Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jason Irwin's "Where You Are"

The virtues of Jason Irwin's poetry are again on full display in his latest work, a chapbook titled simply Where You Are (NightBallet Press). The feeling for the dailiness of life's disappointments. The devotion to a plain yet eloquent diction, associated with the working class. The discovery of metaphor in the course of living and writing. I have been reading Jason's work since we were together in the Creative Writing MFA at Sarah Lawrence College, and this new book strikes me as a powerful argument for persisting in the same vein. There are, however, at least two new features in this small volume. One is the addition of prose poems to a body of work mostly written in supple free verse. These prose poems provide formal variation, but they lose the intentness of Irwin's line breaks. The other is the subject of a marriage gone south. True to its gentle spirit, there is no recrimination or hysteria here, but an aching remembrance of loss. Where You Are, it turns out, is also the painful cry, Where Are You.


a cocker walking
on uncut claws
clicks like a clock

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï

Was captivated by Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï (1967) last night. Alain Delon plays Jef Costello, a contract killer who finally and ritually plans his own suicide. Beautiful minimalist cinematography, with a spare palette of silver and blue. Minimal dialogue too. But there is a less noticeable extravagance too. It seems that the whole of the Paris police force is out to get him. As one imdb comment notes, Costello is not just a child of Sartre. The killing of Reyes, in its magic impossibility, is pure Nabokov.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New York Festival of Song

Attended the concert last night with HA. Kaufman Music Center and New York Festival of Song present "Harlem Renaissance" in song and poetry. Julia Bullock sang soprano, Darius de Haas tenor, and James Martin baritone. On the piano was NYFOS was Artistic Director Steven Blier and Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett.

The Joint is Jumpin'
Music by Thomas "Fats" Waller; lyrics by Andy Razaf and J. C. Johnson
Sung by Ensemble

A Porter's Love Song to a Chambermaid
Music by James P. Johnson; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Mr. Martin

Aint'-cha Glad
Music by Thomas "Fats" Waller; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Ms. Bullock

L'il Gal
Music by J. Rosamond Johnson; poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Sung by Mr. Martin

Death of an Old Seaman
Music by Cecil Cohen; poem by Langston Hughes
Sung by Ms. Bullock

The Breath of a Rose
Music by William Grant Still; poem by Langston Hughes
Sung by Ms. Bullock

Day Dream (a concert highlight for me)
Music by Billy Strayhorn; lyrics by John LaTouche
Sung by Mr. de Haas

I'm Craving for that Kind of Love
Music by Eubie Blake; lyrics by Noble Sissle
Sung by Ms. Bullock

You're Lucky to Me
Music by Eubie Blake; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Mr. de Haas and Ms. Bullock

I've Heard of a City Called Heaven (another concert highlight)
Musical arrangement by Hall Johnson; traditional poem
Sung by Ms. Bullock

Guiding Me Back Home
Music by Harry Revel; lyrics by Noble Sissle
Sung by Mr. Martin and Mr. de Haas

Mo' Lasses
Music by Charles "Luckey" Roberts; lyrics by Alex Rogers
Sung by Mr. Martin

In a Sentimental Mood
Music and lyrics by Duke Ellington and Manny Katz
Sung by Mr. de Haas

I'm Just a Lucky So-and-So
Music by Duke Ellington; lyrics by Mack David
Sung by mr. Martin

A Flower is a Lovesome Thing (another concert highlight)
Music and lyrics by Billy Strayhorn
Sung by Ms. Bullock

The Harlem Blues
Music and lyrics by W. C. Handy
Sung by Mr. Martin

My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More
Music by Eubie Blake; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Ms. Bullock

I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town
Music by William Weldon; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Mr. de Haas

Song to the Dark Virgin
Music by Florence Price; poem by Langston Hughes
Sung by Mr. Martin

What's the Use
Music by Florence B. Price; poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Sung by Mr. de haas

Black and Blue
Music by Thomas "Fats" Waller & Harry Brooks; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Mr. de Haas

What Harlem is to Me
Music by Russell Wooding and Paul Denniker; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by the Ensemble

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Draft of Preface for "Shadows of Japan"

The art of the haiku is the art of the unsaid. Saying so is already saying too much.

