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.
“100 poems by 100 poets”: compiled in the 13th century by the famed poet, Fujiwara no Teika, (1162–1241) the Hyakunin-isshu (百人一首) is the most widely-read poetry anthology in Japan. Long celebrated in the arts, including in a famous woodblock series by Hokusai, the anthology is part of the curriculum of all Japanese school children, much as students in England might study Shakespeare.
The poems of Song Lin, born in Fujian in 1959, are, according to his translator and personal friend, the poet Jami Proctor Xu, “weavings of history, myth, nature, city, everyday life, melancholy, joy, story, image, and classical and modern Chinese.” This would be a formidable range for any poet, but reading Sunday Sparrows leaves little doubt that Xu was completely accurate in her assessment, which is made easier (for her) and perhaps more profound (for us) by its personal nature.
Of all the literary arts, poetry is the one most tightly tied to culture. Fiction has stories and non-fiction has facts, both of which exist independently of the words used to express them. Poetry, however, is the words, and along with the words, the shades of meaning and context that culture brings along.
Imbued with nostalgia, hunger and multilingual memories, Magnolia, 木蘭 is a refreshing debut collection by Nina Mingya Powles, a poet of Malaysian-Chinese heritage from New Zealand currently residing in London. Shortlisted for the Forward Prize, the book chronicles a mixed-race woman’s myriad perspectives on her cultural heritage, language and her border-crossing journeys.
Having recently reviewed Matty Weingast’s attractive collection of poems from the Therigatha, I was somewhat surprised to see that Shambhala had decided to reissue an newly-expanded version of Songs of the Sons and Daughters of Buddha (1996), given that the female half was already available in Weingast’s excellent and sensitively-handled new version. However, in addition to the fact that this edition includes male poets, the choice of female poets is not always identical, and of course it’s also interesting to see how different translators treat the same poems.
Michael Prior’s second poetry collection Burning Province opens with a stark image, one that speaks to the trauma and intergenerational memory that carries through the volume.