Thursday, April 19, 2018

NaPo Day 19

Louisiana

The state
produces
the most
number of
vampires.
Imprisoned
by their
immortality,
disdainful
of science—
how can it
stand up
to sorcery—
perversely
proud of
their hue
and cry, the
music of
hurricanes,
the undead
are figures
of corruption.
Don’t go
near them
or you will
catch their
fang and feel
their half-
throttled
angst and
turn in a
funk into
one of them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

NaPo Day 17 and 18

Kansas

The ghost, cowboy hat,
curtain moustache,
sidles up and chuckles
appreciatively, howdy,
boys, welcome
to Kansas, and slips
into the bar. The street
is deserted, except
for the pale sheriff
with a five-point badge,
walking a skeleton
horse, who glares at us,
spits near our feet
and croaks, liberal elite.
When we turn the
corner, a tall woman,
hooked to translucent
wings, is giving out
flyers that say in red,
What Would Jesus Do?
and show a pair
of rainbowed hands
letting fall a bloody
fetus. There isn’t much
else to see. For more
than unfunny cartoons,
we will have to follow
the flight to the cities.
What’s this? A terrier,
hair gone white, sniffs
our penny loafers,
crawls away, muttering,
Dorothy, we’re not
in Kansas anymore.


Kentucky

Not our place,
not anyone’s,
although we name
the caves
Rotunda,
Grand Avenue,
joke about
Fat Man’s Misery,
even
mythologize
the stream, calling
it obviously
the Styx.
Bats, with their
livid cries, live here,
little eastern pipistrelle
with its
tricolored fur,
fire-walking salamanders,
two genera
of eyeless fish,
albino
shrimps, and who knows
what else.
A seahorse
far from the sea?
To find out
we jockey further
and further
into the miles of dark,
not to encounter
ourselves, Lovecraft
has it wrong, but to meet
some other
life,
in this system
of caves,
which rarely
has a natural
opening.

Monday, April 16, 2018

NaPo Day 16

A break in the alphabetical order to take in the news of the day:

Maryland

O say
can you see
by the dawn’s
early light,
what so
proudly
we hailed
at the twilight’s
last gleaming,
whose broad
stripes and bright
stars through
the perilous
fight, o’er
the ramparts
we watched,
were so
gallantly
streaming?
And the rockets’
red glare,
the bombs
bursting
in air,
gave proof
in the night
that our flag
was still
there; o say
does that
star-spangled
banner yet
wave o’er
the land of
the faith
and the home
of the Ba’ath.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

God's Own Country

Friday night, watched "God's Own Country" (2017), about a young Yorkshire farmer (a very credible Josh O'Connor) who numbs his frustrations with binge drinking and casual sex until a Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secareanu), joining his family farm for the lambing season, shows him how to be himself, a gay man capable of love and connection. The film brings to mind "Brokeback Mountain" except that "God's Own Country," directed by Francis Lee, is much better. It actually shows the blood and death of newborn lambs. Some survive, some don't, a visual comment on the dangers and pitfalls of coming out in this day and age still. Not in love with the title, though.

NaPo Day 15

Iowa

What’s the line
around the barn,
a viewing line for
some dear leader?
Oh, it’s the line to see
the butter cow,
600 pounds
of U.S. Grade AA salted butter,
or else it’s to see
the butter Elvis, or the butter Obama,
or Grant Wood’s
bony couple in butter.
Barbara Ehrenreich
writes, “I’m not going out
of this life
without butter
on my bread.
I’ve had so much grief
from people about butter.
I like a glass of wine,
or a bloody mary, too.”
 Oh, look,
this year, Norma “Duffy” Lyon
tops herself.
She has sculpted
with 2000 pounds of butter
a life-sized
The Last Supper.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

NaPo Day 14

Indiana

Open cockpit,
open wheels,
writing an O
200 times
in dust and smoke,
on the oval track,
plotting ahead,
jostling for
position with
other high-
strung vowels,
every zero,
slightly different,
always imperfect,
if it is not erased
in flames,
every event
a non-event,
going nowhere
fast, despite
the hundreds
of thousands
of diehard fans
randy for
memorabilia,
just for one, just one,
to lift
at finish
a bottle of milk.

Friday, April 13, 2018

NaPo Day 13

Illinois

It is called
Little Egypt
because of
its rivers and
the fertile
land. Because
of starvation’s
trek
for a handful
of meal.
Because of
slavery and its
deliverance
in uncivil
war. Little Egypt
is not in the south
of the state,
it’s everywhere,
its boundaries
the boundaries
of the promised
land, its capital
the capital
creamed off
of labor. It’s make
hay while the sun
shines, it’s the
massacre—mass acre—
at Haymarket.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

NaPo Day 12

Idaho

You have come
to the heart,
division and double,
of the matter,
the deepest canyon,
a fall
higher than Niagara,
but more secret.
The sun
comes down
on potatoes and semi-
conductors.
The river
is called Salmon,
or No Return.
Neither in
Mountain Time
or in
Pacific Time,
O my governor,
O my private,
is there
a highway
between Boise and
Coeur d’Alene.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

NaPo Day 11

Hawaii

My myth too—home,
the underworld,
an ancestor
who returns as
a sea turtle
when he is not
the naval officer
who died
at Pearl Harbor.
From the school,
which trained
the black
president,
my aumakua
took
the name of
Steve McGarrett.
Hawaii Five-O 
was sometimes
shot
in Singapore,
do you know?
How do you
know a man
would die
for you
if you don’t
sleep with him
first?
Under another
trademark,
he took up
with me
in New York
where we were
happy-unhappy
for two years
until he was
recalled to the spirit
world,
reappearing
under the
world-class surf
a shark.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

NaPo Days 9 and 10

Florida

This evening walk
around Lettuce Lake
begins on the planks
of good intentions.
Palm fronds droop,
like fingers over
railing, over land
sliding below
wetland, and weeds
yielding along an
indeterminable
wave to duckweed,
a false green
carpet to the door
of the lake.
Bald cypresses, wearing
beards of moss, sit
surprised in water,
their grayish knees
breathing above the
rootless bladderworts.
Here, the wading bird
is king, the Great Egret
picking its way between
land and lake, spearing
the temporary frog
to an unexpected
hump of ground. Here,
the roseate spoonbill
swirls the mud.
Even the osprey,
which nests in feather-
tips of trees, must
bury itself in the
lake, wings held up
like an archaic angel
landing on a gravestone,
before rising with
silver in its beak.
And here, reads the sign
in stainless steel
raised by park
authorities, is
Alzheimer’s Walk
that travels two feet
above the bog, two
feet from the leafy
stink, but does not
sink.


