Saturday, October 31, 2015

Singapore Launch of Steep Tea and SWF

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 of Asian Literature" with Linh Dinh, Laksmi Pamuntjak, and Eun Heekyung (Eun's interpreter on extreme left) (not pictured: moderator Desmond Kon).

"Getting Published Overseas" with Toh Hsien Min and Alvin Pang, moderated by Fong Hoe Fang.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

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.


Full moon
through the blue moorings

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

NY Launch of Steep Tea

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 toughness.

I have so many people to thank for my book. Last night, I had the chance to thank my New York friends, in particular. Below is what I said from the heart:

I’m very pleased to be reading for you tonight from my new book "Steep Tea." The book bears my name on its front, but it owes its life to many people. I am very grateful to Michael Schmidt, the editor of Carcanet Press, for his belief in my work. I first came across his name in Singapore when I was studying for my GCE ‘A’ Level Examinations at the age of 17. He was the editor of the anthology "11 British Poets," which was an examination text. That anthology changed my life. After my encounter with Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, and R. S. Thomas in it, I wanted to be a poet too. By publishing my new book, Michael has made me a poet twice over.

Before leaving Singapore for New York, I submitted a manuscript to Carcanet. It was duly rejected, for the poems in it were bloodless things. It is New York that gave me the needed blood infusion. I am so grateful to friends here who have supported my writing over the years. I’m sorry that Eric Thomas Norris cannot be here. As an editor, he has championed my work. As a poet, he gave me superb advice on a draft of "Steep Tea."

I also want to thank my dear friend and colleague Tara Neelakantappa Safronoff, who is here tonight. Over a series of early mornings, before her children woke up, she read a draft of my book. Her warm and honest response helped me cut down the manuscript from 160 pages to 60. I was so pleased when Tara told me, after reading the published book, that it had no filler!

I owe so much to another dear friend and colleague, Helaine Smith. She has been an invaluably keen reader of my work. Her detailed comments on individual poems in "Steep Tea" made them better. She saw, just as Paul Muldoon did in a workshop that I attended, that the opening poem “Eve’s Fault” did not move forward sufficiently from its first line. Helaine’s ingenious suggestion, offered so tactfully and gently, was to remove the first line. So now the collection begins with the word “God” and not with the word “Though.” So much better!

Most of all, I want to thank my love, Guy, to whom the book is dedicated. Guy has supported my writing in big and small ways, all significant. He advised me on my writing career. He threw parties to celebrate my books. When I needed someone to manage the reception tonight, he stepped in. We celebrated our fifth anniversary this year. The last five years have been a time of personal growth for me, as I learn what it means to love another person. I’m so grateful that he allows me to write about our life together, both the darkness and the light. It is a profound mark of his trust, and I can only hope to be worthy of such loving trust.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015

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.


They have torn up the surface of Lexington Avenue again.

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

"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?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Friday, October 09, 2015

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Saturday, October 03, 2015

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.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Singapore at 50 and Haiku

"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 Singaporeans and its creation of a new coming-of-career genre of writing.

I was the odd duck of the evening, very pleased to be included, and warmly welcomed. Before I read "Attribution," "Recognition," and "Talking to Koon Meng Who Called Himself Christopher" from Steep Tea, I gave this somewhat tongue-in-cheek preamble:

None Can Tell: On Poetry and Plagiarism  

I’m here as an imposter. I’m not a scholar, I’m a poet. I’m here to practice fraud on you. I’m here to say, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” and confuse the two on earth. I make copies of copies, and so should be thrown out on my ear from the philosophers’ club. Thank you for not throwing me out. Thank you for welcoming me into your midst. Perhaps you are not followers of Plato but of Aristotle. You see poetry, and aesthetics in general, as a species of knowledge. Well, in that case, we are still diametrically opposite: poetry, to me, is a species of ignorance. A poet does not know many things; a post-colonial poet does not know many special things, things peculiar to his historical condition, to the long shadow of Western imperialism, in my case. I’m convicted on both counts, by Aristotle of ignorance, by Plato of plagiarism. Perhaps you are not a philosopher at all. Like me, you have wandered into this place by mistake. You just wish to be entertained, before the break for wine and cheese. If so, you are just the person to whom I will read.


Cheep cheep
the small plagiarist bird
rips off its head