Showing posts from January, 2019

The Tropics and Other Experiments

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Interviewed by the online magazine Entropy, I had the opportunity to reflect on the point of setting up Gaudy Boy in 2017 as an imprint of Singapore Unbound. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission, the interview asked. I wrote, "We arise from, and hope to contribute to, the transnational ‘turn’ in literature and literary studies. We are interested in the various ways that writers and writings move across national boundaries to develop a circulation of influences, exchanges, and alliances. Instead of seeing the world in such dualistic terms as East versus West, North versus South, we envision the gathering of the most progressive elements everywhere, and the publication of such a gathering in our list."

Big words indeed, which do not hide the fact that Gaudy Boy is very much an experiment in its infancy. We don't know if we will succeed, but we are inspired by others who have gone before us. In…

Seal Speaks

7 poems from my new book CONNOR AND SEAL forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in Spring 2020. The poems in the voice of Seal are pessimistic in outlook (be warned!), whereas the poems spoken by Connor are the opposite. Together they capture something of the vacillations of this politically unsettling time, I hope. Big thanks to Dale Peck, for accepting these poems, the first poetry published in this reincarnation of a pioneering American journal that was launched in 1957 with the work of Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mark Schorer, and James Purdy, and that introduced to American readers the work of Genet, Grass, Ōe, Duras, Paz, Walcott, and Nabokov.


Watched Tom at the Farm (2013), directed by Xavier Dolan, who also co-wrote the script and played the part of the protagonist. Quite a tense film, a psychological struggle between Tom and his deadlover's homophobic older brother, but the film could have been so much better. Pierre-Yves Cardinal plays the older brother Francis.

Adventure in Selfhood

Ian McKellen is luminous as the titular protagonist of Mr. Holmes (2015), directed by Bill Condon. Laura Linney, as his housekeeper, is good, and completely adorable is Milo Parker, the young fan who tries to get Holmes to work again, but McKellen could express so much with just one twitch in his hangdog face.

American Wrestler: The Wizard (2016), directed by Alex Ranarivelo, is too much of a feel-good movie to be genuinely moving, let alone intellectually probing. The teenage boy, who escaped from Iran, does not question his compulsive desire to assimilate into America. He succeeds when he helps his struggling high-school wrestling team to win and when he gets the blonde. Still, when George Kosturos finally pulled off his baggy shirt and showed off his Greek body, all my criticisms expired eagerly. Kevin G. Schmidt, who plays his teammate, was also dishy.

Read about Robert Penn Warren's long poem about Audubon in Literary Imagination Volume 20 Number 1 2018, in the essay "Rob…

To Redeem the Pledge

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Social change activists are often perceived as trouble-makers. This happens not only in Singapore but all around the world. However, this wrong perception is even more egregious in Singapore because Singaporeans have forgotten or suppressed their own local tradition of activism. The mistake is thus prevalent and stubborn. To unearth the history, theory, and practice of Singaporean activism, the news magazine New Naratif interviews former student activist TAN Tee Seng and civil rights activist Jolovan WHAM in their podcast series Political Agenda.

In the interview, New Naratif's THUM Ping Tjin referred to a theory of activism propounded by Bill Moyer. This is not the beloved American political commentator. This Bill Moyer (without an 's" at the end of his last name) was a United States social change activist who influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and James Bevel to focus the…

The Conduct of Propaganda

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"All art is propaganda, and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists," declared W.E.B. Du Bois, the African American philosopher and civil rights leader, in "Criteria for Negro Art" (1926). The trenchant declaration captures a vital truth about the function of literature in directing the sympathies of the reader. Being somewhat priggish and not a little puristical, I confess to feeling uncomfortable with the word "propaganda," feeling as I do the Singaporean state's output of feel-good songs, images, and 'news' as a rash.

Was it the element of 'propaganda' in Terrance Hayes's American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin that disappointed my high hopes? The poems are tremendously inventive and musical, but the matter and treatment of the murders of young black men in America is... too obvious? Too easy a play for the sympathies of the reader…

The Body Transformed

Friday night—watched first 3 episodes of the series Atlanta. Good script but uneven acting. GH hated it. The black body as brute and brutalized, as tender and tenderness.