Georgia
Flying, flying
so high, circling
the top
five times, I’m flying
into the
mountain
and your mind.
Flying, always flying,
I won’t be landing.
It’s peaceful
up here
above the pines.
Flying, flying
like a bird,
circling the top
five times, I’m flying
into the mountain
and your mind.
Flying, I say,
always flying,
there’s no landing.
It’s peaceful up
here
above the pines.
I’ve always
been flying
into the
mountain
and your mind.

With thanks to Ray Charles 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

NaPo Day 7 and 8

Connecticut

Wrong, the idea
was found in the boats
of the Punic Wars,
 the idea of inter-
changeable parts
for building
American muskets,
delivered only
after the death
of the contractor
by his family
left behind.
American words
were standardized
earlier
by the great Webster,
who taught generations
of American children,
including the kiddos
from Sandy Hook,
to spell center
for centre, program
for programme, and
armory for armoury.


Delaware

Where are the catapults
firing pumpkins
into the sky? Where are
the slingshots flinging
the hardiest squashes—the Caspers,
the Luminas, La Estrellas—
for the longest way
without getting
pie? Where are the
complicated air
cannons with the names
Big Ten Inch, 2nd
Amendment, Old
Glory, De Terminator
pumping their fists
in victory and vengeance?
All gone. The World
Championship
Punkin Chunkin
has been canceled.
A machine exploded
two years ago
and hit
a female TV crew.
We don’t wish
for anyone,
anyone,
to be hurt,
but where will
the boys go now
with their Universal
Soldier, their
Bad to the Bone?

Friday, April 06, 2018

NaPo Day 6

Colorado

After the gold, the silver,
it was the turn
of the carnations,
the precious metals
of a rush
of colors,
the historic medals
coaxed
from the ground,
won and worn
on the lapel
by queers and presidents—
first to grant
women’s suffrage
by popular vote,
first to repeal
Prohibition,
first to legalize
the recreational use
of cannabis—
you can get high
and green
just thinking
about it.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

NaPo Day 5

California

Arnie has no more
devoted follower
than Olympus Chan
from Guangzhou.
For at least a year,
between fifteen and
sixteen, he went so far
as to put on
the Austrian accent.
Trained and won
Mr. Universe at age
20, same age as Arnie.
Moved to Hollywood
to be in the movies.
Had his big break
not as Conan, but
Young Confucius,
breaking his opponents’
jaws when they did not
heed what he said.
Grew rich selling
herbal supplements,
grew famous too.
Then the ultimate
test, the gubernatorial
contest, he loved
saying “gubernatorial”
with a Cantonese twang,
which he won
handily against the
El Salvadoran, on the
back of a huge Asian
turnout, and not a few
El Salvadorans, at last
striking gold as Asian
American and universal.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

NaPo Day 4

Arkansas

for the Little Rock Nine 

It’s KAN-sas
but it’s AR-kan-SAs,
the final “s” is silent.
Here you can dig
for diamonds—prospect,
it’s called—
and name them
Hallelujah,
Amarillo Starlight,
Okie Dokie,
Superman’s,
Bleeding Heart,
Uncle Sam,
Brown Rice,
Limitless,
and Sweet Caroline.
Little rocks,
the markers of the change
from delta plain
to the Ouachita foothills.
Little rocks,
the final “s” is not
silent.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

NaPo Day 3

Arizona

Remember “Raising Arizona”?
Infertile couple,
a convenience store
robber and a cop,
kidnap one
of the “Arizona Quints”
and raise the baby
in their desert trailer.
Daddy’s bounty
hunter finds them, and they
blow him up.
You want to know
my interpretation
of the Coen Brothers movie?
The couple, Nicholas
Cage and Holly
Hunter, are European
colonialists, white
trash, Papa Arizona
is the Injuns,
and Junior is the land.
The kidnap
is all very fine.
When Cage & Hunter
return the kid
in the end, it makes no
sense.
Remember the reviews?
Technically brilliant.
Incoherent story.

Monday, April 02, 2018

NaPo Day 2

Alaska

You like the sea?
You’ll like Alaska,
34,000 miles
of tidal shoreline.
Not for nothing
is it the object
to which the sea
is directed. It is
something of a
marvel, a marriage
of extremes,
the sea locked
solid in an iceberg,
the outcrops
of rock
melting and running
over all forms of life,
even the hardy
shield ferns
that cling
to these
unpromising islands.
You like volcanoes?

Sunday, April 01, 2018

50 States in 50 Days

It's National Poetry Writing Month again, and I've started a project tentatively titled "50 States in 50 Days," as a way of getting to know this country better. Suggestions welcomed. Here's Day One:

Alabama

Why would you
want to see
a natural disaster,
even if
it’s the greatest?
Visit the Vulcan
instead,
cast-iron god
holding up
his new spearhead
to the sun.
You can’t see
the impact crater,
even though
the impact rim
is intact.
You can only walk
in the maze of rings
of fractured rock,
more than 3 miles across,
hope to find
in the ground
a splinter of shocked quartz,
which proved
this is indeed
a star-wound.


*

PB invited GH and me to a sake tasting last night. Terada Honke has brewed sake for more than 340 years in Kozaki, in Chiba Prefecture, 87.5 km to the northeast of Tokyo. The lecture was by the 24th Head, Masaru Terada, who married into the family, like the two generations before him. The brewing house specializes in so-called natural fermentation, which allows the rice malt to ferment naturally with micro-organisims in the air, without artificial additives. The only "ingredients" added are white koji mold and a yeast called Shubo. The sake we tried were Gonin Musume, Kaiko Shu, Shibotta Manma, Musubi, and Daigo No Shizuku.





Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dolphins

PB invited me to join him last Sunday to watch documentary on the US incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Part of the 11th Annual Peace Film Festival, organized by Yumi Tanaka and a band of volunteers, Resistance at Tule Lake (2017) by Konrad Aderer was less about the resistance than about the remembrance of this infamous episode of American history. Tule Lake camp was where those who refused to answer, or answered no-no to, the government's loyalty questionnaire were sent. There was a special segregation center inside the camp for those judged especially resistant or disloyal. The government also mounted a campaign to persuade the prisoners of all ten concentration camps to give up their US citizenship and be deported to Japan, even though most of them had never seen that country. Fearful and angry, many Tule Lake camp inmates joined the pro-Japan faction called the Hoshi-dan. The film showed them running in squads and doing other physical exercises to train themselves up to be fit for Japan. With the exception of one incident, when inmates refused to obey an order and were sent to stand outside in the wintry cold, some in their underwear, the film was stronger, more interesting, about the split in allegiances among the prisoners. It is a split that has haunted generations of Japanese Americans after the war.

Read two of the books bought at AWP. The Affliction by C. Dale Young is a set of intricately interlinked stories, narrated by the same person whose identity we only discover at the end. What I like most about the book is the use of the trope of disappearance for being gay, for exile from family and community, and finally, for death. The magic realism of the plot does not color the style much. The language is workmanlike. Better known as a poet, Young's prose is, well, rather prosaic. Here's the opening paragraph:

No one would have believed Ricardo Blanco if he had tried to explain that Javier Castillo could disappear. What was the point in trying to explain it to someone, explain how he had seen it himself, how he had watched as Javier Castillo stared deeply as if he were concentrating and then, slowly, disappeared. Ricardo always began the explanation in the same way, by stating that it wasn't a sudden thing, that no, no, it was gradual thing that took sometimes as long as three minutes.

Too many iterations of "explain." Overly familiar language such as "stared deeply" and "always began the explanation in the same way." Vagueness in "someone," "a sudden thing," "a gradual thing." Should the verb "stating" have any place in a novel if the character is not making a police statement? A human who can disappear and reappear somewhere else is a miracle, but the language fails to convey the miraculous.

The other book was a short novel Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono, translated by Angus Turvil. Published by the independent press Two Lines, it is also about abandonment by a parent, but Ono brings the reader right into the experience of the trauma. The language, as translated, is spare, and so gives lots of room for breathing and imagining. Not much happens, but what happens is elemental. The betrayal of loved ones. The kindness of strangers. And the enormous hope one can invest in a healing dolphin.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Turning 48, or Post Your Birthday Wish, If You Wish, Below this Post

Turning 48, or Post Your Birthday Wish, If You Wish, Below this Post 

I’ll write one true thing a day in the week running up to my birthday.

John Ashbery is boring and I’d rather eat cardboard than read his poetry.

I’m a poor judge of character, which is my saving grace in making friends.

Angrier. Sadder. Heavier. I look at the young and am disconsolate.

There are no moral phenomena, but I have to act as if good and evil exist.

Last week I wrote a respectable poem about sex with a party of cyborgs.

 John Ashbery is boring but “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” is brilliant.

Love, I have been under increasing pressure to make a false allegation.


 Photo by Guy E. Humphrey. I name it "Wallflowers."

Old Rendering Plants

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge. The premise is intriguing: a black Bostonian family, the symbolically named Freemans, join a research institute to teach sign language to a chimp called Charlie. The situation is set up for a scathing social critique of racism, some of which Greenidge delivers. The most effective, because the most moving, involves the allure of white trickery to a stern but lonely black schoolmistress. Nymphadora is the most searing portrait of the novel, and she burns the other characters out of the stretched canvas.

Old Rendering Plant by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole. Published by Two Lines Press, which I discovered at AWP, after Tim Tompkins suggested looking for its editor, and his good friend, Olivia Sears, this German novel is dense with the poetry of a wasted landscape. It is haunting, a nightmarish reckoning with history and holocaust. After reading it, I was filled with the excitement of imitating it, but found I could not, its sensibility being so antithetical to mine.

GH and I saw the film Comfort and Consolation in France (2017), written and directed by Vincent Macaigne, at Film Society Lincoln Center yesterday. After squandering their inheritance abroad, Pascal and Pauline return to their family estate and face the envy and resentment of their friends. Intelligent dramatization of the continuing class struggle, fleshed by a strong cast of three couples. The couple in the middle, torn between class pride and attraction to old privilege, was finally the most sympathetic. GH thought the film dated, since it did not mention immigration or the refugee crisis in Europe at all.A good point.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Poems in BPR

I have three poems in Birmingham Poetry Review (Spring 2018 number 45), a publication of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The issue features the great poet Gerald Stern with new poems written in his 90s, and a perspicacious essay by Lucy Biederman on him titled ""And I Go On and On": Gerald Stern's Poetics of Protest." It's bracing to read about how Stern has integrated his politics into his poetics from the start. Some terrific poems in the issue. I particularly enjoyed Saara Myrene Raappana's "Heroic Origins" (it's about bees), Chelsea Rathburn's "The Corinthian Women" (who stood aside while Medea murdered her children), and Gary Soto's two Untitled poems based on Henry V 4.1.98-99 and the bard's Sonnet 150.9. Thanks, Adam Vines and Gregory Fraser, for accepting my poems. Annual subscription is only $10.



Friday, March 16, 2018

Hyphen Interview

THL and JEHL: If the city could answer your questions, what would you ask it? Why are these important issues to you?

JLK: Will you ever change your survival and authoritarian mentality, which prioritizes economic development and political control above all else? How can you be changed? Will you remember me? And how will you remember me?

THL and JEHL: Also let’s consider the reverse. What would your city ask you? Why?

JLK: Who are you?

Thanks, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Jason Eng Hun Lee, for the interview.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Cyborg Sex

Last Tuesday, went to the Morgan Library to see the show of Peter Hujar's photographs: "Speed of Life." The creator of the iconic image of the Gay Liberation Front, showing 2 lines of young people walking down the street, arms linked, fists punching the air, Hujar was really a portraitist. The most compelling photos are headshots, followed by those of the body in half-recline.

