Sunday, March 15, 2015

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 People.

"When writing my poem Recognition, I found myself trying to find the details of my own life in her life and writings," says Koh, 45, who came to poetry through the writings of Philip Larkin and other English poets and did his degree in English literature at Oxford University. Though he had read and loved the works of Singapore-born Boey Kim Cheng many years ago, he encountered Lee's work only recently.

He says he felt an instant connection to her poem and plans to send her a copy of Steep Tea.

"I grew a bean plant as a school science project. Did she? I reared a chick in my then-new housing estate. Did she? Nothing is certain until the final comparison, that I have written poems, just as she did. I am less interested in the details of her personal life, than in the fact that we both write poems, that we both try to make sense of ourselves and our country through our imagination."

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Steep Tea by Jee Leong Koh will be published by Carcanet Press in July. Read the rest of the article here.

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