Tag Archives: Poems

Infinity Diary by Cyril Wong

Infinity Diary by Cyril Wong

Title: Infinity Diary
Author: Cyril Wong
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 9780857427427
Genre: Poetry, LGBTQIA Literature
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

If love is love, then why is it that gay love doesn’t feel like love sometimes? Why does it feel that it will leave? Is it because of my insecurity? Why do I feel that a man’s love will not be enough? When it will be. When it will stay. It will, won’t it?

Love between two men and all the dance that goes around it. The rulebook that isn’t there and is yet followed. There are no rules sometimes and everything is permissible. We are who we are. Cyril Wong shows us the mirror through his book of prose poems “Infinity Diary”. It is written for every gay man out there, for every man who loves another man and doesn’t want to express it, for every man who loves and is unabashed about it, and for every man who also maybe doesn’t want to love.

Cyril Wong’s poetry made me introspect about my relationships with men – the ones that were platonic, the ones not-so-platonic, the ones unrequited, and the ones requited but oh so toxic. His poems don’t just reflect Singapore as a city, and what goes on there behind closed doors between men – the reality of oppression, but makes you realize that it could play out in any city of the world. Even where same-sex love is legal. Even where there is supposed to be no discrimination, and we know there is. “Infinity Diary” is about all of us.

When Wong speaks of glances passed across the room, of desire, of madness in love, of those stolen kisses, of kinks we do not speak of in public, of sadness and heartbreak that never goes away – he speaks of all of this and more and beauty in the chaotic structure of emotions that does find its place, even the ones that aren’t beautiful. The ones that belong, nonetheless.

My favourite piece in this book is “Dear Stupid Straight People” – a poem, a list of instructions for the straight people on how to treat the ones who aren’t like them. It is brutal and perhaps most needed.

Wong’s poetry comes from so many places, and so many emotions. They take up so much room (as they should), and they merge with your emotions as well, and that’s difficult to contain. You see yourself in them, poem after poem. You get restless. You sigh. You get twitchy and fidgety. You sigh some more. You turn the page.

Love Without A Story: Poems by Arundhathi Subramaniam

Love Without A Story Title: Love Without A Story: Poems
Author: Arundhathi Subramaniam
Publisher: Context, Westland
ISBN: 978-9388689458
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am very particular about what poetry I read. After all, poetry is acquired taste. It needs that breathing time. Time to mull over and make sense of what is going on and how it has managed to leave you breathless in its wake. How a poet has that power over you, and you just cannot seem to decipher that. You just let it be and accept that as your fate or whatever you believe in. Arundhathi Subramaniam’s collection of poems “Love Without A Story” is a book of poems that just is. I don’t think it is trying to make a point or say anything that you haven’t already heard in various forms – it just is though, in all its beauty, subtlety, and grace.

The poems jump at you, almost ambush you. But isn’t that what good poetry should be all about? The ambushing. The cornering. The making-you-sit-down-and-listen kind of poetry. From making you think of old friends, to getting down to the business of love – sometimes said out loud and sometimes hidden for reasons only known to the beloved, Subramaniam’s poetry cannot be placed on any understanding or technique and quite frankly, doesn’t even need to. As long as the reader feels what she is trying to say is more than enough. Isn’t it?

“It gets easier, friend,
With age,
To delete, plan breakfast,
Turn the page.

It would have been easier still
If you hadn’t deleted the sun”

The above lines are from a poem called “Deleting the Picture”. This one hit home the hardest – the one that made me weep a little and mourn the loss of a friendship. This is what poetry is supposed to do, right? Good poetry at least – to seize you, jolt you out of your existence, and make you see what was always visible.

Arundhathi’s writing isn’t difficult to read at all. If anything, it is so simple, that you connect with it instantly. Her poems are of longing, friendship, of boundaries we are willing to cross, of relationships that break and don’t return, of people who break them and survive. It is almost like every poem is a universe of its own – so vast and detailed, even if it seems contained in the pages of the book.

