Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Diary

On Sunday, celebrated New York Pride by having brunch with WL, CC, DM, and PB at Philip Marie. After brunch we watched the parade and saw the Resist and Gays Against Guns contingents. GH left for Standard Hotel's Pool Party, and DM and PB left soon after. WL, CC and I had drinks at French Roast and then watched more of the parade along 5th Ave, after which we had dinner at Rasa. Good day. I still think it's important to support the parade. At night, GH and I watched Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King (1991).  Jeff Bridges was very good at a suicidal radio DJ and so was Robin Williams as a deranged homeless man.

Today I've been reading Elie Wiesel's memoir The Sea Is Never Full. In its absolute uniqueness, the Holocaust, which Wiesel prefers to call the Event, cannot be described or shown. It is on the other side of language and image. Also, the tension between Jews living in Israel and those living in the Diaspora.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Diary

Met Maureen Hoon for lunch yesterday at Sovlaki Midtown. Really juicy lamb chops, in pieces easily handled with fingers. Pita bread made in house and on the day. Maureen showed me some images of her new art project, which arose out of her response to a deeply moving piece of music about loss. We talked about the fundraiser for Singapore Unbound. After leaving her, I worked on Does grass sweat in the New York Public Library branch near me. Jacques the day before gave me an important clue to the character of Sam Fujimoto-Meyer. He described his son as being a moral absolutist. Since young, he has always wanted to know who the bad guys are. This despite his enormous intelligence and wide reading. The two are not contradictory. In the evening, we finished watching a queer movie from Venezuela. An older man started a relationship with a young gangster. When the young man wanted to show his gratitude to the older man, he killed the man's father since the man had said how much he wished him dead. They had sex for the first time that night. The next day, the man tipped off the cops who came for the young gangster.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Diary

Visited Jacques Houis and his wife Shelly at their home in Millertown, two hours' train ride from Harlem. Shelly, a former movie producer, made a delicious lunch of shrimp salad and tomato-coconut milk soup. Jacques drove me to visit his friend Kush, who has an astonishing collection of books, recordings, and memorabilia associated with the San Francisco Renaissance. Kush recited Artaud and Whitman for us and showed me his bust of William Blake, which he kissed on the forehead. On the train back home I finished reading Cheryl A. Wall's a Very Short Introduction to The Harlem Renaissance. Very useful. At night I watched François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959), one of the most famous films of the French New Wave. This is gritty Paris, where you have to walk down six flights of grimy stairs to take out the garbage every night. Constrained by unimaginative schooling and feckless parents, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) turns to petty crime, which leads him eventually to a juvenile prison camp. Escaping from the camp, he found and saw the sea for the first time in his life.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Diary

Finalized and posted my review of Tan Pin Pin's documentary In Time to Come on SP blog. Heard Eric Calatayud sing and Kenny play on the keyboard with their band in the common garden on 122nd Street. Jazz standards and Beatles songs. They were very good. Left early to hear Cheryl A. Wall speak about the women writers of the Harlem Renaissance. She was a good speaker, concise and perceptive. Her manner was stately. I asked her a question about Tea Cake slapping Janie in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. She referred me to Alice Walker's observation that Janie does not speak in that chapter although she does in all other chapters. The novel does, implicitly, criticize Tea Cake's action.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Diary

Second day of summer break. Worked on Does grass sweat. Met Gina Apostol and young Filipino literary scholar Paul Nadal for dinner at Chomp Chomp.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Oxford Weekend

Attended a very interesting poetry symposium and read at Teddy Hall over the weekend. Met Mina Ebtehadj-Marquis for Sat brunch, and spent time with Anna, Adam, James, and Reuben, whom I stayed with.

Organized by Kristin Grogan and Hugh Foley, "Special Relationships: Poetry Across the Atlantic Since 2000," Friday, May 19, Rothermere American Institute:

Panel 1
Mary Jean Chan (Royal Holloway) - Spatial and Spiritual Subalternity in Kei Miller's The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion
Dave Coates (Edinburgh) - Awards Culture and Whiteness in Contemporary Poetry
Dai George (UCL) - The Salt Aesthetic: American Influence in British Poetry's Experimental Mainstream

Panel 2
Jess Cotton (UCL) - Performing (In)visibility: Bhanu Kapil, Sileutas, and the Supine Body
Jewel Pereyra (Georgetown) - Resisting a Legar Grammar: Poetic Embodiment and Tidal Memory in M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong! and Claudia Rankine's Citizen
 Jee Leong Koh (The Brearley School) - Complication as a Form of Explication (A reading of my work-in-progress Does grass sweat)

Panel 3
Pierre Monot (Ludwig-Maximillian) - The Poetics of Democratice Self-Limitation (on George Oppen)
Jack Belloli (Cambridge) - The Hatred of Prosody: Or, On Not Wanting to Talk About Prose and Verse Any More
Rosa Campbell (St. Andrews) - Eileen Myles's Transatlantic Tweets: The New York School in the Era of Social Media

Panel 4
Josh Robinson (Cardiff) - Borders, Boundaries, Limits: The Poetics of Andrea Brady
Mohammad Shahidul Islam Chowdhury (East Delta University, Chittagong): The Enigmatic Self in Alice Oswald and Brenda Shaughnessy
Bridget Vincent (Nottingham) - Staging Sorrow: Vicarious Apology in Geoffrey Hill

Poetry Roundtable
Sandeep Parmar, Sarah Howe, and Oli Hazzard, chaired by Erica McAlpine

--

The reading at Teddy Hall on Saturday, May 20, was organized by Peter J King. I read with Erica McAlpine, who took Horace as her chief inspiration for her first book of poetry. In sapphics, she wrote about birds, flowers, and beasts with great facility and charm. It was also good to hear Peter read again. We first met at Albion Beatnik Bookshop two years ago when I was there to launch Steep Tea.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

New SU Website

We're very excited to launch the new Singapore Unbound website. It brings together into one place all our initiatives and activities: Singapore Literature Festival in NYC, Second Saturdays Reading Series, Singapore Poetry blog, Singapore Unbound Fellowship, and our new imprint, Gaudy Boy, which publishes authors of Asian heritage. Please support us by signing up on the website for the e-newsletter, following us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and spreading the word. We are a completely independent non-profit venture seeking to build cultural exchange and mutual understanding between Singapore and the USA. Champion the cause of literature, the arts, and equal rights by making a donation.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Hi Harlem #28

#28 Two Well-dressed Gentlemen Out on an April Afternoon

Sirs, may I walk with you,
I saw you throwing me a glance?
You walk so funny,
so dapper and rangingly.
You walk as if at any moment
you may break out
into a dance.
You’re so evident,
men who’ve been around
and still unbroken,
no, that’s too melodramatic,
you’re finally
comic,
entirely yourselves,
like the sun.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hi Harlem #27

#27 The Birds of Harlem

The birds of Harlem are the birds
of America,
the brown nonentities
and the self-advertising glories.
They have returned from other lands
to a familiar bough
or the corner ledge of a brownstone.
To call them
the birds of Harlem
is to give spirit a local habitation and a name.
It’s a way of saying we belong
somewhere, a way of singing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hi Harlem #24 - 26

#24 Under the Elevated Railway Tracks

In the plant nursery a muscular Chinese man
balances on his right hand a tray of miniatures
as he walks among the cactuses and hyacinths
in the rumbling shadow of the scheduled trains.
He brings me back to Kunming, the acrobats
climbing up one another, the strongest lifting
clear the other two, a trinity exerting pressure
at every point and achieving a momentary rest.

I see him and I see you look at him, his shorts
round and covered in a pretty pattern of ferns,
his big arm lifting the greenly growth for home.
You walk ahead to sneak a peek back at his face,
I following. It’s a good face, strong and open.
Love, do you hear somebody call out for Adam?



#25 Leave from Harlem

Setting his triangular speaker on the train floor,
the man does not blast but croons into his mike,

making love to the dark glasses on a Roman nose,
the gold chain round a throbbing jugular, the phone

lighting up a face with radiation, the bandaged hand
resting on a hard case luggage bag. Without losing

a beat, the singer lifts his tin trumpet, blue-green,
and speaks with dispassionate objectivity

 of a reconciliation between us and things. The chain
falls off. The prodigal phone returns to the pocket.

The kissing bandage removed from the wounded hand
for a sign of things to come. The singer toots his horn,

 a calling heard on many trains leaving from Harlem.
Sometimes it does not work but sometimes it does.



#26 The First Three Months

We’ll remember
the nasty neighbor who complained
when we moved the first box in,
who gave us to understand she’s on the board.

We’ll remember
discovering the church on our street
has saved its black
bells.

We’ll remember
buying local and the strawberries
looked so fresh but were not.
The milk sour.

We’ll remember
the first people who stayed with us, your sister,
and brought back the first pleasures
of Harlem Shack.

We’ll remember
re-drawing the ground plan
 of your New Delhi project
over and over and revising my Harlem poems.

We’ll remember
the French restaurants run by Haitians, Senegalese, and Burkinabé,
and so many
salons for braiding hair.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hi Harlem #23

#23 The Man in the Gold Jumpsuit

Who are you, O, who are you actually,
man in the jumpsuit glinting in the sun?
Where are you going with the spray can,
gold like you to the squatchee of your cap?
Are you legendary King Midas who turns
a Red Delicious to its dumb weight in gold?
Are you an astronaut who shows us where
to find the stars and their transmissions?
Or are you the one who creates the stars
on the walls of schools, prisons, hospitals?

