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Didier Eribon's RETURNING TO REIMS

 Recommended by Henry Abelove, it's an excellent read. In this mix of memoir and critical analysis, French sociologist Didier Eribon asks why he had not written before about his working-class origins when he had written extensively on the also-stigmatized identity of being gay. The flight from Reims, where he grew up, to Paris is, on the one hand, a fulfillment of gay desire and, on the other, an abandonment of his class. Insightful analysis of how the social worlds and identities we are born into—including the worlds of work, education, sports, and "culture"—predetermine so much of our life. They show us what is possible; they also don't show us what is possible. It is a violence inflicted on both gay and working-class people, giving rise to an abiding feeling of shame that we can try to rework politically into pride and action, but we can never free ourselves from. Perhaps I am too influenced by the generic conventions of a memoir, but I would have liked to learn mo

Pomes in Blackbox Manifold

 I have 3 poems in Blackbox Manifold , published from the University of Sheffield, UK. Grateful thanks to editors Adam Piette and Alex Houen. "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, they said and fled the violent neighborhood to burbs, who knew zilch of the miracle of the bush burning and not burning up...."

Magical Islands

Weekly Column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here . Yesterday I was asked by a student writer of the school's newspaper to recommend a recent read for an article about students' reading habits and preferences. This was what I wrote back to her: "I just finished reading Rachel Heng's novel  The Great Reclamation , and I loved it. It is a bildungsroman, but it is also an epic. The story follows Ah Boon from boyhood in a fishing village to adulthood in the government. In the process, it also traces the trajectory of Singapore from the last days of British rule to the heady times of the country's post-independence development. What is lost in the rush to modernize? What does modernization do to one's sense of self? These are questions that the novel explores with keen sympathy and insight. And with magical islands to boot." What I could have added to modernization but did not, was the question about what is lost in the rush to statehood.

Resolutions and Irresolutions

Column written for the weekly Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here .  As poetry editor of the Evergreen Review, I'm organizing the NYC-based journal's new year poetry celebration "Resolutions and Irresolutions," featuring Amber Atiya, Brad Vogel, and Katherine Swett, on Tuesday, Jan 16, 7 pm, at a Tribeca home (RSVP me at jkoh@singaporeunbound.org). Why that event name? I was thinking of the obligatory new year resolutions, certainly, but I was also thinking of the equally obligatory irresolutions of poets and poetry. The fiercer the pressure on poetry to be didactic and activist,  the harder I find myself resisting it in favor of indecision, ambiguity, questions, and irony. There is a gap, I have discovered, between being a citizen and a poet. They are related, but they are not the same. The citizen wants justice above all, the poet wants beauty. And an ideal society worthy of its name must find the space to accommodate the poet, its unreliable ally, its steadf

New Singapore Unbound Video

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We have a new video for Singapore Unbound! Thanks to Eunice Lau. The video captures our history and past accomplishments and looks forward to our future directions and plans. Take a look!

Sample and Loop: A Simple History of Singaporeans in America

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  My name is on the book cover, but the book is in fact written by many hands. My grateful thanks to the many Singaporeans in America who shared their stories with me and gave me permission to write them up in verse. Here it is, a book about us: SAMPLE AND LOOP: A SIMPLE HISTORY OF SINGAPOREANS IN AMERICA. "Based on personal interviews, these poems together tell a part of the story of the migration of Singaporeans to the United States of America. Sample and Loop traces the nonlinear, multidimensional, and surprising trajectory of lived experience in musical verse. Here are the Ceramicist, the Pediatrician, the Scenic Designer, the Chef, the Porn Star, and a host of other migrant-pilgrims sharing the tales of their lives even as they continue to make those lives in a country not of their birth. By narrating their discoveries, troubles, hopes, and sorrows, they refract a powerful beam of light on both countries and compose a wayward music for the road." All sale proceeds go t

Theme and Variations

 With Henry, I saw New York City Ballet danced Balanchine's "Serenade," "Orpheus," and "Theme and Variations" last Tuesday. Balanchine's gift was for composition, color, and rhythm, and not for narrative, as the overly literal "Orpheus." Sara Mearns was outstanding in "Serenade." In "Theme and Variations," Megan Fairchild was lovely, and so was her partner Anthony Huxley, although he was not tall or strong enough to swing her effortlessly with one arm.