Since I was there, I also looked into the Tennessee Williams show, "No Refuge but in Writing." The final plays are really the results of lots of earlier stories, aborted versions, and messy revisions, suggested by Eliza Kazan and others, as much as by Williams's own muse. He exploited his life for his materials, as all writers do, and his life included other people's lives.

*

Wrote "Returning from the Women's March in DC" on Friday, tinkled with "Judy" on Saturday, and "Cyborg Vs The Grim Reaper" this morning. Cyborg sex: the wave of the future!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Square

Wrote "The Morning After Trump's Election (Watusi)" from Connor's perspective yesterday. Today added a small section to "Handheld Devices" and refitted the sequence to reflect the aging of both men.

Watched The Square (2017) with MH yesterday, after lunch with LF and JT. Written and directed by Ruben Östlund, it stars Claes Bang as the chief curator of a prestigious Stockholm museum who is trying to promote a controversial new exhibit. As MH confirmed, the film is spot-on in its satire of art institutions and their patrons. What was less expected was how moving it was in illuminating the seemingly obvious, but infinitely complex business of creating a public square of mutual trust and equal rights.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Connor and Seal: "Later, at the Same Dance Party"

Another retro-fit today, with some small revisions to fit it into the overarching narrative.


Connor:

Later, at the Same Dance Party

Finally he withdraws his sweet body
from the kiss, and the veil descends.

I’m completely involved with someone, 
he says, he’s coming back tomorrow. 

Thrust together by his words, we taste
each other’s mouth through the silk.

Then all the names of the world—
body, kiss, tomorrow, his name Seal—

swaddle in a wet underwear
the things they designate.

When he backs off again, a cry
I cannot recognize passes my lips,

Take me home with you. 
It does not pass the cloth of gold.

He presses through the crushed bodies,
 pulling his tee-shirt down as he goes.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Connor and Seal: Meeting Seal at an 80's Dance Party on Throwback Thursday

Today's offering retrofits an old poem (from "The Book of the Body" sequence") with a new title.


Meeting Seal at an 80’s Dance Party on Throwback Thursday

It is time to bring your face into focus
before this lens moves below the chin to other features harder
to identify as yours.
The best image is that of the cheeks.

The right cheek and the left cheek do not meet.
Like the back of the hand and the palm,
like the head of a silver coin and its tail,
the cheeks do not see each other except in a mirror or a photograph.

This is true of my cheeks
until my right brushes your left when we dance and, in that flash of flesh,
the coin turns up both head and tail,
the back of the hand shakes hands with the palm.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Connor and Seal: Identity House (New York)

Connor:

Identity House (New York)

Shirtless bartenders
popping the cork.
Drag queens hosting
What-the-Fuck.
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee,
can such places be?

Flirtations flit.
Beauty meets.
Grown men deep
kissing on the streets.
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee,
can such places be?

Talk we must about
coming out
in the calmness of
Identity House.
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee,
can such places be?

No more need for
metaphors
unless we are figures of
speech, yes, us,
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee.
Can such places be?

Friday, February 09, 2018

Connor and Seal: A Tale of Two Cities, Three Maybe

Connor:

A Tale of Two Cities, Three Maybe

She’s a baby from Vietnam,
from Saigon, if the truth be told.
She’s a girl from Nebraska City
and she’s sixteen years old.
 She’s unusual, that’s for sure.
She asks him out for ice cream
at Nancy’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor
by Dick’s Movie Palace of Dreams.

She’s in love with the boy
She’s in love with the boy
but after a whole year of eating pussy
he knows he’s not in love with Katie.

First, an ice cream, and then, a movie.
One thing leads to another.
She’s smart, a looker, but he has eyes only
for her quarterback brother.
In the lab, she makes up excuses
to peek at his dissection.
He sneaks his looks in the locker room
at Tommy’s pink ass and Joe’s erection.

She’s in love with the boy
She’s in love with the boy
but after a whole year of eating pussy
he knows he’s not in love with Katie.

He tells her at the Farm Aid show
he’s applyin’ to New York University.
This town’s too small for big dreams,
he explains, to let her down easy.
With her mother’s heart condition,
she knows she’s not going anywhere.
Trisha Yearwood looks so very small
as her voice lifts off into the air:

She’s in love with the boy. 
She’s in love with the boy
but after a whole year of eating pussy
he knows he’s not in love with Katie.


With apologies to singer Trisha Yearwood, and songwriters John Charles Ims and Jon Ims.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Connor and Seal: Art Show at the Center

Connor:

Art Show at the Center

On a black dummy,
a shawl—not cashmere,
cigarette butts.

Apple seeds arranged
like tea cozies
around the roots of trees next door.

So this is what art is!

You are one thing and you are
used for another.

Slightly built, curly haired,
the Artist-in-Residence
smiles from New Jersey.
 Close enough to New York,
if you ask me.

The star of the show:

3 blocks of yellow soap,
the height of my chest,
carved
voluptuously
to look like—urinals.

Oh, the urge to use them!
To spray them
and be clean.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Connor and Seal

Connor:

Nebraska

From the bluff
we turned our backs on the river
and opened a trail,
as Lewis and Clark.

We spotted the grizzly,
Tom did, glummer than Meriwether,
and gave him wide berth
slowly on our stomachs.

When I hit
some raccoon shit, Tom changed
my name to Pvt. John Collins
and tied my paws to a tree

and whipped me with the whip
of a branch,
rubbing himself until he let go
gum from the orange.

We hurried home, it was getting dark,
and watched dad slam the boot
on boxes of his stuff
and drive off.

I was the one to break
the silence, kept during the whipping—
Tom, let’s go back
and tie me up.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Book of Emma Reyes

Given to me by Elda Rotor in a bag full of literary goodies, The Book of Emma Reyes is a revelation. Godmother to Latin American writers and artists in Paris, Emma Reyes was illiterate until her late teens, escaped from grinding poverty and the convent in Columbia, to Buenos Aires and then Paris, to re-invent herself as painter. The memoir, written as a series of letters to Colombian historian and critic Germán Arciniegas, won praise from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As translated by Daniel Alarcón, the style is artfully simple and wholly faithful to the world. No literary flourishes, no imaginative metaphors. Just a sustaining belief that the material itself holds its own interest.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Autoclaps

Last night, watched The Toilers and the Wayfarers (1995), written and directed by Keith Froelich, set in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Matt Klemp, who played the beautiful young Dieter, showed real talents as an actor. But he seemed to have acted in one more movie before calling it quits.