Hi Harlem #22

#22 The Classical Theater of Harlem

Downstage left, enter the Self in the making
of what we all must see, the busy and free crayon,
the things you can do with a piece of string,
then it gets called names, it calls others names,
one name rising above the others to stand for
the Self’s self, for whom one makes a bouquet
of involuntary thought and ventures beyond
the house, listening in the wing for the place
to come back on stage, for it loves the stage,
the strutting and the fretting, the figure it cuts
with its kitchen scissors around the play script,
understanding so much is pre-given and all one
 can do is to inflect a line or two in a particular
way, to hold the pistol with one hand or two,
to drop one’s head or hold it up, before moving
to the end, upstaged by the audience, and right.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Singapore Writers Directory

Yes, I have strong objections to being featured in the 2017 edition of the Singapore Writers Directory because I've sworn never to work with the National Arts Council until they return their publishing grant to Sonny Liew's graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye and issue a public apology to the writer/artist, the publisher, and the Singapore people for withdrawing their promised support for a seminal work of literature, and until the National Arts Council promise to work with their counterpart the Orwellian-named Media Development Authority to revoke the restriction of Tan Pin Pin's documentary To Singapore With Love from public screening. Their letter:

Dear Jee Leong,

The National Arts Council would like to feature you in the 2017 edition of the Singapore Writers Directory, a print and online directory of Singapore writers in English profiling living Singapore writers from the four official languages (English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil) and their works. The first edition titled Literary Singapore was published in 2007 and the second in 2011; the latter is downloadable from https://www.nac.gov.sg/…/lit…/Resources-and-Directories.html.

The aim of the publication is to develop a robust and engaging marketing literature that acts as a ‘travelling representative’ to:
1. generate greater awareness and heighten visibility for Singapore writers and their works, publishers and organisations;
2. fuel engagement and trigger action between writers and international communities.

The introduction of the online platform with a customisable search will not only allow for a more accessible means of circulation, it will also facilitate the addition of new works and emerging writers to the database, offering a comprehensive and up-to-date reference point for interested parties.

If you have no objections to being featured as a writer, please find attached the template detailing the information and supporting documents required for submission. We would be grateful if you could submit the completed template and supporting documents to us preferably by 5pm on Monday, 1 May 2017. Do let us know if you require an extension.

Hi Harlem #19, 20, and 21

#19 American Sentence

Today I saw a cotton gin and learned how a machine expanded slave labor.


#20 Elegy

Black light, black light,
as still as the black train
is frantic, rushing the
black night. As narrow
as the black boulevard
is wide. Old as Cheops
and as the black olive
is young, blasted time.
Frequent as injustice
and as rare as equal
understanding. Sexy
as hell and as heaven
is detumescent. Tiny
as he, snorting, was big
inside after his white
boy had first opened
me up. As strong as
the curtains are weak.
As quiet as the siren
is alarming, arresting
never the black river.


# 21 Friday Nights

The movies have gone all weird on me.
The murderer, the victim, and the lawyer
are all white. The spy and his spymaster
white. The gay teen and his crush white.
The surgeon and his patient white, with
a black nurse or hospital administrator
thrown in for color. The poets, you guess
it, white. Nothing like the world outside.
My screen is not a window, it’s a filter.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hi Harlem #18

#18 Reading Richard Wright’s Haiku on International Haiku Day

They take the measure of things,
spider webs, melons, a scarecrow,
a candle with the faint markings
of rat teeth. Written in France,
in the last 18 months of his life,
a number begin, just enough snow… 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Poem #17

#17 Strongman from Qinshi Huangdi’s Tomb

Against Rilke 

The head would have given the final expression
like a peacock’s tail feathers, had we not lost it,
and yet the body is too strongly modeled for us
to require a face. Rounded like high cheekbones,

the shoulders weigh two brawny arms, snakes
lashing within, holding what would have been
a great bendy pole, with a colleague, on which
an acrobat would swing and somersault and land.

Driven to the ground but rising from his feet,
the enormous torso, of earth once trampled on
by trumpeting beasts, is not smooth like a smile
but frowns with clear cracks, in large fragments,

about the roof of the barbarous belly, the lines,
opening and closing, emanating from our mouth.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Hi Harlem #16

#16 From the Vantage of Harlem

A plane flies by my window,
and then another, very slowly,
as if to say, you can’t catch us,
poet, living the way you do.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hi Harlem #15

#15 The Places I have lived in NYC Compared to Literary Genres

Brooklyn is a big novel.
Queens is a memoir.
Hell’s Kitchen is a play
by Tennessee Williams.
The Upper West Side
a film by Woody Allen.
Harlem, with your crazies,
your preachers and loafers,
you take the prose poem.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Hi Harlem #14

#14 Counting Song

This is failing territory, where we will die
of prostate cancer or sweet pneumonia,
after we hang our coats up in the broom closet.
This old man played nick nack on my drum.

Ambition, the devil, has descended to details
and every meal is eaten with Dissatisfaction.
Give, my Love, the long-dead dog a bone.
Paddy whacked, this old man rolled home.

Friends go before us—who knows where.
The doorbell rings for other men, our door
opens to the mocking grin of thinning air.
This old man played nick nack on my shoe.

Look, our eyesight is deserting us, o parody,
They say hearing, HEARING, the first to go.
Sans eyes, sans ears, sans smell, sans taste,
paddy whacked, this old man rolled home.

What have we left? The furniture of memory.
Dining table your dad made, the ghostly TV,
 the ghastly hooks of animal horn on the wall.
This old man played nick nack on my tree.

A house of sadness when we intend joy,
it will be a property, a prop, for tired feet.
After the drill square and the stroll garden,
 paddy whacked, this old man rolled home.

Hi Harlem #13

#13 Their Eyes Are Watching God

The God of the Church of Scientology of Harlem, the God
of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the God
of the Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the God
of worldwide socialist revolution, the God of the big black butt, the God
who made Ellington the Duke, the God of Malcolm X, the God
Asclepius hobbling out of the College of Podiatric Medicine, the God
racing another God down Powell in his souped-up go kart, the God
of waffle and fried chicken, the God of fried fish, the God
of the Harlem Renaissance, the God of the real estate renaissance, the God
of the big boom box, the God of small businesses, the God
of beggars, thieves and magicians, the God of children, the God
of Apollo Theater who is also the God of Comedy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hi Harlem #12

#12 Sleeping on Park Benches

Stretched out on park benches, these men
tilt their dark rumpled faces to the sun,
xxxxxlike sunflowers,
I could say, but they are really emperors
xxxxxof their time.

They remind me of retirees back home
in 80s Singapore, sleeping the day away,
xxxxxwhite ribbed singlet
their pauper disguise, returning at night
xxxxxto well-lit homes.

They have disappeared from public parks.
They looked unsightly to someone, or useless,
xxxxxso they are
clearing children’s trays, picking up cardboard
xxxxxfor the weight.

I don’t really understand why I’m thinking
of retirees while crossing Marcus Garvey
xxxxxon my run,
seeing in these men swathed in coats and jeans
xxxxxstone effigies.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hi Harlem #11

#11 High Enough

Now I live high enough, above surrounding roofs,
to see the unimpeded sky turn ever so slowly to light,
the black church tower coming into sight with its bells,
turn in the spring evening to purple wash, into which
the water tank, like a squat rocket, catapults its icon
and flies without moving as darkness falls around it,
the shopping mall pulsating in the corner of the eye
with an unearthly glow, high enough to see all this,
unimpeded, I repeat, with only the sky looking in,
when the buzz-cut jock in the vid, left hand relaxed
on the steering wheel, master hand on himself, looking
back and forth between the motorway and her activity
 between her legs, passing pylons and twelve-wheelers,
brings himself off, oh my god, self-recording, laughing.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Harlem # 9 and 10

#9 Ordering Takeout in Harlem

Being a pedant, I told Empire Corner II
on the phone that it was Apt 5D, as in D
for Donkey. That didn’t sound quite right,
so I told Sottocasa Pizzeria that it was D
for Donald, before I remembered Drumpf.
Finally I settled on David, to the very fancy
Indian place, for Jonathan’s sweetheart,
the king of Israel, the dancer, the psalms.



#10 Harlem Haiku

Alighting
on a high branch of the tree
outside my study,
the silhouette of a songbird
chirps and chirps:
I know what branch will hold my weight,
I know what time to go,
what I know I know I know.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Artless Art

The beauty of Akhil Sharma's novel Family Life lies in its understated style. The sentences are simple but delicately weighted. The metaphors and similes, born of close observation of ordinary life, are highly original. Throughout, the hopes and fears of migrating from India to America, and then the effects of a tragedy on the family in the new land, are evoked with painful honesty. This is not an easy book to read, for it deals with the devastation of happiness, but the style holds up the devastation to the light with wit and grace.

*

WL recommended that I watch Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) when Kristen Stewart came up in our conversation.  I'm so glad I did. It's one of the best movies I've watched in the past few years. Directed by Olivier Assayas, the movie stars Juliette Binoche as an aging actress (Maria Enders) who returns to act in the play that launched her career but this time as the older woman, not the younger one. Stewart plays the personal assistant (Valentine) to the still-glamorous star, and amazingly holds her own against the French actress. When she helps Enders to rehearse her lines, life and art interact with insight and irony. The beautiful script, written by the director, is pointed and suggestive in its moments of confrontation and silence. The personal question is about coming to terms with one's age. The artistic question is whether a skillful experienced artist can still play a part with the direct innocence of a young ingenue. What is the art of forgetting one's art? How does one become a classic, timeless? Chloë Grace Moretz is wonderful too as the brash upstart Jo-Ann Ellis, who plays the younger woman in the re-staging of the play. One wants to dislike her, to compare her unfavorably to the loving and dedicated assistant Valentine. But the film has shown us that young actors are magnetic because of their unbridled egotism. And that young actors will, in turn, grow to be old actors.