The Great Fish swims in the Great Ocean and the little fishes cannot understand it. How can it plunge to a depth of a thousand miles and still live? I can only dip in my pond to the distance of ten times my length. It cannot be true. And then they hear that the Great Fish changes into a Great Bird, and, as a bird, flies ten thousand leagues in a day. Now we understand, they say, it has been a bird all along.

After Zhuangzi

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Monday, December 01, 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Let us give thanks for celluloid

Watched a slew of movies during Thanksgiving stay with Ty and Di. On Wednesday, when we arrived, we watched an hour of the stand-up comedian Louis C. K., before turning in. Across the Universe (2007), directed by Julie Taymor, is visually entrancing, although the boy-meets-girl story is all too predictable. The fun here is hearing the Beatles songs mesh with the loosey-goosey plot. Evan Rachel Wood plays upper-class American Lucy and Jim Sturgess plays the working class Liverpudlian Jude.

Another visual entertainer, but in a very different way, Getting Go, the Go Doc Project (2013) is framed as a video documentary by a college student named Doc (Tanner Cohen), of his crush on NYC go-go dancer Go (Matthew Camp). Written and directed by Cory Krueckeberg, this is a better gay movie than most. The acting is believable. I love all the split-screens and frames-within-frames that convey the multiplicity and simultaneity of on-line life. After this, I'm off to stalk Matthew Camp on Facebook.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was so god-awful that we stopped watching it after 15 minutes. House of Boys (2009), directed by Jean-Claude Schlim, boy-meets-boy-in-whorehouse-and-falls-in-love-and-ends-up-taking-care-of-partner-infected-by-AIDS, is totally unrealistic. The only reason to watch it is Layke Anderson who is cute and a decent actor. His dance numbers are the best things in the movie.

We were knackered after the bus trip home, so what did we do for the evening, but to watch another movie. A Coffee in Berlin (2012) follows a young college dropout as he encounters various weird folks around the city, beautifully shot in black and white. A neighbor who is unable to make love to his wife since her breast cancer surgery. An underachieving actor friend. A high-school classmate whom he once bullied for being fat, but who is still in love with him. And, finally, fatefully, an old man returning to the old neighborhood who told the story of how his father made him throw stones at a Jewish store and how he cried and cried, not for the smashed lives, but for the fact that he could no longer ride his bike in all the shattered glass. Tom Schilling plays Niko Fischer very naturally. As he puts it to the woman, who is still a fat little girl in her own mind, you look at people and think they are so strange. Then there comes a moment when you realize that they are not strange and that you are the problem. Written and directed by Jan Ole Gerster.

Enjoyed The Giver (2014), based on Lois Lowry's book of the same name. Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep brings some depths to their respective characters The Giver and Chief Elder, who could otherwise be cardboard figures. Brenton Thwaites as Jonas is eminently watchable. Katie Holmes was given too little to do as Jonas's mother. Directed by Phillip Noyce.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus

A thought-provoking set of essays. The main writer Donald Low is persuasive about how widening income inequality in Singapore is destroying the social compact between the government and the people. He argues for income redistribution and the strengthening of social nets, and against the shibboleths that stand in the way, such as elite belief in trickle-down economics, moral hazard, and decreased global competitiveness. He wants policy-makers to look hard at the empirical evidence, instead of being confirmed in their prejudices by past experience raised to the status of ideology.

Low is particularly good at using insights from cognitive research to explain why the governing elite is so slow to adapt to a fast-changing environment. His reliance on such findings is telling. He mainly believes that governmental failure is primarily a failure in thinking. Correct the thinker, and he will correct his policies and processes. At one point, Low assures the reader that the governing elite that he mingles with, both civil servants and ministers, are well-intentioned and public-spirited. He does not see them as a class, and that as a class they will act according to their class interest. And so his calls to the government to expand democratic freedoms may sound overly optimistic. Nothing is harder for the powerful than to give up their power. His co-writer Sudhir Vadaketh may be less analytically astute, but he has stronger political instincts. He speculates that political change, if it comes, will come from the ground up, and not from the top down.

