Chinatown Sonnets is a sonnet sequence that updates the age-old idea of East meets West in which West fetishizes East, Hong Kong emulates Paris, Mong Kok is the “Times Square of Asia”, and primetime television in Hong Kong rivals American soap operas in upper class drama.
I feel the idea of displacement is central to Louder than Hearts—displacement from the land, from home, from memory, and from one’s mother language. The book is dedicated “To our broken languages & our broken cities,” but I wanted to find song and celebration too, inside the brokenness.
A couple of thousand years ago, or even longer depending on which book you read, the Mosuos, originally known as the Na people, walked from the high mountains in the north-west to where they are today, in search of a kinder climate. They must have trekked for years and years, passing over countless harsh mountain ranges before coming across a great plateau situated in a lower altitude, much more hospitable than their previous homeland.
All over the islands, breech babies grew up to become valuable members of any community—for their reputed skill in easing out fishbones stuck in one’s throat.
All her life, Purificacion was called upon to conduct the task, just because she was delivered feet first.
Occasionally, in the middle of the night, the caterwauling in Barrio Ejemplo in the town of Asingan would abruptly die down, and the folks knew the men had just declared a cessation of streetcorner intoxication because of a little accident.
Mang Kardo, a thin, wiry man with a squeaky but often loud voice, had done it again, orated while carelessly wolfing down roasted milkfish. Now he had to stop from his perorations, shake and quiver as he rose from a wooden bench, and attempt to harrumph in his screechy manner, again and again, until Big Boy Reynoso pulled up his bulk from the bench across, strode over and gave poor Kardo a mighty whack on the back.
Andrés de Urdaneta is a name that few other than specialist historians will immediately recognise. He was one of the last of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers and navigators from the Iberian peninsula whose voyages resulted in redrawing the globe in more or less the form we know it today. Christopher Columbus has a country and several cities named after him; Ferdinand Magellan has the famous straits. But Urdaneta has no such monuments.
Perhaps this is because Urdaneta didn’t discover how to get anywhere, but rather less glamorously but no less importantly discovered how to get back. Until 1565, no fleet had succeeded in sailing east from Asia back across the Pacific to the Americas. It was Urdaneta, a survivor of earlier expeditions, who first worked out the right winds and currents across the uncharted waters of this vast ocean. His discovery was called the tornaviaje, or ‘return trip’.
From the preface:
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, we asked contemporary poets to interpret the themes of Cervantes’s classic Don Quixote for Hong Kong and East Asia, in particular the tension between pragmatism and vision, the “real world” and dreams or, in the words of scholar Ilan Stavans, “between hope and fatalism, … idealism and materialism”, and to explore what this says about the nature of humanity and success.
We hope we have succeeded in having exposed a new generation of poets to a work that many have called the first “modern” novel, and that they and their readers find, in the word of Harold Bloom,