Hi Harlem #8

#8 Was It Known as Mount Morris Park Then?

You used to live in Harlem,
back in the 90s,
and cruised the boys in the outdoor pool
to the north of the park.
Not in the sex clubs,
which you likened to shooting fish in the barrel.
You always have a way with words.
I can see you
chatting up a young buck, one yourself,
while children thrashed about on floats and parents
shouted instructions,
then heading for the changing room,
you first, and then your accomplice,
to finish up the confab.
I can’t wait for summer,
if the boys at the gym are anything
to go by,
when the pool will be filled with water
and the park with the sour cherry,
which the website tells me is
self-pollinating.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Hi Harlem #7

#7 Sisters Caribbean Cuisine

They are an allegory, these two elegant women,
chicory brown showing between the flaming red
of their origami turbans and long flowing dresses.
They move with a slow stateliness that yet owns
a required quickness for plucking a child from a river
or a flower from a stem. Unmistakably sisters,
they have a brother (or is he a husband?), succulent
as goat curry with collard greens and candied yam,

who is not always there. They manage without him.
Once, someone threw a rock through the window
and made off with the cash register. It was empty,
one sister told me as she swept up the fallen glass.
(One speaks English, the other, however, does not.)
The restaurant is on the rougher side of the park.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Hi Harlem #6

#6 I Don’t Believe in the Long Arc of Justice

In the Martin Luther King Jr. Senior Center,
a dozen Martins and Martinas doze and drool
in front of the Baptist preacher on cable TV.
 They know better than to take him seriously.

Sure, they sometimes wake at night, blurred
with heat and sweat, and cry out for a savior.
But in their better, which means less fearful,
moments, they see through cataracts the truth.

No one will save them from slow deterioration
or a heart attack. No words will do. Sure, it is
far far better to have brave words than harsh,
but the time for words is almost over, so they

look forward to their children coming for them,
after a hard day’s slog, to bundle them into coats
and wheel the feebler out to the open chariot,
paid for by monthly installments and rough hands.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Hi Harlem #5

#5 Sea & Sea Fish Market

How does Sea feel, knowing that there is another Sea,
that he, or she, or they, is not unique?
Not just in a Psyche and Echo way,
not just in the coincidence of a common name, like Smith,
nor in the past and present tense sense,
not even in the fashion of the replication of a gene,
like two daughters from a mother,
or two poems from the great Polish poet Wisława Szymborska,
but exact copies of each other in alternate universes
except they live in the same one
where together they set up a Fish Market,
selling Atlantic Salmon, Red Snapper, Large Whiting, Sea Bass.
How do the Seas feel? We can ask Jee & Jee
of Harlem and Harlem.
Or we can ask the fish.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Hi Harlem #4

#4 Revolution Books

You are Ngugi wa Thiong’o! You are my O
Level textbook, the river between Nyambura
and charismatic Waiyaki.

When you rejected the oppressor’s language
in favor of your native tongue, Gikuyu, you
made this would-be writer

sweat over if he should follow your example.
He couldn’t, for he received praise for his As,
Bs, Cs from his teachers.

Good-bye, Ngugi. He’d thank you, if he could.
He is a young man still star-struck by authority
sanctified by sacrifice.

I’ve locked him up in solitary, so he can’t speak
to others, starved him, beaten him once or twice,
but he won’t die. Nor I.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Hi Harlem #3

#3 M60 on Monday

For the stretch of 125th Street, these American children,
on the bus with luggage racks, dream of summer and flying

to Dakar, Port-au-Prince, Lagos, and Charlotte Amalie,
until the driver snaps to a stop, just before the flyover,

and lets in a cold blast, filthy piles of snow, oily slicks.
Then we know we’ve landed on the wrong landing strip.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Hi Harlem # 1 and 2

We've been in Harlem now for two months, so I'm going to try writing about it for NaPo as the newbie that I am to the neighborhood.Yesterday's poem and today's.


#1 NYC Best Grocery Corp

The church
across the street
 says you sell
stale bread
at exploitation
price. Pot calling
kettle black.


#2 Aims 99 Cent Store

The men shooting
the breeze outside
aren’t going anywhere
on the rental wheels
or the bikes brought
in for repairs. They
are going everywhere,
everyone, on their
mouths, traveling,
and doubling back,
setting up a hoop,
3-pointer, cheap shot.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Being 17

"Being 17" ("Quand on a 17 ans") (2016) is a study of two very different families, whose 17-year-old boys discover, in a stumbling and aggressive fashion, their love for one another. Directed by André Téchiné, the film is beautifully shot, alternating between the snowy mountains of Thoma's farm and the rooms of Damien's suburban house. Sandrine Kiberlain is wonderful as Damien's doctor mother, Marianne. Kacey Mottet Klein (Damien) and Corentin Fila (Thomas) both put in persuasive performances.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Viet Thanh Nguyen's "The Refugees"

SW lent me this collection of short stories before we heard Nguyen read at 92Y last Thursday. I had read his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer and admired it very much. At the Y, Nguyen read an excerpt from his novel, an opinion piece on refugees, and the beginning of the first story from The Refugees. The juxtaposition of fiction and non-fiction was canny, prompting persistent questions about genre from the moderator Alexander Chee afterwards. It was also canny in a more commercial sense: a good way of enticing the audience to buy both of his books.

The first story "Black-Eyed Women" blew me away. It was a complexly layered narrative about ghosts and ghostwriting, a powerful meditation on what the living tries to forget in order to go on living. One of the two epigraphs for the book is a quotation from James Fenton's "A German Requiem":

It is not your memories which haunt you.
It is not what you have written down.
It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget.
What you must go on forgetting all your life.

The second story "The Other Man" about the coming to consciousness of his sexuality of a gay Vietnamese refugee offers interesting portraits of gay expatriate couple (one from Hong Kong, the other from England) but lacks drive in its plot. The next three stories "War Years" (the Vietnamese living on the West Coast rally support for the overthrow of the Communists back home), "The Transplant" (a man receives a liver transplant from a dead Vietnamese), "I'd Love You to Want Me" (an elderly Vietnamese man grows senile and calls his wife by another name) may lack the power of the first story but are very poignant in their effect. The next three stories are less strong but only by comparison with the strength of the earlier stories. They highlight the heroic stature of flawed fathers who had not only survived the flight from Vietnam but brought their family with them, as the earlier stories highlighted the heroism of obdurate mothers. Together the stories in this collection offer piercing insights into the condition of having been a refugee.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin's library card


With Y, I saw the show "The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin" at the Jewish Museum today. A few of the contemporary works were well worth seeing, but the show as a whole was disappointing. Benjamin's unfinished project The Arcades assembled a miscellany of quotations and commentaries based on a principle and a purpose. The principle was represented by these iron and glass vaulted shopping malls in Paris, the cultural capital of the nineteenth century. The purpose was to mount a critique of capitalism through an examination of the materiality of experience. Both gave Benjamin's project its coherence and interest. The principle of the museum show was Benjamin's text. Its purpose was to put up a museum show. As such, the selection of contemporary art works, from various times, places, and artistic practices, failed to illuminate any particular time, place, or practice. Worse, they failed to illuminate Benjamin's text, using it merely as a convenient way of organizing a show. The wall signs included Kenneth Goldsmith's annotations of the artworks with appropriated texts that purportedly extended Benjamin's reflections on Paris to New York, the capital of the twentieth century. As the TLS reviewer of Goldsmith's book remarked, the poet's collage speaks ultimately about ... the poet. There is a whole chapter devoted to Robert Mapplethorpe, Goldsmith's archetypal avant gardist artist. Such self-regard, in Goldsmith's work and in the museum show, restricts the potency of Benjamin's work and of art and poetry in general. Still, I'm very glad to have seen, among other works, Andrea Bowers' "The Triumph of Labor" (2016), a work of marker on cardboard reproducing a woodcut that celebrated Labor Day. It gives to labor the dignity and beauty of an arras. The Pierre Charaeu show on the ground floor was beautifully and tastefully designed by Diller Scofidio and Renfro.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Am I a Chinese poet?

"Growing up in Singapore, I was teased by Chinese schoolmates for being a banana, yellow on the outside, white on the inside. They were mocking my love for the English language and my apathy towards Mandarin Chinese. At home my family spoke a mixture of English and Cantonese. Mandarin was for me a school language. The schoolyard teasing turned me off from learning it properly. Now, as if in belated protest against those ancient taunts, I’d like to think of myself as a Chinese writer who writes in English, if only to expand the notion of what a Chinese writer is." Read the interview. Thanks, Jennifer Wong, for interviewing me, and Peter LaBerge, for publishing the interview.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ode to Billy Joel

This 1976 film attempts to provide the answers to the questions raised in the haunting 1967 Bobbie Gentry song of the same title. Why did Billy Joel McAllister kill himself by jumping off the Tallahachee Bridge? Set in the Mississippi Delta, in a time before the boondocks had seen television and indoor plumbing, the film apparently shows how eighteen-year-old Billy Joel persists in his courtship of beautiful sixteen-year-old Bobbie Lee, forbidden by her father to receive gentleman-callers. The end turns suddenly tragic when at the county fair, instead of helping himself to the hired whores, a drunk Billy Joel gives in to his desires and has sex with a man. Robby Benson is terrific as Billy Joel, as is Glynnis O'Connor as Bobbie Lee Hartley. They carry the film on their slim young shoulders, helped by a very watchable supporting cast. Directed by Max Baer, Jr..

