A Bad Girl’s Book of Animals was first published by Harcourt, Brace & World in 1969, when there were very few Asians with a poetry collection out in the US—and has now been put out again by Singaporean publisher Ethos with an excellent foreword by poet Tse Hao Guang.
Active in the 13th century, poet Matsuo Basho has been a cornerstone of literature globally since the late 19th century when the word haiku was used to cover traditional “haikai” and “hokku” (more about which further down). Largely due to 19th-century Realism, Western onlookers and practitioners have made much of direct personal experience in haiku; DT Suzuki, Alan Watts and the Beat poets in turn exaggerated the influence of Zen on haiku, lauding their depth of truth and presence. Haiku has since become the world’s most prevalent poetic form, with Basho the standard bearer.
The fluid variety of this professional linguist’s range emerges from the very first phrase of this, her third collection, in a poem entitled “Wanderlust Ghazal”: “My language is a Bedouin thief, delighting in foreign sands.” For this traveller poet, being transnational seems to form a sort of dialect in itself, a language even.
Over several decades, Shirley Geok-lin Lim has cemented her position as one of the Chinese diaspora’s foremost anglophone poets. Originally from Malacca, she has lived abroad since 1969, mostly in California, where she taught in the English department at the University of California in Santa Barbara University. In this, her 11th poetry collection, among her best to date, Lim has shaken off a long preoccupation with place and displacement to write striking poems on the natural world.
This ambitious first poetry collection deals confessionally with the loss of scientist and poet Jenny Qi’s mother and her own childhood, loss of lovers and friends, ecology, racism and her mixed heritage. There is no fixed focal point linking poems sequentially; a narrative chronology threads the work instead.
Toward the beginning of his most recent (and thirteenth) collection, Singaporean poet Cyril Wong writes: “I’m a poet of intangible things, so the audience doesn’t quite exist.” This latter assertion is belied by numerous awards, steady book sales and high output over the last twenty years.