Saturday night—Gina Apostol read from INSURRECTO for Second Saturdays. She began a little unsteadily, as I've seen her do at other readings, and then she settled into it and delivered a passionate voicing of the many characters in her novel. The novel restores my faith in the literary form, in its capacity to revisit the atrocities of history and not merely to recount them, but to re-view them. The colonizer is in me just as I am in my colonizer. There is an essential mystery to the large-scale horrors of history, just as there is to final act of the suicide.

Sunday—The Met's "Epic Abstraction" show was a big disappointment. After two gigantic rooms of Pollocks and Rothkos, one of this and one of that, in a misguided attempt to show the influence of Abstract Expressionism beyond American shores and …

Invitation to an Insurrection

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Dueling Narratives About Colonial Rule

In the early morning of September 28, 1901, Filipino revolutionaries, led by local police chief Valeriano Abanador, attacked the American garrison stationed in Balangigi, on the island of Samar. They killed 36 and wounded 22 in action. In retaliation, the Americans swept through the island, burning villages and killing anyone, men and women, above the age of 10. Their order was to make Samar "a howling wilderness." Estimates of the number of casualties range from 2,500 to 50,000.

In her new novel INSURRECTO, Gina Apostol approaches this historical incident of colonial brutality through the dueling narratives of an American filmmaker and her Filipino translator. In the process Apostol also tells the stories of women artists and revolutionaries, daughters and lovers, coming to an understanding of the truth of their lives, including one Casiana Naci…

Foamy Days

Last night watched Mood Indigo (2013), original title L'écume des jours, which may be translated as "Foamy Days." Like its title, the movie was light and whimsical, until it turned dark. Wealthy inventive bachelor Colin (Romain Duris, who looked stunningly like BV) fell in love with Chloé (Audrey Tautou) who fell ill due to a flower growing in her lung. To keep her alive, he spent his fortune surrounding her with fresh flowers. At their first meeting, they danced to Duke Ellington's "Choe." Directed by Michael Gondry, the movie is based on the novel by Boris Vian.

Today, after a rainy and cold brunch, we walked into the greenhouse of the Urban Garden Center under the railway tracks in Harlem, and came out of it with a Peace Lily. It now sits on our desks between us in our studio. After trying out a few names, boys' and girls', we've decided, I think, to call it Chloe. Welcome, Chloe, to our lives.

New Croton Dam

Spent yesterday with PYR who brought me to see the magnificent Croton Dam. Then a drive through the miniscule downtown of Croton-on-Hudson and lunch of home-made siew mai and popiah at her place. Lovely day, which ended with a Gaudy Boy team meeting at Rasa back in the city.

Happy New Year from Singapore Unbound

"What reprieve the streets could be, what rain
falling endlessly from the eaves of shophouses
as a line of trees becomes the token gesture
nature makes to signify an elsewhere here
where a woman slowly rises to become the shadow of a shadow of me."

—from Lawrence Lacambra Ypil's forthcoming book THE EXPERIMENT OF THE TROPICS

2018 changed into 2019 on a rainy night in New York City. The rain, however, did not dampen the merrymaking on the streets much. Instead, with the right pair of eyes, or pair of light-up glasses, you could have seen the rain signifying both here and elsewhere, as Ypil's lines above evoke, both past and future, not in the style of transformation, but in the method of what English poet William Wordsworth called interfusion, which is the art of both poetry and photography.

Gaudy Boy publishes Ypil's lyrical meditation on photographs of colonial Philippines in April, together with its fellow winner of the first Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Award…


Tuesday, Dec 18—Read Kevin Killian's Fascination. Who would have guessed that the North Shore of Long Island was so full of incident and pathos in the 70s? This three-decker memoir is in search of lost time, the writer's teens and twenties, lived in a haze of drugs and drink and drool-worthy boys. "Move along the velvet rope, run your shaky fingers past the lacquered zigzag Keith Haring graffito: "You did not live in our time! Be Sorry!""

Friday, Dec 28—Saw the Indian's Progressive Artists' Group show at Asia Society. Ram Kumar's "Unemployed Graduates" (1956), F. N. Souza's "Tycoon and the Tramp" (1955) and "Girl with the Silken Whip" (1963), and S. H. Raza's two "Ls Tere"'s (1973 and 1985) were stand-outs. My favorite painting was V. S. Gaitonde's Untitled (1962) abstract work, commissioned by Air India. After the show GH and I had Spanish tapas, Barcelona-style, at the very fine Boquer…