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Complication as a Form of Explication

My proposal has been accepted! I will be speaking about my hybrid creative and critical work-in-progress "Does grass sweat" at Oxford University, Rothermere American Institute, on May 19, for the symposium "Special Relationships: Poetry Across the Atlantic Since 2000." Abstract below. I've read parts of the work at Rutgers at the invitation of Patrick Rosal. So excited to read more of it at Oxford! Thanks for publishing parts of it, H.L. Hix, Bryan Borland, Vivek Narayanan, Eric Thomas Norris, Cindy Arrieu-King, Ryan Wilson, Bry Hos, Cy Rai, Haikuist Network, Rattle, Gulf Coast, Hayden's Ferry, Dusie, Almost Island, Queer Southeast Asia, From Walden to Woodlands, Alba, Assaracus, Literary Matters, Kin, Ten Thirty, The Capilano Review.

Abstract: Complication as a Form of Explication 
by Jee Leong Koh

My work-in-progress "Does grass sweat: translations of an insignificant Japanese poet" deploys the tropes of literary translation and critical commentary to question the boundaries of nation, culture, language, race, and sexuality. Ostensibly written in Japanese by an unknown poet and translated into English by a queer Singaporean writer, student of British poetry, and permanent resident of the USA, the cycle of haiku represents New York City’s Central Park as an expatriate’s daily walk to work. 50 years after its acclaimed publication, in a New York utterly changed by radical conservatism, a queer American of Japanese, Jewish, and German heritage sets forth his own commentary on the haiku “as a way of preserving the park as a public commons, if not in actuality, then in the imagination,” as he puts it. The commentary historicizes the supposedly timeless poems while personalizing them in a highly idiosyncratic manner by referring to a diverse American poetic tradition. By practicing explication as a form of complication, I wish to give voice to the many folds of poetic identity and to the varied contingencies of poetic influence. If my proposal is accepted, I will read the Translator’s Note by Jee Leong Koh and the Commentator’s Preface by Sam Fujimoto-Mayer, before presenting some haiku and their accompanying commentaries.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Revolution Books

Friday night GH and I walked into Revolution Books and whom did I see? Ngugi wa Thiong'o! Waiyaki, Nyambura, and Muthoni all flashed back like daffodils. We had dinner at Yatenga and then I went back to the bookstore to hear Ngugi read from the third volume of his memoir Birth of a Dream Weaver. His son Mukoma wa Ngugi, who is Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University, read from his latest poetry collection Logotherapy. The third Kenyan author Peter Kimani read from his novel Dance of the Jakaranda. The train, called "the iron snake" in Kenya, was a powerful symbol of colonial and neo-colonial exploitation.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Social Maternalism

TLS January 27, 2017.

From the article "The New Pragmatism: How to save capitalism from itself, by cutting across traditional political divides and making the state active in the right areas" by Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford:

Social democracy can justly be accused of social paternalism: the state is assumed to know best, but unfortunately it didn't. For want of a better term, I think of the pragmatic policies I have suggested as social maternalism. In this model the state would be active in both the economic and social spheres, but it would not overtly empower itself. Its tax policies would restrain the powerful from appropriating rents, rather than stripping income from the rich to help the poor. Its regulations would empower those who suffer from creative destruction to claim compensation, rather than attempting to frustrate the very process that gives capitalism its astonishing dynamic. Its inclusive nationalism would be a force for binding together, replacing the emphasis on the fragmented identities of grievances. Its social interventions would aim to sustain those families that are stressed, rather than assuming for itself the role of parents.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reading Richard Rorty

I've always wondered how to reconcile Nietzschean self-creation with liberal politics, and so it is with a tremendous sense of excitement, and relief, that I learn from Richard Rorty that it is not necessary to reconcile the two, that in fact it is a mistake to try for some kind of synthesis. One has to be contented with their separation, to be a liberal ironist, as Rorty calls it. The irony is directed at all final vocabularies, one's own as well as others', understanding that there is no final vocabulary that is not contingent and not formed by one's historical and social contingencies. Discourse and socialization goes all the way down, and the best one can hope for is to re-write a small part of one's inherited script. The geniuses among us re-write a bigger part. That is the self-creation advocated by Nietzsche. It retains his perspectivism but relinquishes his essentializing move of making "the will to power" a commonality in all human beings. "The will to power" may be a useful description of people some of the time, but it is nonetheless merely a description. We cannot step out of our language to judge whether it corresponds to a truth out there in reality or a truth in here in us.

As for the "liberal" part of being a liberal ironist, Rorty repeats Judith Shklar's useful definition: liberals are people for whom "cruelty is the worst thing they do." There is no non-tautological way of defending this definition, just as there are no non-tautological ways of defending other definitions. The test of the pudding is in the eating. Is it a useful way to bring about the progressive changes that liberals have traditionally wish to see happen in society? To my mind, it is. It highlights the desire to avoid pain, which we share with animals, and by extension, the desire to avoid humiliation, which we don't share with animals because we have selves that are constituted by language and therefore capable of being humiliated. The avoidance of pain seems sufficiently "basic." This definition of liberalism also seems broad enough to encompass a wide range of politics, and narrow enough to exclude the politics of exploitation and intolerance.

Contingency, irony, and solidarity consists of three parts. Part I titled "Contingency" argues for the contingency of language, selfhood, and a liberal community. Part II titled "Ironism and Theory" re-examines the roles of private irony and liberal hope in the writings of Proust, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida. Part III titled "Cruelty and Solidarity" shows how the pursuit of self-creation (Nabokov) and of community (Orwell) could be cruel to others. There are books, as Rorty argues, that we read for re-creating ourselves, by becoming more sensitive to others' pain, for instance, and there are books, different ones, that we read for re-creating our communities. Narratives, more than philosophies, are useful in describing or re-describing others' pain, and so are more useful in sensitizing us to it.

In Rorty's liberal utopia, we are free to pursue our private dreams of self-perfection, as long as we don't cause hurt to others or use more than our fair share of resources. The goal of such a utopia is the increase of Freedom, and not any approximation to Truth.

In his short book Achieving Our Country Rorty argues that the American Left has veered off-course from action into theory, from politics into culture, from participation into spectatorship. He praises the achievements of the cultural Left in elevating the status of women, gay and other minorities, but points out also the dark side of the achievements. The Left has no answer to the economic upheaval of globalization. Rorty: "Globalization is producing a world economy in which an attempt by any one country to prevent the immiseration of its workers may result only in depriving them of employment. This world economy will soon be owned by a cosmopolitan upper class which has no more sense of community with any workers anywhere than the great American capitalists of the year 1900 had with the immigrants who manned their enterprises." This economic elite maintains a cultural elite either to justify the former's existence or to give the appearance of contest by engaging in cultural politics. The general populace, sensing the sympathetic class interests between the economic and the cultural elites, will then revolt against constitutional democracy and elect a strongman. We now have Trump on our hands, as Rorty predicted back in 1998.

Are his suggestions for change already useless? To deal with the consequences of globalization, "the present cultural Left would have to transform itself by opening relations with the residue of the old reformist Left, and in particular with the labor unions. It would have to talk much more about money, even at the cost of talking less about stigma." To effect this transformation, the Left should put a moratorium on theory and mobilize what remains of national pride. "It should ask the public to consider how the country of Lincoln and Whitman might be achieved." Although we should be international-minded, the only real change we can effect is through the current nation-state. We have to subordinate our differences to a common dream. Putting so starkly an approach that Rorty describes in a much more sophisticated and elegant fashion has this advantage at least: it makes clear the difficulty of such a transformation of the American Left.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

To be an ironic liberal

To be inscribed on my forehead and in my heart: "If we are ironic enough about our final vocabularies, and curious enough about everyone else's, we do not have to worry about whether we are in direct contact with moral reality, or whether we are blinded by ideology, or whether we are being weakly "relativistic"." - Richard Rorty in "Orwell on Cruelty" in his book CONTINGENCY, IRONY, AND SOLIDARITY.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Judo vs Jujitsu

Sanshiro Sugata (a.k.a. Judo Saga) is Akira Kurosawa's first film (1943), based on the novel by Tsuneo Tomita. Sanshiro (Susumu Fujita) learns judo from master Yano (Denjirô Ôkôchi) but also learns to grow up. The moment of enlightenment comes while he is hanging to a stake in a muddy pond. He sees a glowing lotus rising from the mud. What does it mean? A calm acceptance of Nature's law? A awakening to the shitty roots of life? Later he almost fails to vanquish an old master from the jujitsu school because the master's daughter is praying with a pure devotion for her father to win. To overcome his inner doublts, Sanshiro remembers the lotus again, so the flower could also represent a kind of selfless innocence. Not surprisingly, he defeats the implacable jujitsu master Gennosuke Higaki (Ryûnosuke Tsukigata) in the end. Not a terribly profound film, but well-paced and shot. It is very much a young man's film.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Organize, Organize, Organize

Feb 7, 2017: An informative and inspiring meeting organized by the Asian American Federation. Panel speakers representing different civic organizations spoke about making Asian Americans visible and their voices heard; the need for language access in govt proclamations; organizing protests and call-ins (New York Immigration Coalition); the impact of Trumpism on social policies (Coalition for Asian American Children & Families) and on-the-ground social services, especially elderly and mental services (Hamilton-Madison House); teaching students to stand up for one another in schools against bullying (Sikh Coalition); the building of alliances between mainstream Asian America and marginalized communities such as the LGBTQAPI (National Queer API Alliance). Participate. Support. Donate. Above all, organize, organize, organize.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Haiku


The round clock
above the pump house
ducks sleeping


That's it, folks. The last one. Thanks for following and liking the haiku. We move to Harlem today.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Haiku


High winds
the reservoir gathers a sea
the night a black hut

*

Hanging from a nail
in the wall of the study
an Olympic gymnast


*

Two more. We move on Friday.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Haiku

Last five haiku before we move away from Central Park:

Number written
on the FedEx door tag—
a strong headwind

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March on Washington

Guardian headline: "Over 20 countries see protests on the first day of Trump's presidency." Where were you, Singapore? Hungary, Ghana, South Africa, India, Thailand, Korea held protests. Where were you, Singapore? I look in vain for your pictures. If you can't protest and march freely in your own country, you are living in a police state. The largest march ever held in Washington (more than 500 000) and not a single arrest made, giving the lie to the security and unrest argument. The unity among marchers was incredible. When the women chanted, "My body, my choice," the men replied in unison, "Her body, her choice." When my students shouted, "Show me what democracy looks like," we responded, looking around us at the tremendous diversity of people, including babies in prams and a disabled woman on crutches, "This is what democracy looks like."