This afternoon, watched Ghost in the Shell (2017), directed by Rupert Sanders, and starring Scarlett Johannson as Major, a crime-fighting robot with a human brain. It was more exciting and pleasurable than I thought it would be. I've never seen the anime original, so have nothing to compare the move to. The plot is predictable but the pacing is good.

Also finished this afternoon Kei Miller's third novel Augustown. It is well written but the stock characters, including a flying preacher, a racist teacher, a well-meaning white school principal, a blind old woman who could smell the forthcoming autoclaps (disaster), preclude real emotional engagement.

About two weeks ago, I finished Gershom Scholem's biography Walter Benjamin: The story of a friendship. Respectful and loving, but by no means hagiographic. For Scholem, Benjamin was a mystic, even when he was a materialist. The little I've read of Benjamin suggests that Scholem is right. Scholem takes pains in his biography to list Benjamin's intellectual influences and contacts, the people and the books. Benjamin saw in Scholem "living Judaism."Scholem supported the idea that Benjamin committed suicide.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

About Painting

I'm a sucker for movies about writers and artists. Always eager to learn some secret to success, I suppose. As if there is one. Local Color (2006), written and directed by George Gallo, is too simplistic and sentimental to be truly inspirational. The acting by Armin Mueller-Stahl (Nicholi Seroff, the older artist) and Trevor Morgan (John Talia, Jr., the younger artist) makes the film watchable.

*

I did not know David Hockney started out as an Abstract Expressionist at the Royal Academy. That was probably the greatest revelation of the Met show. In those early works, there was already a keen sense of color. The Room Tarzana (1967) is my favorite of the works on show, beating out all the swimming pools, glass-curtain buildings, Californian landscapes. It has this wonderful sense of coolness about its sexual heat. The most penetrating, psychologically, is "Henry Geldzahler & Christopher Scott" (1969), about the Met curator, ensconced on his throne, and his supplicant, the trench-coated boyfriend and artist.








Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

An outrageous satire that skewers race politics in the USA. I have to resort to a cliche: the book is unputdownable. I raced through the book, lapping up all the wonderful set-pieces and snappy one-liners. It made me laugh out loud quite a number of times. And you know what I used for a bookmark, my police report about my lost iPhone in Singapore. The opening sentence of the book: "This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I've never stolen anything." Uproarious! Finished it around Jan 3, only now blogging about it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Conspiracy Theorists

1987: Singapore's Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On, edited by Chng Suan Tze, Low Yit Leng and Teo Soh Lung.

A valuable collection of testimonies and memories by the detainees, their family members, their lawyers, the campaigners for their release, and other supporters. This is not the place to obtain a full historical understanding of Operation Spectrum, the detention of 22 people in May 1987 for allegedly conspiring as Marxists to overthrow the state of Singapore; the pieces here are too fragmented and personal to give a steady picture. This is the place, however, where an agonizing silence has been broken, as the different participants of the historical incident recount, explain, and wonder aloud. The two most penetrating insights to emerge are, one, the then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew might have ordered the detention to initiate the new generation of government leaders, including his son Lee Hsien Loong, the current Prime Minister, into the blood sport of politics. They found themselves having to accede to and explain the draconian and unjust action. The few who could not do so, such as S. Dhanabalan, ultimately quit politics. The second insight, which is also part of hindsight, is that Operation Spectrum set back civil society and social advocacy for 20 years. Singapore was not allowed to grow up.


The Art of Advocacy in Singapore, edited by Constance Singam and Margaret Thomas.

A valuable collection of the experiences of social advocates and activists in trying to change government policies and enlarge the space of civil society in Singapore. The remit of the different individuals representing different organizations is helpfully wide: Ageing, Animal Welfare, Health, Heritage and Environment, Human Rights, Literature and Theatre, Media, Migrant Workers, Sex Workers, and Women. It is clear that the most successful of the organizations have been those who back up their arguments with research, engage the authorities privately and publicly, and soften any confrontational language, in other words, they have abided by the rules of engagement set out by the authorities. This approach works best for issues against which the main forces of resistance are ignorance and prejudice. When the issue has to do with political power - as in the struggle for freedom of expression and other democratic liberties, this approach cannot work, for no amount of research, reasonableness, and outreach will persuade the government to give up its political controls. A sufficient political force must be mustered to contest the present dominance. Lacking such a force, to ask the current regime to give up its overwhelming power is like asking a lion to surrender its teeth.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Living in a Time of Deception

Living in a Time of Deception by Poh Soo Kai (Singapore: Function 8 Ltd, 2016).

Dr. Poh Soo Kai was detained without trial for a total of 17 years on the false charge of being a communist out to subvert the state of Singapore. What he shows convincingly in this historical memoir is that, like many of his fellow detainees under Operation Coldstore, he was not a communist, but an anti-colonialist and socialist, in other words, a patriot. He was detained for so long because he refused to sign any statement that suggested otherwise. Such a powerfully principled person deserves a hearing at the very least. If you read this book and give him a hearing, as I did, you will make astonishing discoveries about Singapore's struggle for independence from the British, and the legacy of that struggle. After reading this book, I am outraged by the political chicanery for personal ends, but I am also inspired by the heroism of a few good men.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Star Attractions of Singapore



Star Attractions of Singapore: when will Parliament reverse the injustice that makes me a second-class citizen in my own country? Leaving Singapore tonight after giving away 33 out of 50 tank tops. Our biggest challenge is our (self-)imposed invisibility. Putting on an equality singlet is a small but significant way of saying, we're here, we're queer, get used to it. Looking forward to coming back for Pink Dot 2018 to join everyone in claiming and celebrating the right to love. #gaybutnotyetequal #singaporeunbound

Monday, December 25, 2017

Gay But Not Yet Equal 2

Gave out 27 tops altogether, yesterday at Artistry Cafe and today at Intermission Bar - at The Projector. Take a gander at these brave souls who wore their gay pride proudly. Thanks, everyone, for coming and taking a risk. Let’s stand up for gay equality! You make a difference.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Bare Life

Submitted three of my Harlem poems to The Bare Life Review, a journal devoted to publishing immigrant and refugee writers.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Soloist

Yesterday, went for two readings. A reading by four poets at AAWW. Monica Sok's poetry stood out for its formal intelligence. She was also very articulate about her work. Then over to the the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division, at the LGBT Community Center, to hear the contributors to the anthology Our Happy Hour: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bar. Ann Aptaker, who organized and emceed the reader, read with great energy and panache.

