It’s not often that I read modern Chinese poetry but I’m so pleased to dip my toes back in the genre through Singaporean poet Chan Kok Peng’s (曾國平) newest collection. With 60 standalone poems that string together to form a narrative, it’s a stunning collection of performance poetry and seeing how the poetry evoke emotions that run the gamut, I do hope that I can attend the poet’s reading or to watch a stage performance. The title speaks of absence, which is also a key running theme. It starts off with the poet’s somewhat estranged relationship with his father, and from the theme of familial relationships, the collection builds up its momentum to cover expansive topics from the Chinese diaspora, the diaspora identity and the passing down and loss of culture / traditions, which as a Singaporean Chinese, I can relate to very strongly. It’s a powerful and emotional collection.
My favourite bits are the ones directly about the father-son relationship and how the narrator navigates his relationship with his father and tries to understand his father by recounting and reflecting on his father’s youth, intertwined with the history of the Chinese diaspora and the “Sinophone” literature, and then bringing us even further back to the years of different dynasties in China.
I love how in poetry, a lot of things are up for the reader’s interpretation and one of the personal takeaways from the collection is a deeper reflection of what it means to be diaspora / overseas Chinese and how we engage with our identity/identities and our “Chineseness”.
Definitely worth reading.
Get it at Seabreeze Books (還風書屋)