Today's poem

I have submitted this book review to some UK magazines. However, I live in Tokyo, it's hard to access a proper place for submission in consideration of various standards or rules. And I think it can take a longer time to realize the publication of the book review. So I upload it on my blog.
Jenny, huge congraturations! 

Poetry Review - 回家 LETTERS HOME: Hideko Sueoka finds layered lyricism and lyric glitter, Jennifer Wong’s writing is more refined, more richened.

     Jennifer Wong
     Nine Arches Press
     ISBN 9781911027874
     90pp          £9.99

After her collection Goldfish回家 LETTERS HOME by Jennifer Wong is crafted with various stitch patterns of forms and contents with iambic cadence, and her techniques and themes are more developed, richened. Therefore, her poems are well-wrought and textured. The collection fascinates me, for she is both a poet and an immigrant. She moves back and forth to the UK and Hong Kong and writes a sort of autobiographical verse based on the two countries.

First of all, in the first section i. the ground beneath our feet, my eyes are caught by Clare Cavanagh’s translation of the Wislawa Szymborska’s poem “Map” in the section cover. This delights me, for a translator’s name is generally omitted, ignored in my long experience as a business translator. Szymborska's poem as a quote summarizes the first section, that is, her life between the two nations. The first poem ‘of butterflies’ embodies Zhuang Zi’s philosophy, Daoism, i.e., The Butterfly Dream, drawn like a dream when dozing off or at the time of a siesta, with unique syntax in the second stanza.

                    Zhuang Zi said
                    the man does not know

                    if he dreams of a butterfly
                    or if the butterfly dreams

                    of a man. It is unclear
                    who awakens first or from where.

Upon reading the opening poem, my memory goes back to high school days when I learned Zhuang Zi. It is wonderful that I encounter him again in the world of English, what I studied in Chinese and Japanese a long time ago. Is this just a dream? Her poem freshens my sepia reading moment, that is as I return to my teenage years.

Of course, for me, there are many unknown things about China. In the second section, I come upon the writer Ba Jin (1904-2005) in a poem of homage to him. In the poem, the poet thinks and sings about the family with calmness and love in “家”, which was translated into Japanese around 1940 and the Japanese people can read it even now.

                    To read <<家>> in Oxford, seventy years away from the
                    fresh ink of those pages. I see students cycle to their
                    colleges made of dreams and sandstone, to the world they
                    are defiant to change, just like Jue-hui in your book. Their
                    strands of hair catch the gold in the sun.

In this beautiful last stanza, there is the flow of time and think of generation upon generation, of family or home again.

Also in the second section, the poem “Comrade” consisting of heptastich makes me think of the pivotal moment in modern Chinese history. Merely by reading Ezra Vogel’s quote, I feel her respect for Deng Xiaoping and change during his era.

                    where were you when we looked for you?
                    One youth fell, then another.
                    Who could save us?

                    Light years away from your time,
                    we have arrived at this country
                                 shrouded in fog, never stronger;

                         such want in the air.

The poem follows the life of Deng Xiaoping and the political and economical situation before his time was painful. Here one moment of Chinese history becomes lyrical verse.

Starting from her arrival in the UK in 1998, her poems are written in and about her daily life as in the fourth section iv. just an immigrant. Her voices reflect landscapes in London, Oxford, etc., differently from people born and raised there. “London 2008” recalls a sequence of street snapshots in NYC by the American photographer Garry Winogrand or the Japanese photographer Ihei Kimura. The last poem “The limitation of maps” tells much about the insufficiency of maps as she describes her life as an immigrant. An atlas alone does not suffice. A poem has N-dimension.

                    But maps cannot retrace the years
                    we pored through classified files,
                    ghost-writers of lines-to-take
                    not of our own choosing.

In poems throughout the book, her memory of food evokes various personal places and feelings. A reader explores Chinese cuisine with her emotions. Irregularly, “Sushi bar amnesiac” mainly consists of couplets, expressing eating in Tokyo when she was a visitant. Space in the poem could represent her tasting of food or the mood on her tongue: ‘and pours a small dream of soy sauce, / he was young once’. The last one “A personal history of soups” carries the reader deeply into Wong’s world and leads the reader to the writings of the Chinese poet Yuan Mei’s Suiyuan Shidan (隨園食單) as gastronomic manual and cookbook and the Japanese female writer Kuniko Mukoda (向田 邦子) who wrote frequently on food and cooking. Fortunately, I can appreciate the former in Japanese translation and compare her wanderings on the tongue with his, and Wong’s words might be close to Mukoda’s; delicately swaying back and forth like tides with spice, vegetables, etc. Food for her life – something in her bones or a sort of manna.
Finally, the poem “Calling the dead” in the last section consisting of septets is a mysterious verse recalling my interest in and fear of horror tales; e.g., those of the acclaimed manga artist Shigeru Mizuki’s (水木 しげる) comics. There are hundreds of ghost folktales in Japan and the poem makes me stand in front of a gate on the stories or reminds me of a famous ballad The Highwayman. One line in the poem, i.e., ‘Will we be friends in our next lives?’ suggests her future in her immigrant life. Her voice might lead to tone in a poet Moniza Alvi’s poem “How the World Split in Two” or puzzlement in a poet Gwyneth Lewis’s poem “A Poet’s Confession” between plural cultures. Wong’s story, unfinished, is continued. Her life and history go on.

I am neither an immigrant nor a Chinese poet. However, once immigrating and writing in English apart from my home language, i.e., Japanese, I have much sympathy with her verses beyond borders, especially being the same Asian extraction.