I posted the above on Facebook and the result was a rather lively discussion thread about forms of political protest and about the women's movement. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Politics in Singapore poetry?

Whatever happened to politics in Singapore's English-language poetry? An enlightening essay by the inimitable Gwee Li Sui, who discusses poems by Gilbert Koh, Felix Cheong, Boey Kim Cheng, Cyril Wong, Grace Chia, Aaron Lee, Yeow Kai Chai, and me. Here's the spoiler: politics has never gone away. Essay published as part of a Singapore issue, by Zurich University of the Arts.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Numbers Game

This summary in Today newspaper is symptomatic of what's wrong with the current direction of Singapore arts: it's all about numbers, institutions, infrastructure, international recognition, markets, and nothing about the artists and their work. Even when naysayers such as Khairuddin Hori and I are quoted, our words are taken to support the same themes. I am not "agreeing" with Joshua Ip, but saying something very different instead. Even increasing arts appreciation among Singaporeans is couched in terms of attendance numbers. Nothing is mentioned about how a certain segment of Singaporeans has worked to censor the arts, and so betrays how backwards we are still in terms of our understanding of art. None of this is a surprise, but it is very sad. All the investments of money, time, and energy in the arts only go to creating a spirit that is anti-art. This must have a corrupting effect on art-making in Singapore. As artists, we must resist this corruption, and hope that our work will not be too distorted by the necessary resistance. If you are an artist/writer working in Singapore, how would you summarize your past year? What progress in your work, or even breakthrough, did you experience? What setbacks? Where are you drawing strength and encouragement?

Saturday, January 07, 2017

No to MOE

I've just turned down a request to include a poem of mine in an anthology of Singapore poetry to be used in Singapore schools. I admire the work of the publisher and the editors involved, but the project is initiated (and presumably funded) by the Ministry of Education, and I refuse to allow the state to represent my work in its books while discriminating against my queer person and community through its maintenance of the anti-sodomy law. I ask only to be treated equally as any other Singaporean, that's all. To publish my work and deny me my rights is not equality.

My decision is consistent with my refusal to allow my books to be considered for the state-funded Singapore Literature Prize. I also see it as consistent with my refusal to apply for state funding for my books, projects, and the Singapore Lit Fest in NYC, as a form of protest against state censorship of the arts. Freedom for the arts and equality for all.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Keith Wiltshire

Keith Wiltshire, a wonderful English teacher to me and my RJC classmates, died yesterday morning, January 3. Grace, his daughter, wrote, "He was at home and Pauline and I were with him which is what he would have wanted. He had lived for two years after his stroke and we are very grateful to all our wonderful NHS staff and all the carers who looked after him." Keith had enjoyed being read to in the last year or so. A few days before he died, Grace read to him three of his favorite Matthew Arnold poems, "Growing Old," "Dover Beach," and "The Last Word." If you'd like to write to the family, send me a private message.

I will always remember Keith for being an inspiring teacher and human being. His literary and moral passions were both tremendous, and, together with my history teacher Rodney Cole, he was my entire education at junior college. Confronted by our intellectual lethargy and moral turpitude, he would strive to provoke us into thinking and acting. I still remember how he would constantly inveigh against the uselessness of mathematics as a subject of study, an opinion I was secretly pleased to endorse, until a classmate (was it Malini?) stood up to him in defense of math, and then he broke into a smile and said, "Finally, someone contradicted me!" He did not want our agreement, but our growth, in having the courage of our convictions.

Years after he was let go by the Ministry Of Education for criticizing Singapore's educational system, he wrote to his students regularly from his home in Bristol. I visited him once with two classmates, and we had a salad from the vegetables grown in his garden, and a walking tour of the city, accompanied by his commentary. He switched from Labor to the Green Party and marched in protests on behalf of the environment. To thank him for his letters, and much else besides, I wrote a poem for him. Among its many infelicities is an omission of the girls in that junior-college class: I couldn't fit them into the meter. But the poem may give a sense of what I owe to this best of representatives of Great Britain.

The Far Ships 
for Keith Wiltshire, my teacher 

Your yearly letters make me smile.
Hammered on an old processor,
they slash with slanted lines of bile
the madness of all car-owners,

the British stock of nuclear shells,
how Singapore Immigration stopped
you at the airport, bade farewell
to future visits, and then dropped

you on the next flight home, without
giving a reason. Youth protection?
Your letters sound so free of doubts,
the years a seamless flight connection.

You are as constant as your letters.
With equal passion, you taught us boys
Shakespeare: how not to heed our betters
as Hamlet heeds the ghostly voice,

and why, in Pride and Prejudice,
prejudice is the mate of pride.
You read us Larkin’s poem “Next Please”
and the far ships came alongside

and then sailed on, leaving no goods,
giving no reason. Wide awake,
we saw from where we sat or stood
waters that neither breed nor break.

Do you remember those good years
as good? I do, with thankfulness,
for though your letters do not bear
good news of the wide world, they bless.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Haiku

Thinking of Basho and Thoreau on this last day of the year.

At the heart
of the American elm
an old pond

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ruth Ozeki's "A Tale for the Time Being"

Utterly absorbing. The somewhat annoying voice of Nao Yasutani--an ethnic Japanese teenager raised in California and returned to Japan after her father lost his job in the dot.com crash--took a little time to get used to but her horrific experience of bullying at school and her pure love for her great-grandmother Jiko, an anarchist-feminist writer turned Zen nun, soon render her more sympathetic. In contrast, the other narrative about Ruth, closely based on the author, is probing, stubborn, and tender in depicting her dislocation from New York City to a tiny island (Land of the Dead) off the coast of British Columbia and her loss of her mother first to Alzheimer's and then to death. The myriad ways in which the two stories interact to become one tale cast a brilliant light and a wonderful play of shadows on the gift of storytelling.  The invention of Haruki #1, the reluctant kamikaze pilot, shows the noble ideals that the author holds dear.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Writing the South Seas

Brian Bernards' Writing the South Seas: Imagining the Nanyang in Chinese and Southeast Asian Postcolonial Literature is an exciting study of the archipelagic trope and the activity of creolization in the context of postcolonial literature in Southeast Asia. Drawing on Frantz Fanon, Stuart Hall, and Edouard Glissant, Bernards distinguishes the archipelagic imagination from the continental one, as the former prioritizes "contact, exchange, heterogeneity, and creolization instead of racial, ethnic, or linguistic uniformity and singularity." Drawing on Benedict Anderson, Thomas Eriksen, and the Cuban poet Nancy Morejon, Bernards distinguishes creolization from both hybridity and multiculturalism. Creolization "recognizes culture as an ongoing process that cannot be reduced to a singular outcome, offering neither a finished product (hybridity) nor a composite portrait of separate, immutable entities (multiculturalism)."

Chapter 1 looks at "Modern Chinese Impressions of the South Seas Other" through the lives and works of Chinese Sinophone writers Xu Zhimo (1897-1931) and Xi Dishan (1893-1941). It concludes that "The South Seas color of New Literature, representing a quest for enlightenment, follows a discrepant cosmopolitan itinerary that challenges some basic assumptions about modern China's literary history," namely Chinese ethocentrism and the ideal of "national salvation" in New Literature.

Chapter 2 "Transcolonial Challenges to Diasporic Ethno-Nationalism" looks at Lao She's fiction and Yu Dafu (1896-1945)'s editorial and organizing work for a strong critique of the ways "in which diasporic nationalism slipped into an ethnocentrism that reinforced the divide-and-rule strategies that Western colonizers [and national governments] used to legitimize their exploitative presence.

Chapter 3 "Creolizing the Sinophone from Malaysia to Taiwan" follows the influx of Malaysian students to Taiwan after the 1969 Kuala Lumpur ethnic riots and their political consequences. Bernards' exhibit A is Ng Kim Chew (1967- ), whose "creolized aesthetics of Malaysianness and his transnational rewriting of the Nanyang imagination offer insights into how Sinophone Malaysian literature also functions as a Taiwan-based practice." According to Bernards, "Malaysian recuperations of creolization reverberate in analogous post-martial law treatments of Taiwan's complex history of colonialism, multiculturalism, multilingualism, and settler-indigenous politics.

In Chapter 4 "An Ecopoetics of the Borneo Rainforest" Bernards examine the fictions of Pan Yutong and Chang Kuei-hsing. In their ecopoetics, "Malaysia and Taiwan are no longer the margins of China and continental Chineseness, but rather island and peninsular centers of creolized Sinophone cultures formed from interactions with non-Sinophone cultures and native ecologies in a South Sea network."

