I'm so glad I did. The book is obviously a culmination of many years of thinking and research on immigration. It is comprehensive in its scope, persuasive in its argument, and lucid in its exposition. Working on the basis of our common intuitions about our democratic commitments, Carens shows how the present immigration system is or is not compatible with what we profess. From the ground up, he builds up a theory of social membership that is humane and logical. The second part of the book is devoted to an argument for open borders. I find the argument utterly convincing, although others will find its claims too radical. Carens's most effective tactic is to compare closed borders to feudalism, both of which privilege birth unfairly, whether it is birth into a class (as in feudalism) or birth into a country (as in the present closed order). Human brings have a right to move wherever they wish. The curtailment of that h…

Featured in Singapore's Straits Times

Thanks, Akshita Nanda, for the feature in Singapore's Straits Times:

Poet Koh Jee Leong Had to Leave Singapore to Engage with It 

Shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize for English poetry last November, Jee Leong Koh says he ironically found his voice only after leaving the country in 2003 to study in the United States.

He lives in Manhattan with his partner, teaching in a private school, but continues to engage with Singapore in his critically acclaimed verse. Take the collection Steep Tea, to be published in July by UK publisher Carcanet Press.

It is partly Koh's response to women poets such as Ireland's Eavan Boland or American Rachael Briggs, who co-wrote the titular poem as a call-and-response Japanese "renga" form.

The collection also includes Koh's reactions and thoughts on Singaporean icons such as the old KTM Railway Station at Tanjong Pagar and poet Lee Tzu Pheng's well-known and much-discussed poem about life here, My Country And My Peop…


here's the heart chart--
an upturned bucket
raindrops rattle

Haiku and Book Cafe

the first crocus
flashes its green card
at airport security


On March 7, Saturday evening, I read at the Singapore Literature Prize event at Book Cafe, with M. Ravi, Hidayah Amin, Josephine Chia and Yong Shu Hoong. Organized by the Book Development Council of Singapore and moderated by Jason Erik Lundberg, readings by the five authors were followed by pertinent questions about writing and publishing. Most of the people present were from the Singapore Writers' Group, which mostly consists of expatriates living in Singapore. The last time I was in Book Cafe was many years ago, when I attended a reading given by Cyril and met Jason Wee there. It was good to see the place thriving in the competitive cafe business. Eric Norris and Cheryl Koh came for the reading.

Poetry Workshop at Dunman High

I'm going to teach my first poetry workshop in a Singapore school this afternoon. The one-hour session, with 20 students, marks my return to the Singapore classroom after an absence of 12 years. What will I find? Continuities or changes? How will these students respond to THE PILLOW BOOK?