Flying to the UK tonight to launch my new Carcanet book of poems. Bittersweet feeling, actually. 12 years ago, when I was deciding between moving to the UK or the US, I plumped for the latter because it was terra incognito to me. It felt right to start a new life in a country completely new to me. The US has since given me so much. The encouragement and opportunity to come out as a gay man. Superb poetry teachers and exemplars. Friends and lovers. New York City.
But the US has not embraced my poetry. I'm grateful to Roxanne Hoffman for publishing my first chapbook and to various fine independent journals for publishing my poems. My work had not, however, found favor with any of the big poetry journals and publishers. After years of contest submissions and payments, I decided to self-publish my books and found a great deal of satisfaction in the process and result. I'm ever so pleased, and surprised, when individuals tell me how much they like my work. Still, the niggling feeling persists, why the disconnect between my work and this country? Is the disconnect a matter of aesthetics, history, politics, or sheer lucklessness? I have found a home here but my work is still homeless. There is this homeless guy in Central Park, near where I live, who keeps a golf club close to him and, every now and then, hits around an invisible ball in the long grasses.
So I'm flying tonight to the country to which I could have migrated but did not. For personal and historical reasons, the UK is the natural home for my work. The British understand where I come from, without too much explanation; they understand too my resistances and ambivalences as a postcolonial subject. In contrast, the Americans, by and large, don't even understand that they are an empire. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Michael Schmidt who saw it fit to publish my work in PN Review, New Poetries V and, now, a book. This faith, so incredibly important to a writer, makes me wonder if I should have migrated to the UK instead all those 12 years ago. Would I have gotten further there, not just career-wise but, more importantly, in the growth of my writing? Or would an earlier endorsement have stunted my writing, have brought any development to a halt? The game of counterfactuals.
The one thing certain is that I'd have been a different writer. My work is now such a compound of Singaporean, British and American elements that it is hard to distill one thing from another. Or to conceive of it in another way, it is unassimilable to any one tradition. That has a heroic ring to it, that makes me want to laugh. All to the good. A good laugh chases away any pre-flight blues.