Chapter 5 "De-Racializing Cultural Legibility in Postcolonial Singapore" looks at Sinophone writer Yeng Pway Ngon and Anglophone writer Christine Suchen Lim for the ways in which they challenge the state-authorized framework of multiculturalism.

Chapter 6 "Popular Sino-Thai Integration Narratives" teases out the tensions in the exemplar of Chinese integration that Thailand is supposed to represent.

In his concluding chapter, Bernards frankly admits that there is more work to be done on the archipelagic imagination in the region's literature, in particular, the Malay-language writers of both Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as the writers of the Philippines. His study has focused mainly on fiction, and so has little to say about the region's poetry. After learning so much from this book, I look forward eagerly to his new work on East Asian and Southeast Asian cinema.

Haiku


December drizzle
nothing beats
eating an orange



Saying good-bye
with a chaste hug
moon behind the cloud

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Neil Mukherjee's "A Life Apart"

Alienated from his new country, the literary immigrant wants to prove that he belongs, how else, but by credibly, and thus, creditably, narrating a story from the point of view of a native informant. In Mukherjee's debut novel, the protagonst Rikwit brings to life the bit character of Miss Gilby, an Englishwoman in Raj India, from the Rabindranath Tagore story "Bimala's autobiography." The story about how Miss Gilby becomes the tutor of Bimala, the wife of an enlightened zamindar, and subsequently falls victim to inter-religious conflict in Bengal is expertly told. The expertise is the point, for Rikwit who is anything but an expert in navigating the life of a queer Indian scholarship student at Oxford and then that of an undocumented immigrant. In fact, his life is a mess. He spends his Oxford career cruising for men in an underground public bathroom and goes down to prostitution in a very dark corner of London. He is most certainly not a model immigrant. I find most interesting the first part of the novel which depicts the growing-up years in Bengal and the last part which brings to the light the life and plight of "floating" workers looking for temporary farming or construction jobs. The middle part about Oxford I find rather tedious since I cannot bring myself to care for any of the students, not even Rikwit himself. Rikwit's realization at Oxford that his mother's harsh discipline is considered child abuse in the new country leads nowhere. It reinforces the motif of violence running through the novel but does not develop into fundamental insight into cultural relativism.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Smaller Is Better

Smaller is Better: Japan's Mastery of the Miniature by O-Young Lee
Japan is too often seen in opposition to the West, and so hides some of its peculiarities. This take on Japanese culture by a Korean writer, critic, and scholar capitalizes on his knowledge of the differences between Japanese and Korean cultures, so that what is truly distinctive about Japan-its penchant for making things smaller-comes thrillingly into focus.

Kokoro by Natsume Soseki, translated by Edwin McClellan
In his study Two-Timing Modernity: Homosocial Narrative in Modern Japanese Fiction, J. Keith Vincent explains very well the different camps of interpretation of Soseki's novel: a patriarchal-imperialist view that focuses mainly on the third section of the novel, Sansei's testament; a subversive view that argues for the narrator's betrayal of his Sansei, to the extent that he may have married Sansei's wife after the teacher died; and a gay affirmative reading that highlights Sansei's undying love for his male companion. Vincent's own interpretation is most nuanced, taking into account the novel's tripartite structure. For him, Kokoro is an exemplar par excellence of the homosocial narrative in modern Japanese fiction. It embeds feudalistic same-sex desire in amber in order to bring modern heteronormativity to light. In doing so, it both cherishes the past while firmly consigning it to the past. Gay love becomes not so much the love that cannot be named, as the love that must be narrated.

Botchan by Natsume Soseki, translated by Glenn Anderson
The protagonist is endearing. The irony is multi-directional, and at many points, I cannot be sure whether the satire is directed at Bochan or his society. It does not help that this edition contains many typographical errors.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Reading Frantz Fanon

The weekend was spent read Frantz Fanon. Yes, I'm late for the party.

Black Skin, White Masks (1952)
A penetrating study of colonized Martinique society and the colonized young man who thought of himself as French, only to go to the metropole of France and realized that he was black. A daring attempt to synthesize psycho- and social analyses.

A Dying Colonialism (1959) or The Fifth Year of the Algerian Revolution
Fanon's account of the Algerian War of independence. In the war the women learned to instrumentalize their veils as revolutionary soldiers and agents. Fanon shows why the rural Algerians first rejected the radio because it was perceived as the voice of the enemy, the colonial authorities and culture, and later embraced it when it broadcast the Voice of the revolution. In like manner Fanon argued for why Algerians first rejected and then embraced Western medicine. (After reading this chapter, I understand better now my own position on female circumcision.) In the chapter on the European minority, Fanon welcomed all Europeans who aided the revolutionaries to be part of the new Algeria, which was to be an inclusive society. The chapter included two testimonies from Europeans who found themselves ultimately to be Algerians. Charles Geromini: "It is a year now since I have joined the Algerian Revolution. Remembering the difficult and ambiguous contacts I had had at the outset of the Revolution, I had some fear that I might not be welcomed. My fear was unfounded. I was welcomed like any other Algerian. For the Algerian I am no longer an ally. I am a brother, simply a brother, like the others.

The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

"Decolonization, therefore, implies the urgent need to thoroughly challenge the colonial situation. Its definition can, if we want to describe it accurately, be summed up in the well-known words: "The last shall be first." (2)

"The colonized world is a world divided into two. The dividing line, the border, is represented by the barracks and the police stations." (3)

"If you think you can perfectly govern a country without involving the people, if you think that by their very presence the people confuse the issue, that they are a hindrance or, through their inherent unconsciousness, an undermining factor, then there should be no hesitation: The people must be excluded. Yet when the people are asked to participate in the government, instead of being a hindrance they are a driving force. We Algerians during the course of this war have had the opportunity, the good fortune, of fully grasping the reality of a number of things. (Reality is action, not mere thought.)

"As President Sékou Touréso aptly reminded us in his address to the Second Congress of African Writers: "In the realm of thought, man can claim to be the brain of the world, but in reality, where every action affects spiritual and physical being, the world is still the brain of mankind for it is here that are concentrated the totalization of power and elements of thought, the dynamic forces of development and improvement, and it is here too that energies are merged and the sum total of man's intellectual values is finally inscribed." (140)

"Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity." (145)

"The colonized intellectual, at the very moment when he undertakes a work of art, fails to realize he is using techniques and a language borrowed from the occupier. He is content to cloak these instruments in a style that is meant to be national but which is strangely reminiscent of exoticism. The colonized intellectual who returns to his people through works of art behaves in fact like a foreigner. Sometimes he will not hesitate to use the local dialects to demonstrate his desire to be as close to the people as possible, but the ideas he expresses, the preoccupations that haunt him are in no way related to the daily lot of the men and women of his country. The culture with which the intellectual is preoccupied is very often nothing but an inventory of particularisms. Seeking to cling close to the people, he clings merely to a visible veneer. This veneer, however, is merely a reflection of a dense, subterranean life in perpetual renewal. This reification, which seems all too obvious and characteristic of the people is in fact but the inert, already invalidated outcome of the many, and not always coherent, adaptations of a more fundamental substance beset with radical changes. Instead of seeking out this substance, the intellectual lets himself be mesmerized by these mummified fragments which, now, consolidated, signify, on the contrary, negation, obsolescence, and fabrication. Culture never has the transparency of custom, which is always a deterioration of culture. Seeking to stick to tradition or reviving neglected tradition is not only going against history, but against one's people. When a people support armed or even political struggle against a merciless colonialism, tradition changes meaning. What was a technique of passive resistance may, in this phase, be radically doomed. Traditions in an underdeveloped country undergoing armed struggle are fundamentally unstable and crisscrossed by centrifugal forces. This is why the intellectual often risks being out of step. The peoples who have waged the struggle are increasingly impermeable to demagoguery, and by seeking to follow them too closely, the intellectual turns out to be nothing better than a vulgar opportunist, even behind the times." (160-161)

"After the assimilation period of rhyming verse, the beat of the poetic drum bursts upon the scene. Poetry of revolt, but which is also analytical and descriptive. The poet must, however, understand that nothing can replace the rational and irreversible commitment on the side of the people in arms. Let us quote Depestre again:

The lady was not alone
She had a husband
A husband who knew everything
But to tell the truth knew nothing
Because culture does not come without making concessions
Without conceding your flesh and blood
Without conceding yourself to others
A concession worth as much as
Classicism or Romanticism
And all that nurtures out soul.

[English translation of "Face a la nuit" by René Depestre, in footnote of book]

The colonized poet who is concerned with creating a work of national significance, who insists on describing his people, misses his mark, because before setting pen to paper he is in no fit state to make that fundamental concession which Depestre mentions." (162)

"When the colonized intellectual writing for his people uses the past he must do so with the intention of opening up the future, of spurring them into action and fostering hope. But in order to secure hope, in order to give it substance, he must take part in the action and commit himself body and soul to the national struggle. You can talk about anything you like, but when it comes to talking about that one thing in a man's life that involves opening up new horizons, enlightening your country, and standing tall alongside your own people, then muscle power is required." (167)

"Far from distancing it from other nations, it is the national liberation that puts the nation on the stage of history. It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness establishes itself and thrives. And this dual emergence, in fact, is the unique focus of all culture."