The one essay by historian Thum Ping Tjin takes a very different tack. By taking a synoptic survey of the twentieth-century history of Singapore, he makes the nice point that present-day Singapore resembles Singapore in the 1920s and 30s when it was the richest and most cosmopolitan city in S.E. Asia. Then, as it is becoming now, it was also the most exploitative economy. When the British found it untenable to hold on to power, they tried to transfer power to the pro-British, pro-business Progressive Party. It was David Marshall and his Labor Party, however, who won the vote and implemented pro-labor policies, such as starting the CPF. Other good ideas came out of that period of intense political debate and contest, ideas that became the foundation of Singapore's success. The implication for modern Singapore is clear: we need multiple political parties that are capable of forming a government. This scenario looks more realistic, especially after the 2011 election, than any proposal to reform the entrenched political elite. Whichever party wins, it would do well to look hard at Donald Low's policy recommendations.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lydia Kwa's novel "Pulse"

As it self-identifies, Pulse is not a whodunnit, but a whydunnit. A young man kills himself, and his mother's ex-lover, a woman who migrated with her own parents to Toronto, Canada, may be the only one to understand why he does so. Natalie, an acupuncturist, shares with the dead Saleem an interest in kinbaku, the erotic art of Japanese rope bondage. She is only willing to do the tying, whereas Saleem relishes the pain-pleasure of being tied. Both long, however, to transcend their bodies, the sites of their trauma, while knowing that the body is the only means to such transcendence.

The body is also the limit of our knowledge of one another. We have to interpret, after all, one another by means of visual and verbal cues. Chris Lee, a Canadian critic quoted on the back cover, puts it well: "Pulse relentless explores the limits of knowability--cultural boundaries of knowledge, the seemingly impassable divide between one person and another, and the temporal gaps that render memory unstable yet ever-present." Pulse is searching and courageous in this exploration, and so the ending comes somewhat as a letdown, when Saleem's lover shows Natalie a letter from the dead man to her explaining everything. Saleem had read between the lines of Natalie's own story of trauma to deduce their similar history. She, and the reader, had the truth handed to her on the plate.


from the movie house
into the bright fall day
are they airsick too

After watching The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 yesterday.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Reading Zakir Hussain Khokhon’s poem “Pocket 2,” which won the first Singapore migrant workers poetry competition, I was moved by its heady fragrance.

in Shahbag
the bakul tree flowers
out of season

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014


fall leaves by the road
blaze brighter than spring flowers
november eaves

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dysclosure, the openness to the multiple

TLS October 24, 2014

from Jean-Pierre Boulé's review of David Caron's The Nearness of Others: Searching for tact and contact in the age of HIV:

Self-disclosure lies at the heart of Caron's book. The argument is accessible, but also intellectually sophisticated and convincing. Caron's experience has taught him that coming out as HIV-positive means exclusion from the gay community at large, hence the paradox of being closeted as HIV-positive. However, the author starts to rethink disclosure, outside of regimes of truth, policing and control (references are made to both Michel Foucault and Jacques Rancière) so that contact between the directly affected and the indirectly affected is possible. He coins the term "dysclosure", "closure vulnerable to dysfunction", as a mechanism for sharing, premissed on equality. In response to questions about one's status, he suggests the answer "undetectable" (referring to one's viral load) as an exemplar of dysclosure because it deconstructs the binary system of enclosure/disclosure. "Dysclosure, the openness to the multiple, is located between confession and silence".


the moon in madrid
is the oldest you will see
says my marco polo

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014


the wind is rising
i'm listening to the dark tints
of a crow etching

Thursday, November 13, 2014


so many crinkled faces
around a few crinkled stalks
of discount choy sum

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


in the 4 o'clock dark
the electric streetlights shine
like the eyes of pike

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


on the dining table
yellow, red and brown leaves
a nōkanshi has been

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Friday, November 07, 2014


Judges Gwee Li Sui, Leong Liew Geok and Boey Kim Cheng awarded the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize (English poetry category) to Joshua Ip and Yong Shu Hoong. On the morning of hearing the result, I was very disappointed. While I was turning the disappointment over in my mind on my way to school, a jogger, silver-haired, in his fifties, ran past me without shoes.

a sore loser
i'd start writing in spanish
if i can run barefoot

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Real Thing

Watched Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" at the American Airlines Theatre yesterday. Directed by Sam Gold, the production boasted of stars such as Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Cynthia Nixon (in the leads) and Josh Hamilton. They were all over-shadowed by Ronan Raftery (Billy), who spoke his words with emotional clarity and distinguished relish, and whose physical presence lit up the stage. The first half was tedious, but the second half picked up, mostly because of a terrific monologue spoken by McGregor comparing good writing to a well-made cricket bat, and because of Raftery's performance.