Tonight, watched the movie The Soloist (2009) about an LA Times columnist who befriended a homeless man who was trained in cello at Julliard. Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. turned in good performances. Directed by Joe Wright.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Jewish Mysticism

Last Monday, had dinner with Kevin Maxwell at Grand Szechuan, Chelsea. He had been with his friend Fahdi, who was dying of cancer. On Thursday, Kevin posted on FB that Fahdi had died. I met Fahdi only once, at a birthday dinner for Kevin. He was a psychologist or psychiatrist. He was into big biceps.

Tuesday, attended the second session of the Gershom Scholem course at the Center of Jewish History, taught by Izhak Lewis. The readings and discussion turned on Scholem's study of Jewish mysticism. Is there such a thing as mysticism across time and space, or is it constituted as an object by academic study?

Wednesday, had coffee with Matt from Shelf Awareness. Then dinner with Kim and Judy Luo, who was applying to be editorial intern with Gaudy Boy. Flora Chan joined us and showed us her cover designs for Malay Sketches.

Thursday, GH and I watched Annie Hall. Friday, we watched Beach Rats (2017), which suffered from bad writing but had a rather good Harris Dickinson as a druggie Brooklyn teenager who hooks up on-line with older men.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Endeavor

Worked on Snow at 5 PM from 5 am to 12:30 pm, with a break to get the paper and groceries and another break for brunch. Focused on pumping up the language and adding specific details.

Went for Bikram Yoga at Yogacare. Missed only 1 of the poses.

Watched the last episode of Endeavor Season Four, called "Harvest." Shaun Evans as the young constable Endeavor Morse and Roger Allam as his older colleague, Detective Inspector Fred Thursday.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

East West Street

Revised the Preface and the Afterword to Snow at 5 PM.

Finished reading East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands, recommended by Henry Abelove. Very well researched, it reads like a detective novel. 

Watched Fire Song (2015), written and directed by Adam Garnet Jones, about a gay Anishinaabe teenager living in North Ontario and trying hard to get out of his small town. Andrew Martin, who plays the protagonist Shane, is a natural actor.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Last Vegas

I'm going to record my daily activities more faithfully on this blog. It is the main on-line repository of my memories.

I've been working on Snow at 5 PM this Thanksgiving break. Yesterday GH and I had brunch with Dan Liu at Maison Harlem. He shared about the way he catalogues his images. One useful tip was to keep hi-res assets on Dropbox, which can be accessed from any device. For Thanksgiving dinner, GH and I went to Barawine. I had good mussels and a passable Sancere. Then we came home and watched Last Vegas, a 2013 comedy starring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, and directed by Jon Turteltaub. Good script and acting. The plot is so-so. The movie confirmed our prejudice against Las Vegas.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Philip Roth: the early novels

A colleague said condescendingly that Roth's humor is adolescent. Sure it it, but which of us have grown out of our adolescence so completely that we do not recognize its old growth in our selves? "Portnoy's Complaint" is superb in in its inventive humor. The anti-Nixon satire of "Our Gang" I find rather tiresome. The Kafkaesque "The Breast" is unexpectedly moving. I read the three novels in the Library of America edition.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Vladimir Nabokov's "Ada, or Ardor"

Philip Roth said in an interview that a novel must be read within a fortnight or else the experience would be much dissipated. I think Nabokov's Ada cannot be read so quickly. Each chapter, quite short but so dense with imagery, wordplay, and recondite allusions, must be read slowly, and then savored in the mind's mouth by turning off the spigot of liquid riches, by closing this most unusual family chronicle of incestuous love.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

National Coming Out Day



I came out as a gay man 13 years ago. I trace the moment back to my first attending a meeting of GAPIMNY, the Gay Asian Pacific-Islander Men of New York. Since then I've been coming out, again and again, to family, friends, and strangers. Yes, there is such a thing as coming out to oneself, an internal understanding and acceptance of one's own sexual identity, but coming out of the closet is essentially a public act, of saying to others "Hi, I'm here and I'm queer."

Some in the LGBT community have argued that talk of coming-out reinforces the heterosexual norm and marginalizes ourselves. Straight people do not have to come out as straight. This argument has no force in Singapore, where heterosexuality is overpoweringly taken for grant, and so the act of coming out constitutes a challenge to that norm. Our bodies must be seen. Our demands must be heard. Our persons must be respected and treated equally as those of straight people.

It is true that gay liberation began in the US as a liberation movement, in solidarity with other political liberationist movements in the country and around the world, and not as a form of identity politics, which the rhetoric of coming-out seems to underpin. I think of that argument as an important caution that gay equality is not achieved until all other forms of inequality have been eradicated. Gay equality is only, but also, one part of equality for all. So coming out to others is important but is only the beginning of one's political education and action. Drawing strength and wisdom from our own experience, we must join the fight for women's rights, labor protections, and democratic freedoms, to name but a few issues, even as we insist that true equality must include equality for the LGBT community.

