Thursday, April 30, 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Optimism and Haiku

Last night I had a very enjoyable evening watching a staged reading of Damon Chua's new play Optimism. Written and workshopped during his Emerging Writers Residency at The Public Theater, the play weaves together two different American eras--the 1964 New York World's Fair and early 1980s Wall Street--in an intricate and telling fashion, dramatizing the story of the American dream from the point of view of a young Chinese American, who grew up in Flushing, Queens. The actors, directed by Rebecca Taichman, were all terrific: Tina Benko, Bernardo Cubria, Sanjit De Silva, Karen Huie, Marc Damon Johnson, Peter Kim and Mariko Nakasone Parker. I hope some theater company will pick up the play and give it a full-fledged production.


april twilight
advancing deadline
for final proofs

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015


two japanese women
stop by the cherry tree
and remove their sunglasses

Sunday, April 26, 2015

FB Page and Haiku

Set up a Facebook page for my new book Steep Tea. Please like it to follow the book's adventures in the world.


the paint forsythia
flicks, dabs and trowels--
ground and figure

Friday, April 24, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Oxford Poets and Haiku

Edited by Iain Galbraith and Robyn Marsack, Oxford Poets 2013 An Anthology is consistently enjoyable. Substantial selection of each poet's work. Particularly glad to make the acquaintance with the poetry of Gregor Addison, David Attwooll, Paul Batchelor, Andre Naffis-Sahely and Jan Wagner. The last writes in German and is translated in the anthology by Galbraith. His poetry is of a piece with his introduction, which strikes a chord with me:

A good poem can pool the maximum linguistic resources in the smallest of fields, harmonising opposites and paradoxes, allowing them to chime, amplifying musicality and meaning. t will also uphold the fundamental poetic virtues of surprise and transgression (whether in violating conventions of its own making or rules imposed from without), granting the greatest possible freedom in the most compact space.... 
The striking, original quality of a successful poem lies in its ability to grasp or say something that has not been put in the same way before, while making it seem perfectly natural to do so - as if, in the past, people had simply neglected to see things in the right light, while knowing instinctively that such a way of seeing must exist. Such a poem will be unpretentious, while drawing on unlimited resources; multi-layered, but not gratuitously so. 


with the sun
emerge the birdwatchers
i fluff

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reading and Haiku

Heard Kathleen Ossip read yesterday from her new book The Do-Over at KGB. The poems were beguiling and she read them very well. The bar was packed, there wasn't even standing room. CC and I came early and perched ourselves on a corner table. DH joined us, and we helped ourselves to the open bar after the reading until late into the night. There was much talking and a little crying. Trauma and the desire for trauma.


spring rain
returns all days
of rain

Monday, April 20, 2015

"Hand to God" and Haiku

Am so glad that SW bought tickets to Hand to God. She invited me and MB along, and we had a terrific time at the Booth Theater yesterday. Written by Robert Askins, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the play was hysterically funny and very very darkly psychological about the moral split in the human soul. A foul-mouthed and violent puppet. Raunchy puppet sex. Steven Boyer was wonderful as the wounded teenager Jason and his sock puppet Tyrone. His mother Margery was played with painful clarity by Geneva Carr. Michael Oberholtzer was perfect as the sullen bully who lusted after Margery, his teacher in Christian Puppet Ministry. Also lusting after Margery, and applying subtle pastoral pressure on her to give it up, was Greg, the church pastor, played by Marc Kudisch. Sarah Stiles was rightly understated as Jessica as she was the only sane one. Emerging into broad daylight afterwards, we remained in the spell of the play for long minutes, still struggling with the devil we had just seen inside.