Sunday, December 04, 2016

More an American than Ever

My longest, and last, interview about Steep Tea, with some thoughts on global literature, Singapore Poetry, and the political obligations of a Permanent Resident of the USA. Thanks, Nicholas Wong, for the interview, and Ching-In Chen, for publishing it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Partial Accounting

I've not been keeping up with the recording of my reading that I wish to remember. So here is a very partial accounting of the books read in the period from July to now:

1. Basho and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary edited by Makoto Ueda
-invaluable

2. Walden by Haiku by Ian Marshall
-interesting project of extracting haiku from Thoreau's prose, but finally unconvincing

3.  Two-Timing Modernity: Homosocial Narrative in Modern Japanese Fiction by J. Keith Vincent
-subtle and persuasive study of how the Japanese texts betray both the feudal past and the longed-for modernity. Insightful analysis of Natsume Soseki's Kokoro and its critical reception.

4. Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
- a most subtle tripartite structure: like a haiku?

5. Botchan by Natsume Soseki
-witty, a light work

6. State of War by Ninotchka Rosca
-too much exposition but memorable characters.

7. After You by Cyril Wong
-he does survival in different voices

8. Map: Collected and Last Poems by Wislawa Szymborska
-Why do I not feel the same frisson as before?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Master Harold" ... and the Boys

Watched this Athol Fugard play last night with my XI's at the Signature Theater. A powerful play and a powerful production, directed by the playwright himself. Set in a tea room in the provincial South African town of Port Elizabeth in 1950, the presentation modulated subtly throughout until it closed in a painful act of disavowal. Hard-hitting performances by Leon Addison Brown (Sam), Sahr Ngaujah (Willie), and Noah Robbins (Hally).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Recurring Motifs

JH's memorial was held last Saturday, November 12, at 150w83. PB managed to get through his speech without breaking down. It was a fine speech, loving, modest, and gently humorous. "Jin loved me but he also loved Anderson Cooper and Brazilian ballet dancer Thiago Soares." JH's mom spoke of JH's hospitalization in Fukuoka and PB's care for him in his last days. She too was puzzled by JH's sudden death and speculated that it was due to radiation as JH volunteered at the Fukushima prefecture in the last two or three years he visited Japan. In his speech JH's brother asked himself why JH moved to NYC, and thought it was because the city gave JH the freedom to be himself, freedom he could not find in Japan. He ended by asking us to keep NYC free, to which call many in the audience stood up and applauded. I could not help relating this to the election of Trump. The moment made a deep impression on me. I am committed to New York City and do not intend to leave in the next four years of what looks like a most harrowing term for minorities in America.

*

Glad that I went for Ho Tzu Nyen's talk at the Asian Art Archive in America. Met him having a smoke outside the brownstone that housed the American satellite of the large Hong Kong arts institute. I liked him. No airs. Just himself. He said he was returning to Singapore after two years or so in Berlin. He seemed ambivalent about the decision. Y was at the talk too. HTN talked about four works: Utama: Every Name in History Is I (2003), Earth (2009), The Cloud of Unknowing (2011), and Ten Thousand Tigers (2014). All the works attended to recurring motifs in art history, mythology, ritual. I asked him how he decided on the sequence of focus in the large-scale works. He said that he aimed for maximum resonance between two consecutive segments. Y was probably right when she said afterwards that he had a poetics. Instead of a logic, I added. Or a grammar, I thought when I left.

*

Haiku written yesterday morning:

Cold November sun
breadcrumbs all over
my black jacket

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Dinner

Watched last night the terrific move The Dinner (2014), based on a novel by Herman Koch. Directed by Ivano de Matteo, the movie demonstrated, almost inexorably, the fragile foundations of our morality. Great acting from an all-star Italian cast: Alessandro Gassman, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Luigi Lo Cascio, and Barbora Bobulova.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Sunday, November 06, 2016

"Attribution" in Vietnamese

So pleased that my poem "Attribution" from STEEP TEA has been translated into Vietnamese and published by AJAR Press in ABRACADABRA, the publication of A-festival in Hanoi in August 2016. Thank you, Nha Thuyen, and congratulations on the successful inaugural festival!



Immortality and Revolution

TLS Aug 19 and 16 2016

from Hal Jensen's review of H. J. Jackson's Those Who Write for Immortality:

At the end of his third collection of Odes, right at the "back" of the bookroll, Horace placed a poem which, for 2,500 years, has remained the locus classicus of poetry's unique powers: "exegi monumentum aere perennius" (I have completed a monument more lasting than bronze - although every word requires a scholar's note). More durable than bronze, higher than the pyramids, immune to time and the elements. Horace's poetry guarantees that he will not wholly die ("non omnis moriar").

How quick we all were to buy into that one. How quick to forget what we found at the back of Horace's next bookroll, the Epistles, which appeared in 20 BC, just three years after the Odes. Here, the concluding poem is addressed to the very book (liber) in our hands. It warns of the realities of public life: once out in the world, there is no coming back; you'll be dumped on a shelf when the next big thing comes along; your pristine (pumiced) look will be soiled by grubby fingers; if the moths don't get you, you'll end up in some poky outpost being used to teach kids their elementary lessons.

*

Her main finding is that merit is far from being the primary determinant of long-term literary fame; it is just one among many contributing factors. What counts, above all, is the ability to attract multiple varying audiences. Jackson divides this feature into celebrity, popularity, critical appeal and influence: get all four, like Wordsworth, and hit the jackpot.

***

from Maria Golia's review of Rachel Aspden's Generation Revolution: On the front line between tradition and change in the Middle East:

People are willing to relinquish freedoms and uphold paternalist tradition not least because doing so has, for generations, enabled their survival and cultural continuity, where culture itself is the vehicle for reiterating and reinforcing tradition. The degree to which their leaders' actions to ensure stability and security have lately only generated greater fear, injustice and violence, here as elsewhere, remain unacknowledged. Only by holding these mechanisms to the light with close questioning can society begin to break with them.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

ALSCW Conference at Catholic University of America

Thursday evening, Oct 27, it was lovely to hear George Kalogeris read his poetry again.

Friday, Oct 28, bright and early at 8 am a thought-provoking seminar "Poetry and Translation": Marco Antolin's "Overcoming the Abysm of Creative Stagnation: Philip Levine on Translating Antonio Machado, Garcis Lorca, and Cesar Vallejo"; Mary Maxwell's "Correspondences: Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal and the Translation Tasks of Richard Howard and Walter Benjamin"; Diana Senechal's "Translating an Understanding of Poetry Itself: Tomas Venclova's 'Pestel Street'"; Nicholas Pesques' "Translating: Acting".

Followed by an exciting plenary panel "Literature in Painting, Painting in Literature": Deborah Epstein Nord's "George Eliot and John Everett Millais: The Ethics of Ugliness"; Rebecca Ranof's "The Occluded Portraits of Dickens and Van Goh"; Ruth Bernard Yeazell's "Henry James's Portrait-Envy"

In the afternoon, a seminar on "Irish Poetry Since 1950": Richard Russell's "'An Enormous Yes': Philip Larkin and Michael Longley"; George Lensing's "'The Ghost' of Yeats in Seamus Heaney's 'Casualty'"; Meg Tyler's "The Unseen 'Shine': from Image to Word in Heaney's Later Work".

On Saturday, Oct 29, the early morning panel was exciting. "Representing Contemporary American Fiction": Lee Konstantinou's "The Age of High Mass Culture"; Michael W. Clune's "The Source"; Amy Hungerford's "Make Literature Now"; Aida Levy-Hussen's "Theorizing the Contemporary in Black Literary Studies"; Christopher Coffman's "Global Literature and Anglophone Fiction after Postmodernism"

In the afternoon, the plenary panel IV "American Literature Across the Borders": Edward Larkin's "The Temporal Geography of Early American Empire"; Travis Snyder's "Helena Viramontes and the Borderlands Logic of Capitalism"; Sara Faradji's "Cosmopression: A Closed Mind in an Open City".

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Art Censorship (Again) in Singapore

"Artist cuts himself, takes blood oath, after his performance piece was cut from Singapore Biennale"

Religious sensitivities be damned if religious sensitivities do not, or will not, understand the intent and context of a work of art. I wonder, however, if more is at work than what is stated by the authorities. Could it be that the real concern is not religious, but political sensitivities? That Chandrasekaran's performance piece about the harsh lives of Indian convict workers in 19th-century Singapore will provoke powerful resonances and raise important questions in the present day about the way we treat our guest workers, most of whom come from the Indian continent?

It's interesting that the reporter mentions that Chandrasekaran had spent 6 years abroad in Australia before returning to Singapore and responding in this defiant manner to the act of art vandalism by the authorities. Apparently, the audience at his Q&A, "most of whom were from the local arts community," questioned Chandrasekaran "whether there was a way to step away and approach the subject from a less dramatic angle." The question betrays not only an ignorance of how an artist works, but also a cowardice in trying so hard not to give offence. It takes a foreign artist, Sri Lankan Niranjan Rajah, to point out that the audience responses “seem to be missing the point." What is important is the integrity of Chandrasekaran’s work. We should be asking, instead, why the work is being censored, and what the censorship says about us as a society.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Open Letter to NBDCS and My Fellow Shortlisted Authors

My book Steep Tea was not submitted for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize because of a mistake made by my publisher. Not knowing the mistake, I had reasonably expected my book to be shortlisted in the English poetry category, and so was prepared to withdraw it from consideration in protest against Singapore’s anti-sodomy law. Now that the heat around this year’s prize has cooled down, I wish to address some of the larger issues around a state-sponsored literary prize by publishing my planned letter of withdrawal. My hope is that the letter will contribute to the debate about the role of a writer when confronted with legalized injustice.


An Open Letter to NBDCS and My Fellow Shortlisted Authors 

 I wish to withdraw my book Steep Tea from consideration for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize in protest against Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore, which criminalizes sex between mutually consenting adult men. My action is not directed against the National Book Development Council of Singapore, the non-profit awarding the Prize. I have great respect for its efforts over the years to promote Singapore literature, and warm regard for its helpful and professional staff. My action is compelled instead by the Singapore government’s recent defense of its discriminatory law during the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review in January this year. I am dismayed by the continuation of unequal treatment of LGBT citizens, the cause of my leaving Singapore, and the theme of my book.