Photo by Yoshi Matsuzaki. Art Direction by Jaire Remy W.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Kei Miller's "The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion"

An expertly crafted book of poetry, full of heartfelt knowledge of a place that the author has left to reside elsewhere. The cartographer and the rastaman represent two different ways of knowledge, one rational and calculating, representing an imperialistic perspective, the other mystical and musical, representing a local resistance. If--even in the evidently sincere clash of views, perhaps expressing the conflict in the author--some of the poems feel overly explanatory (the Place Names poems, for instance, even though the explanations may be more invented than real), conceding too much to the ignorant curiosity of Western minds, the collection is still suffused with a strong sense of self-discovery and self-making, which asserts the autonomy of the post-colonial subject. My favorite poem, which does not explain too much, is the extremely moving "My Mother's Atlas of Dolls." Here, the author is not trying to justify himself, but attempting to do justice to one who has never left.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Diary


Had a really special afternoon with the daughters of my late junior-college English teacher Keith Wiltshire. It was lovely to meet Grace and Christine finally, and Grace's husband Pete. After torte, tea, and wine at Cafe Sabarsky, we walked over to Shepherd Gallery, where Christine's husband, Lin, an artist, works. We were given a little tour of the current show by the owners. Then more drinks--gin and tonic--and conversation. We miss you, Keith.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Shoot for Equality


""Shoot me, I asked the young bartender at Dorothy’s...," and Yoshi Matsuzaki did, on the rooftop of Singapore's People's Park Complex. Thanks, Yoshi, for the photography; Jaire Remy W for the art direction; Mark Yeo for the tee-shirt design; and Carolyn Oei and Marc Nair, for publishing the haiga at Mackerel.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

14 Singaporeans React to That Gay Tank Top

Thanks, Dear Straight People, for publishing this article.
In this opinion piece, I hope to begin a national conversation by giving the responses of different Singaporeans to my tank top.

I met them in various public spaces, mostly cafés and restaurants, in the course of the week after my Facebook post about the complaint went viral.

They are not a representative sample of Singaporeans, but they can be trusted to give their honest response. In fact, when I asked them for their views, I told them that mixed feelings were welcomed. I think, in the current debate about gay equality, it is important to listen closely and understand one another before we reply. Read the reactions.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Get the Viral Tank Top!

4 tank tops to go to the 4 highest bidders! The tank top that got me into trouble with Singapore's SAFRA gym. Designed by Mark Yeo. Gently worn, freshly washed, lovingly ironed. Get a memento of the gay tank top affair. Wear it about proudly. It's a talking piece. Support gay equality. All proceeds benefit Singapore Unbound, a NY-based literary non-profit that champions freedom of expression and equal rights for all. Opening bid: USD50. Let the bidding begin. Please help to spread the word. Thanks!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Running with Strippers

Cake Theater's "Running with Strippers" last night was one of the most exhilarating pieces of theater I've seen in Singapore. It took great risks and brought them off beautifully. Director Natalie Hennedige selected her artist-performers carefully and then freed them to do what they wished in stunning sets specially created for their work. C.O.P. (Cult of Personality) had fantastic costumes and wonderfully synchronized movements. Rizamn Putra's "Trip the Light Fantastic," a romp through the artist's personal entanglements with dance, was funny and painful, shadowed by a blown-up drawing of an x-ray of his injured spine. I cried during Cyril Wong's "Disassembly" when he sang live to a recording of his own voice, and made us wonder which voice, if any, would survive us. When I reached Zul Mahmod's sound installation "March On," I found the dull thuds of the 16 solenoids on hanging sheets of white paper strangely consolatory. The artist meant to critique the harsh pace of society by recreating the drum beat of progress, but after Rizman and Cyril's performances, I was looking to the machines for salvation. Go see it. It's playing this weekend.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SU Fellowship Award Event Tonight

I'd gone back and forth about whether I should wear my gay tank top at tonight's Singapore Unbound Fellowship Award Event. Singapore Unbound is the NY-based literary non-profit I founded to build cultural exchange between Singapore and the USA. It is not solely about gay rights. Would I be misrepresenting the organization by wearing something with so personal a statement, and so informal as a tank top? Would I be identifying the organization too closely with me?

But the tagline that summarizes the values of Singapore Unbound is, after all, "Freedom of Expression. Equal Rights for All." It is echoed in the back of my shirt: "Equality for All" and in the act of wearing the shirt freely in public. Although Singapore Unbound is not solely about gay rights, it is about human rights. And the discrimination, including torture and murder, against LGBT people around the world is a very pressing global issue now, and must be fought with every weapon we have. Singapore Unbound is not just about freeing Singapore from oppression and inequities, but also releasing Singapore to be a champion of freedom and equality around the world. We can do so much more.

As writers and artists, we have a part to play in the fight. Tonight, when we come together to celebrate the award of the very first SU Fellowship to Nur Sabrina Binte Dzulkifli, I'm doing my small part by wearing my gay tank top. I'm additionally encouraged to do so in honor of Sabrina, who will be presenting an excerpt of a play that casts a light on lesbianism in the Malay Muslim community in Singapore, a topic seldom discussed in local theater and literature. Her fearless courage in dealing with hot-button issues, including race, religion, and post-natal depression, is one huge reason why she has been selected for the fellowship, to come to NYC for two weeks.

I very much doubt that any of tonight's guests, most of whom are artists and writers, will be put off by my tank top. The arts must stand for something beyond itself. The arts have the capacity to change society. I don't mean to try to change anyone's religious convictions or social values, but if we can all agree to develop the public realm as a pluralistic, welcoming, and respectful space, we would all have taken a big step forward.

And part of that step, I think, involves an agreement that 377A, the anti-sodomy law, discriminates unjustly against the LGBT community, and that it must be struck down in the interest of fairness. The state has no business interfering with the sexual relationship of two consenting adults. And society has no business to get the state to do so, to impose its own set of values on everyone. We can believe in what we believe in--freedom of conscience and worship is also a human right--but we cannot deprive others of their freedoms and rights when those freedoms and rights do not impinge on the freedoms and rights of others. To strike down the anti-sodomy law does not compel anyone to practice sodomy. To each their own.

Singapore Unbound wants to expand the space for everyone to be free and equal. Join us if you want the same. As for the tank top being too informal for an award event, why the need for formality? It's stuffy.

Cartoon and Reflections

I've inspired a cartoon! Lol. Wish I look like that. Thanks, toastwire!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BWotdzRDDmM/

My brief piece of reflection  on SAFRA's statement. Thanks, Sean Foo, for soliciting and publishing it on Dear Straight People.