in the green pond
sunning turtles point the way
to mecca

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Snakeskin and Haiku

Watched Daniel Hui's Snakeskin last night at the Film Society at Lincoln Center, and was beguiled by its mixture of fact and fiction, past, present and future, voice and voice-over, human and animal. The woman playing Salmah was particularly compelling throughout. The image of fire not as a creative force, but destructive, burning up books and films, and finally, inevitably, burning up the people who follow their cult leader into transcendence. Salmah's idea of film as evil, first learned from her mother, a former actor and dancer in Malay film at the height of the Malay film industry in Singapore in the 50s. When Salmah becomes a filmmaker herself, she learns that her mother is right, that film is evil, for in making a record of things in front of it, it makes a different version of things. The sense of the uncanny haunts her. During the Q&A, Daniel Hui admits to a similar fear of film, a strong feeling of responsibility for making images of people, and thus distorting them, and for the use that others may make use of his film. The plot is set in 2066 to allude to Roberto Bolano. Daniel refers briefly to the multiple voices in The Savage Detectives.


wood shavings fly
from the workman’s drill
spring and fall

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015


forsythia in bloom
very soon i will have forgotten writing
forsythia in bloom

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Union and Haiku

Four poems in the Union folio of Singaporean and American poetry, published by Drunken Boat. Thanks, Ravi Shankar and Alvin Pang. Good reading for the weekend!


Minneapolis haiku

morning headache—
the insistence of birds
in loring park

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Antonio Tabucchi's "Time Ages in a Hurry"

I am grateful to translators Martha Cooley and Antonio Romani for introducing me to the short fiction of Antonio Tabucchi. Time Ages in a Hurry collects nine stories: "The Circle," "Drip, Drop, Drippity-Drop," "Clouds," "The Dead at the Table," "Between Generals," "Yo me enamore del aire," "Festival," "Bucharest Hasn't Changed a Bit" and "Against Time." The stories are closely observed, often revolving around two people in conversation. The late Italian writer is profoundly concerned with the passing of time and its effects on memory, desire and fantasy. In the very poignant "Drip, Drop," a man waits beside his dying aunt, who has taken custody of not only him as a young boy, but also the childhood memories that he was too young to remember.

The stories do not stay in Italy but range across Europe and beyond. "The Circle" is narrated from the perspective of a woman from the Maghreb who grew up in Paris, and is now married into a rich and illustrious family of Germans, possibly Jewish, living in Geneva. "Between Generals" tell the story of the Soviet invasion of Hungary through the point of view of an Hungarian general who spent "the best days of [his] life" in Moscow with the Russian general he fought against. In "Bucharest Hasn't Changed a Bit," a son, who still lives and works in Europe, visits his senile father in Tel Aviv, who cannot forget the old family home in Bucharest.

The last story "Against Time" is, at least in part, an ars poetica, as the translators said during the book launch at the Center for Fiction, New York City. The narrator becomes a character in his own story, following the trail of his protagonist from Italy to Athens and then to Crete, to an old monastery. In an epiphany at the end, the narrator understands:

Everything changed perspective, in a flash he felt the euphoria of discovery, a subtle nausea, a mortal melancholy. But also a sense of infinite liberation, as when we finally understand something we'd known all along and didn't want to know: it wasn't the already-seen that was swallowing him a never-lived past, he instead was capturing it in a future yet to be lived. 

To write down what is first conceived in the mind is not to be sucked back into an imaginary past, but to render the story into a human future to come.



Minneapolis haiku

through the lock and dam
paper boats


to the sun for a day
no extra charges

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Minneapolis haiku

I don't want to spread a false scare, so the following Minneapolis haiku is only a metaphor.

snow again
a bridge collapsed here

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Minneapolis Haiku

This Pisces, two fish knotted by the mouth, is going to one of the Twin Cities today. Which city will it be? Pain or Pleasure? Upriver or Down? Will he know which one even after he has been?

in minneapolis
a city made of water
release the fish

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Tomorrow AWP

Flying tomorrow to Minneapolis for my first AWP conference - Association of Writing Programs. I avoided it for the past 10 years, because a conference this size would overwhelm me. This year, I am going mainly because I will be speaking and reading at two events, Union: Singapore's 50th Anniversary Reflected through American Literature, and Starry Island: New Writing from Singapore. If I can strengthen the bridge and widen the road between Singapore and the USA, I will. It's not about marketing, but about mission, born out of living between two places at once.