The United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review provides for “a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States,” according to its website. It is designed to “prompt, support, and expand the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground.” In accordance with the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Review considers the rights of LGBT persons to equal treatment under the law as human rights. The first cycle reviewed all UN Member States. The second cycle, begun in May 2012, requires all Member States “to provide information on what they have been doing to implement the recommendations made during the first review.”

Representing the Singapore government at the review, Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee repeated the same excuses given by the government for retaining Section 377A in the 2007 parliamentary debate. Her speech showed that the government has not changed its legal position one iota in the last nine years. A baby born in 2007 would be in Primary Three this year, having cut its first teeth, taken its first steps, cried on its first day at school, grown in its love of others. The Singapore government has not brought forth real change. It has killed the baby in the crib. Ambassador Chan justified the legal discrimination by capitalizing on the improvements wrought mainly by the LGBT community itself. According to her, LGBT persons are “free to lead their lives in Singapore” since they are permitted to work in the Civil Service, hold an annual rally, stage plays about LGBT issues, and frequent bars. Her idea of freedom would be laughable, if it is not so sad. In intention, this idea of freedom is cynical. It uses limited, and demeaning, concessions to justify larger discriminations. It seeks to contain legitimate aspirations while presenting a benign face abroad.

I refuse to conspire with the government in my own oppression. Although the Singapore Literature Prize is administered by NBDCS, it is funded mainly by the National Arts Council, the government’s arts agency. The government cannot properly acknowledge my contribution to the arts if it does not acknowledge my person in the world. It cannot genuinely commend my poetry if it proscribes what the poetry is about: love. I left Singapore 13 years ago because I was afraid to come out as a gay man in my own country. In Singapore, I had to hide who I was or risk being fired from teaching, even though my work record was unimpeachable. 13 years later, the legal situation remains unchanged. I was 33 years old when I left Singapore, and now I am 46, and still no change in the law. If not now, when? In the poem “In Death As In Life” from my shortlisted book, I expressed a wish to have my ashes scattered in the sea south of Singapore. After hearing the government’s deeply disappointing response to the Universal Periodic Review, I am having second thoughts. Many Singaporeans have left the country for reasons similar to mine, and many will stay in permanent self-exile for those reasons.

Our situation is, however, still better than that of many in Singapore who live in fear and uncertainty, subject to suspicion, hostility, and violence, through no fault of theirs but for the fact that they are queer. Teens, transgender persons, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable populations. Even children’s books are not spared. In 2014, the National Library Board banned and threatened to pulp And Tango Makes Three and two other children’s books for depicting non-traditional families. Under fire from many quarters, including the judges of the Singapore Literature Prize who resigned in protest, the Board returned the books, not to the children’s library but to the adult’s section. As a country, we cannot properly protect our vulnerable citizens and books as long as Section 377A stands in the way. Striking down Section 377A will open the way for a more equal and caring society. The government must grow up, take the lead, and not hide behind its excuses any longer, if it truly “treasure[s] every Singaporean,” as Ambassador Chan put it.

I humbly ask my fellow shortlisted authors to withdraw their books from consideration for the Singapore Literature Prize too. As an author myself, I understand the sacrifices made to create a work of literature, and the natural desire for recognition. But for the sake of your queer grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, childhood friends, best friends, neighbors, colleagues, teachers, students, classmates, and fellow citizens, would you consider withdrawing your books to protest against the injustice of Section 377A? We cannot have business as usual. We have labored long and hard to bring Singapore literature into the light, but once it is in the light, what will it stand for?

Jee Leong Koh
 New York City
30 May 2016

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Third Annual IAAC Literary Festival

On Gopika Jadeja's invitation, I attended the third IAAC Literary festival yesterday. The 3-day festival, organized by the Indo-American Arts Council, was attended mainly by South Asian Americans. It was a fascinating glimpse into the relationship between them and Indians from India. The Americans were intensely interested in social and political developments in India. They were also captivated by celebrity culture, that of Bollywood and of nationalist politics. The panels on the the first biography of film legend Shashi Kapoor and on the secret diary of Kasturba Gandhi were very well attended.

I particularly enjoyed the panel "This Unquiet Land," also the title of the debut work of non-fiction by award-winning broadcast journalist Barkha Dutt. She has reported on a wide range of issues, famously on the disputed region of Kashmir. She was impressively sharp and articulate, and was well-matched by the nimble acuity of her interlocutor Suketu Mehta, the New York-based author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found and an associate professor of journalism at NYU.

Gopika's panel on art and activism was also well-received. She spoke about her translation of poetry in the minority languages of the state of Gujerat into English, including the poetry of the Dalit. Her fellow panelist Priyanka Dasgupta spoke about her investigation into the phenomenon of passing, not of blacks passing as whites, but of Indians passing as Blacks and Latinos in the late nineteenth century because of the Asian Exclusion Act. She mentioned a book about this phenomenon happening in Harlem, when Indian sailors docked in New York ran away from British imperalism and hid from American racism.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Queer Southeast Asia

An important project, a queer Southeast Asia lit journal. Thank you, Bry Hos and Cy Rai, for including me in the inaugural issue, together with Nuril Basri, John H. McGlynn, Khairani Barokka, Lawrence Ypil, Alwynn C. Javier, Paul Dominic B. Olinares, Gino Dizon, Jeffrey Pascual Yap, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Leon Wing, Danton Remoto, Nimruz De Castro, and Wilfredo Pascual. The journal is now on-line for your reading pleasure.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Dusie's issue of Asian Anglophone poetry

Proud to be included in this rich and varied anthology of Asian Anglophone poetry, edited by the very fine poet Cindy Arrieu-King. I first heard Cindy read at the Asian American Writers' Workshop literary festival called Page Turner, and I was immediately drawn to the delicate and resilient layering of stories and images in her poetry.

She took an earlier iteration of my on-going project "Does Grass Sweat: Translations of an Insignificant Japanese Poet." In this iteration, dated January 10, 2016, I appended commentary to the haiku translations. You may have read the haiku on Facebook, and so may be interested in reading the commentary. There is also a translator's preface that conveys the earliest inspiration for the work. The project is still evolving, so I'd be happy to hear what you think.

Monday, October 03, 2016

2nd Singapore Literature Festival in NYC (Sep 28 - Oct 1)

2nd Singapore Lit Fest ended on a high note on Saturday, with scholarly and passionate talks about Sonny Liew's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. I hope the panel is the first of many, many to come because the graphic novel rewards close analysis and open discussion. A favorite moment was when two panelists, Ying Sze Pek and Matt Humphreys, disagreed with one another. Is the depiction of Lim Chin Siong and Lee Kuan Yew as hero and villian an instance of the novel's oversimplification of complex people, or is it part of the novel's sentimentalist structure? Is it, in other words, a fault or a a strength? Another favorite moment in the festival is less of a clash and more of a clarification, when Alfian Sa'at asks Jason Koo whether he means "mean as fuck" or "mean ASS fuck" in a discussion about the depiction of race and sexuality in literature. Ha, ha, literature is full of double entendres. Then there was that awkward moment in the "Fictionalizing Southeast Asia" panel when Jessica Hagedorn turned to Alfian, whose "Malay Sketches" she read and loved, to say that all the panelists, since they are writers, find themselves confronting the human crises around the world, but Alfian must feel the urgency more than they, and Alfian asked, "You mean, because I am Muslim?" And then there was that moment when Jason Koo admitted with disarming honesty that he had not been into Asian women until he visited Korea and found himself surrounded by Korean women. Yet another favorite moment came when Sheela Jane Menon, whose own presentation on Malaysian literature in "Contexts and Texts" was praised by Winston Lin as one of the best talks on any topic that he has ever heard, asked the playwrights and directors at the talkback in "Outside the Lines" how they treated time in their work, and Ovidia Yu said, and I paraphrase, that she saw both past and future through the present, for there was only the present, and I was reminded of Octavio Paz's Nobel lecture "In Search of the Present." Another favorite moment, and I really got a kick out of it, was when I was caricatured in Marcus Yi's musical "When the Merlion Returned Home" as a gay party boy, complete with black tank top and sashay, who was going to organize a Singapore literary festival without NAC funding. Well, there was no NAC since the premise was that Singapore had sunk beneath the waves. Another favorite moment happened not on stage but at rehearsal when the director Mei Ann Teo and her cast discussed with great earnestness a line from Alfian's "Hotel." In NEW YORK, people! I had a favorite moment when Alfian read the Malay Sketch "Hole," when Naomi Jackson read from her Barbados novel The Star Side of Bird Hill, when Gina Apostol read with superb irony from Gundealers' Daughter, when Jeremy Tiang read with disguised irony from "Sophia's Aunt," when Ovidia read with dramatic irony from "Hitting (On) Women," when Jessica Hagedorn read without irony from Dogeaters. Another favorite moment was when a regular attendee of events at the Asian American Writers' Workshop came up to me to tell me this was the best event she had ever attended, when the Singaporean blog editor at Asia Society came up to me to tell me this was one of the best events ever at Asia Society, and when my Department Head left the event with books by all four writer-panelists. Ah, that moment when I saw R.A. Briggs, who had flown in from Stanford to be at the festival--priceless. The moment I finally met Patsey Yeo-Ramaker, whose youthful spirit made her a tireless festival volunteer--unforgettable. What is your favorite moment?