What a badass title. This a reissue of Wong May’s poetry collection, first published in 1969 (!) in the US.
Before I go into how her work makes me feel (and it does evoke FEELS), I’m very intrigued by Wong May herself. In her case, it feels like reading her work is reading her and to know her work, you must know her. Please read the foreword!!
Wong May hails from Chongqing, China, spending her formative years in Singapore, attending Chinese-medium schools before going on to major in English Lit in NUS and then moving to the US for an MFA and now residing in Dublin. She’s a transnational poet who is hard to categorise – just like her work. It’s interesting how her work is only published in Singapore 54 years later, and she appears to be – until recently – relatively unknown even among the local literary circle.
Intriguing is also a word to describe her work. I initially thought that the title came from one of the poems in the book, as is usually the case, but later, I realise that perhaps the poems are the animals, wild and unfettered.
I’d be honest and say that initially, I thought her poetry was ‘hard.’ Or perhaps unfamiliar might be a better word. Upon reflection, perhaps I was also seeing her poetry from within the restrictions of my own world and my barebone understanding of poetry. When I tried to let go and just immerse myself in the ‘wordlessness’ of things – a word she uses herself – her poetry reads different. To me, that’s a lesson learnt.
Her work is meant to be enjoyed visually, playing with the use of spacing at times, and the strong sense of musicality and rhythm also give me pause.
It’s clearly a collection that begs to engage with all your senses and it reminds me somewhat of Lynn Xu’s ‘And Those Ashen Heaps that Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight.’ I was lucky to visit her debut exhibition in MOCA Tucson last year – a true experiment in installation and format, translating, retelling, and reimagining her poetry. I find myself imagining that with Wong May’s work.
One thing I love about reading poetry is that there’s so much room for imagination and what we take away is uniquely ours. For me, I love the strong personality that seems to infuse each piece and I wonder how it would be like to read her poetry back in the 1960s!
Kudos to Ethos Books for bringing her work back to Singapore and to Tse Hao Guang for pushing for the republication of her work and for writing such a deeply personal and thoughtful foreword.
Buy it on Ethos Books