I'm also eager to look around the city, having never been there. I will be heading to two bars, The Nicolette, for a reading hosted by Kundiman, Kore and Kaya Presses, and Honey, for a reading hosted by Drunken Boat. I want to explore the Walker Art Center and the Weisman Art Museum. I want to roam the old Mill District, taking in the Open Book artspace, and cross back and forth the Mississippi on foot. I want to dance at the dance clubs on Friday and Saturday nights. To live in what I see and hear and taste and smell and touch, for who knows if I'd ever be back?


used toothpick
as apple cores

Monday, April 06, 2015

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Cooper Hewitt Haiku

After years of refurbishment, the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum opens its doors to the public, but its garden is still a churn of red soil.

No lilacs bloom
in the ever-returning spring
for Abe’s black pall

Saturday, April 04, 2015


The Brazilian movie last night has many simple but effective scenes. In one, slipping his schoolfriend’s red hoodie over his bare skin, Leonardo lies down in bed, sniffs the inside of the hood, and reaches for himself. In another, stealing out after curfew, Gabriel takes Leo on his bike to a special park.

an eclipse of the moon
to the blind


The movie was The Way He Looks (2014), directed by Daniel Ribeiro. Ghilherme Lobo plays the blind Leonardo. Fabio Audi plays Gabriel.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Vassar Reading and Haiku

I read at Vassar College yesterday, at the invitation of the Southeast Asian Student Alliance. The Vice President Suzie Shin was given my Pillow Book by a friend before she left Singapore for Vassar. She has lived in Singapore since she was four, when her parents migrated from Korea for her dad to take up a professorship at the National University of Singapore. Her mum is an artist and writer, who has just been published by Kenny Leck. The reading, co-sponsored by Wordsmiths, a student poetry group, and the Asian Studies Department, was well-attended. There were close to 40 people. I read a 40-minute set, the longest that I have ever done, and brought the audience along with me on my personal journey. Four stages, corresponding to my four books: (1) from Singapore to Sarah Lawrence College, (2) from Sarah Lawrence to New York, but also back to Singapore, (3) from New York to Self-Invention and Its Limits, and (4) from Self-Invention to Self-Understanding. The questions afterwards revolved around being gay and a writer in illiberal Singapore. It was lovely to chat with the students over food. A couple major in English, one in Asian Studies. A number are budding political scientists, one of whom is researching the situation of migrant workers in Singapore. SEASA is hoping to invite Tan Pin Pin next to show her documentary To Singapore, With Love.

I arrived early so that I would have the time to explore the campus. Walking around, I had the same feeling that I felt in my first weeks at Sarah Lawrence, that I didn't belong. The campus itself could not be more welcoming. No one stopped me to ask who I was or what I was doing in the quad. No electronic doors or barriers prevented me from wandering into the art gallery, chapel and library. But, as I told the audience at the reading later, I was still highly conscious of not-belonging. The library, the heart of learning, was built on the basic plan of a cruciform. The valuable first editions on display were all by Victorian writers such as John Ruskin, Lewis Carroll and Sara Coleridge. George Meredith's "Arab entertainment" The Shaving of Shagpat acknowledged on its title page that it followed the style of the Arabian Nights, but still claimed that it was an original work. If an Asian author writing in English was influenced by a Western author, however, the Asian would be seen as imitative, not original.

These appurtenances were, however, a valuable and integral part of Vassar's identity. They made Vassar Vassar. So every strong identity, no matter how open and friendly, must alienate those trying to get in. This was a tension that I had always inhabited. I had no doubt that if I stayed in Vassar for a few weeks, that I'd be welcomed and made to feel at home. But I valued this feeling of not-belonging, I told the room, even though it was not a comfortable feeling. My poetry comes from this feeling of not-belonging, and so I want to hold on to that feeling as long as possible.

the hudson line
barrels past the hudson--
hare and tortoises

Thursday, April 02, 2015

NaPo Haiku

Yes, I'm doing NaPo with PFFA again. Second day effort.

big dog sniffing
by the veiny tulip stalks
straining to pop

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


two weeks into spring
this tree holds up its leaves
traffic signal yellow