Political myth is in no short supply in modern Singapore. In our most familiar histories, material progress and political quiescence are the natural products of visionary—if at times heavy-handed—leadership. Episodes of subversion and suppression are no longer swept entirely under the carpet, but seen as the inevitable growing pains of today’s glitteringly successful neoliberal city-state.
From the gangplank of a pre-war steamship to the present, via the jazz underground of 1960s London, Hannah Lowe’s rewarding second collection revels in the company of an unlikely crew of voices and personalities. Chan takes its name from the poet’s father (nicknamed, in turn, after the Polish card magician Chan Canasta) but does not shy away from the older resonances of the word, tracing these back into her Hakka heritage and the journeys of a global diaspora. Along the way, the poems investigate lives that intersect with Lowe’s personal history, no matter how brief the acquaintance: from the magnetic jazz saxophonist Joe Harriott, her father’s first cousin, to the travellers and stowaways who join Gilbert Lowe on the SS Ormonde in 1947 as it sails from Kingston to Liverpool.