Ronan Raftery. Photo from United Agents.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Monday, November 03, 2014


With some friends from out of town, we walked the High Line yesterday, a cold fall day. After running parallel to the Hudson for blocks and blocks, this most linear of parks curves in its third and final section toward the river and floats over the storage and maintenance yards for Long Island Rail Road.

at hudson yards
the trains laid down like rain
in hiroshige

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Poetry Reading at BGDQD

Read on October 19 with Eduardo Martinez and Adam Fitzgerald at an event organized by Eduardo Corral under the auspices of the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division. The Bureau has relocated to the LGBT Community Center. It still has a wonderful selection of books and prints. Greg and Donny were such genial hosts. Eduardo asked me two good questions about some remarks that I made in interviews. One remark was about trying to find an English word that means "soul-body." Asked if I have discovered a poet who comes closest, I mentioned Cyril Wong and described his poetry of meditation. What did I mean when I said that I was a lyric poet living in an anti-lyric age? I meant that our age is justifiably suspicious of the unified and universal lyric self, but as a lyric poet, I yearn to be unified and universal, or, to put it another way, I am suspicious of the suspicions against the lyric. Thanks very much, Eduardo, for putting together this lovely reading. It was very kind of Henry Abelove, Eric Norris, Christine Chia, Amos Toh and Cheryl Koh to come for the reading. I read about my bolster, my parents' altar table, Wolverine, things out of place, and the old Chinese poets from The Pillow Book, as queer a collection as any that I've written.


the wind is rising
and crashing on the coast
of my ear

Friday, October 31, 2014

Haiku and Pub

when the sun drops
another view of fuji-san
holding up the feet

In PN Review 220, a celebration of Eavan Boland. Many tributes, from Sapphire, Mark Doty, Paula Meehan, Tara Bergin, Colm Tóibín, Yusef Kommunyakaa, and Sandra M. Gilbert, among others. I have a small piece that looks at Boland's sense of humor in "The Fire in Our Neighborhood."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


eating too much too late
they say, can give you dreams
black bears in new jersey

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Love Is Strange

Movie watching is out-stripping movie reviewing, even movie remembering. The only solution is a list, before everything dissolves away.

Ida (2013) is about a Polish novitiate who discovers from her only living relative that she is Jewish. The film is directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and stars Agata Trzebuchowska as Anna/Ida, and Agata Kulesza as Wanda, her free-living, depressed aunt. Beautiful cinematography. Absorbing narrative, except for the rather facile ending.

In Cloudburst (2011), two old lesbians escape to Canada to get married. They pick up a young male drifter and teach him a few valuable life lessons. Written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald, the movie stars Olympia Dukakis as Stella and Brenda Fricker as Dot. Ryan Doucette is the young hitchhiker with the symbolic name of Prentice. Heartwarming and convincing.

Guy and I watched Love Is Strange (2014) at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. After Ben and George got married, George is fired from his teaching job. Both have to fall back on their families, causing tension and unhappiness. Directed by Ira Sachs, the movie stars John Lithgow as Ben and Alfred Molina as George. Great ensemble cast. Marisa Tomei gives a nuanced performance as the wife of Ben's nephew, who has to put her uncle-in-law up.

Monster Pies (2013) is a so-so Australian gay movie. A loner falls in love with the new boy, who turns out to be self-harming. Directed and written by Lee Galea, it has some of the worst dialogue ever heard. Lucas Linehan is the beautiful stranger William. Tristan Barr plays the sensitive Mike.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


from google hangout
to black bears in new jersey
a quick noisy lunch

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


what stops me in my track
an overhanging branch of leaves
the colors of tiger

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Yesterday, some friends and I hiked to the top of Breakneck Ridge. The weather was full of changes. The clouds were white one moment, and black-gray another. It was sunny, and then it was raining. The wind blew at us at the top. At the bottom the air was quiet and still.

sunny october day
under a rock a lizard molts
rolling up its sleeves

tramping ungainly
down the stony channel the stream
tingles in my feet

 how many gay boys
does it take in Cold Spring
to screw an antique bulb?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014


right after the rain
little birds peck at the dirt
e-a-t e-a-t e-a-t

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014


the tall blonde tourist
puts her bag down by the tree
where the dog pissed

Monday, October 06, 2014

Sunday, October 05, 2014