Friday, July 14, 2017

SAFRA Responds

SAFRA came out for fairness. They did not give in to homophobia. Thank you, SAFRA! Your statement proves that Singapore is ready for diversity.

"In a statement sent to Channel NewsAsia, SAFRA said Mr Koh's attire did not contravene any of the gym's rules and regulations.

"We have also spoken to the gym users who gave the feedback. From our conversation with Mr Koh, we believe there was no intent to cause discomfort to other gym goers so we hope this can be resolved amicably," said SAFRA."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

SAFRA Mount Faber

A few users of the SAFRA Mount Faber Club Gym complained about my tank top to the gym manager. They accused me of trying to change a sensitive social policy or issue. My tank top says, “Gay But Not Yet Equal” on the front, and “Equality For All” on the back. I learned of their complaint when I arrived at the gym this morning. I have been using this same gym when I visit Singapore every summer. On this trip back to Singapore, I had gone to the gym three times; today was my fourth visit only. The gym manager had tried to call me about the complaint but could not reach me. He spoke to me on the phone in the gym.

I asked him how many people complained. He repeated, some, and elaborated, more than one but not many. He also said that “the social issue” was sensitive nationally, and that SAFRA could not allow any social advocacy. I explained that I was not trying to change any social policy, but I was just wearing a tank top specially designed by a New York designer. I should have pointed out, but I didn’t at the time, that the tank top did not refer to Singapore at all. I should have also said that I wasn't standing by the water cooler and passing out flyers, I was just working on my pecs and butt, like the other gym users. I did say that the complainants were not objecting to social advocacy per se. They would not have complained if my tank top had promoted a national heart campaign. They were, in fact, complaining about my being gay.

The gym manager agreed that the complaint was subjective, but said that he still had to take it into account. I said that although a few people complained, the majority of the gym users did not complain, showing they had no problem with my tank top. The gym manager pointed out that the majority could be dissenting quietly. I replied that they could also be approving quietly. He said, and I agreed, that we were not about to take a poll.

I asked him what he would like me to do. He said he was not going to ban me from the gym but would ask me to be sensitive to other gym users. When I asked him what that meant, he repeated himself, and then said that as the gym manager he had to mediate between the complainants and me. I told him I understood he had a job to do. He and his staff were totally courteous and reasonable throughout the 15-minute interview. I was feeling very conspicuous at the front desk, and was surprised to find my hand holding the phone shaking a little, more from the desire to say the right thing than for any other reason. He told his staff to let me into the gym dressed in my tank top as usual.

I don’t think this is the end of it. I suspect that the complainants will complain to the gym manager again, and if he does not take stronger action against me, they will turn to his boss, the manager of the SAFRA Club. SAFRA stands for Singapore Armed Forces Reservist Association. They provide, among other benefits, recreational facilities for National Servicemen and their families. I have done my National Service and Reservist training: I finished as an infantry company commander with the rank of captain. I had not come out as gay then. The Armed Forces require all self-declared gay men to serve National Service, and so it would be wrong to deny these gay servicemen, self-declared or otherwise, any of the benefits afterwards.

It would be an injustice to stop me from using any of the facilities of the SAFRA Recreational Clubs just because a few members do not like my tank top. Or, to put it more bluntly, just because they do not like gay people. And if I’m not allowed to wear my tank top to the SAFRA gym, would I be allowed to wear it walking about Singapore, or would the same people who complained to the gym complain to the police about my “social advocacy on a sensitive social issue”? It’s a tank top, for goodness sake. Would you want to take me in for a tank top? Singapore would be a laughing stock to the world.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Singapore Diary

Saturday, conducted a Sing Lit Station workshop on revision with three participants. Andrea, an intern, made a valuable addition. Then attended the Migrant Poetry Evening at The Arts House in the tank top designed by Mark Yeo.


With Cyril Wong

With Annaliza Bakri

On Sunday, I heard Phillip Cheah perform at Victoria Memorial Hall (Dance Studio) with his collaborator and pianist Trudy Chan. They were terrific, as expected. Phillip is a good interpreter of art songs. I found the French tunes the most affecting in their combination of lightness and emotion. Many of Phillip's former teachers and classmates from RI came to support him. In the evening, I had dinner with YP and her family at Chapter 55, an Italian bistro in Tiong Bahru. The girls liked their presents. Hannah got an autographed copy of Naomi Novik's Temeraire series. She is beginning to collect books signed by their authors. I found the perfect present for Liesel at the Asian Civilization Museum, a book of watercolor paintings of the flora and fauna of the Malay peninsula, commissioned by the first British Resident William Farquhar, and done by Chinese artists using a mix of Chinese and Western painting techniques. Liesel loves to draw. She just drew an ant for art class.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Diary

Strange limbo while waiting to fly to Singapore tonight. I've packed, now waiting for my order of tee-shirts, and then the airport shuttle. Last Thursday, celebrated KM's birthday by treating him to dinner at Chomp Chomp. He has taken early retirement because of Parkinson's, and will be released from work next month. On Saturday, we had the Calatayuds over for dinner. Conversation flowed back and forth. Everyone seemed to have had a great time. Sunday, we spent on Christopher Street pier and got sunburnt. Undeterred, we went to Rockaway Beach on 4th of July. Very crowded, but good fun. We now have an almost straight train there, the A.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Kirsten Tan's "Pop Aye"

With gentle yet probing wit, Kirsten Tan's film Pop Aye sounds the empty depths of human accomplishment and urban development. It brings us along with its protagonists, a disillusioned architect and a rescued elephant, on an unusual road trip to meet a string of colorful characters all coping with life's losses in different ways, the charismatic Thai countryside echoing the massive beauty of what the director called the "Brad Pitt" of elephants. The human actors hold their own. Astonishingly all but one are non-professional actors. Their strong and nuanced performances, drawn out by skillful directing, made the movie delightfully engaging, even affecting. Last night, at the opening night at Film Forum, I heard people expressing surprise that this was Kirsten's first feature film, so persuasive was its vision and assured its execution. She is definitively a filmmaker to watch. Catch Pop Aye in Film Forum before it moves to other cities. It plays only through Tuesday.

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.