When parents die,
You hunt for clues
In strips of Sorbitrate,
Immaculate handwriting,
Unopened cologne
And in evening air,
Traces of baritone.

Finding Dad is another of my favourites. Once again, this made me weep. Made me think of things that I did not say to my father while he was alive, and now I search for him in objects, in his favourite songs and movies, and sometimes I think I am reminded of his voice.

Love is a strange territory to navigate. Poetry most certainly helps us. Good poetry makes it even better and tolerable. It makes us see the people we were and what we have become. Arundhathi’s poetry does just that. It has the sense of abandon that poetry demands from its creators. It has the sense of fulfilment and yet keeps you on the edge, wanting more, and not giving it. You have to make do with what you have. That’s the first rule of poetry according to me. You soak in its brilliance and dare not ask more, till it is given on its own. Every poem of Love Without A Story leaves you with something – big or small doesn’t matter. The emotion is there, the feeling of empowerment and helplessness, and above all of love and its various forms. I leave you with this one.

For lovers flatten
Into photographs,

Photographs
Into reminiscence,

Reminiscence
Into quiet,

And then what’s left?

Perhaps just the oldest thing in the world,
Love without a story.

Something Bright, Then Holes by Maggie Nelson

Something Bright, Then Holes Title: Something Bright, Then Holes
Author: Maggie Nelson
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 978-1593762308
Genre: Poems, Prose
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Maggie Nelson is a genius. No really, she actually is. Have no doubt when it comes to this. Her prose and poetry shines and is enchanting to the very last word. I have read close to 3 books by her and I can say with complete confidence that there is no one like her. Sometimes I do not even know if her writing is prose or poetry or a combination of both. Whatever it is, it is glorious and deserves to be read by one and all.

Something Bright, Then Holes is full of empathy. Everything she writes is as a matter of fact. To me that stands out in her writing and the only reason why I love her writing the way I do, beside of course the language. However, you cannot separate the two anyway. Also, this collection cannot be compared to Bluets and you shouldn’t if you have read Bluets. This collection is divided into three parts – a new relationship being embarked on and a polluted waterway in Brooklyn, the second is the aftermath of a paralysing accident that Nelson’s friend goes through and the third is her attempt to get over a failed relationship.

Each section is raw, intense and utterly heartbreaking. It is as though you are being tied to a chair and the person you love the most is walking away from you, and you cannot do anything about it. The collection is unapologetic and she doesn’t put on a brave face – her writing conveys, mostly painfully, what she is going through. Each sentence stands out from the other and lends itself a new voice. Maggie Nelson as usual doesn’t disappoint at all. Everything is satisfactory, even the hurt and the pain, especially the hurt and the pain. Read it. Please be prepared to weep.

Don’t Call Us Dead:​ Poems by Danez Smith

Don't Call Us Dead Title: Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Author: Danez Smith
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977856
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I think for the longest time I avoided reading poetry as a genre because I was scared. Prose will kill you. Let me correct that: Good prose will kill you. Great prose will leave you bereft. Or the other way around, but once poetry gets into your veins, you are an addict my friend! There is no way out of it. I was introduced to Neruda. Never say never also might work brilliantly as an adage.

Circa 2018. I love poetry. I love poems that seize my heart and wring it with ease. Sometimes brutally. I failed to keep my promise. Why am I saying all this? Well, because I have just finished reading a brilliant book of poems and I want to let you know how I feel about it. The book in question: “Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith.

This collection isn’t an easy one to read. If you are planning to read it at a stretch or even in one-sitting, my recommendation is you don’t. Smith doesn’t make poetry floral or sweet-smelling or even bearable for that matter. When it comes to me, I agree with him. Poetry like most form of art only reflects what exists around us and should with very good reason.

“…paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun…” 

Just by reading these two lines, I was moved like I haven’t been moved in a while. The idea that every place is sanctuary (so remote, isn’t it?) and that nothing is a gun couldn’t have rung truer than it does now. The now that we live in that Danez writes about so and that hits so hard.

Smith’s voice is much needed for everyone, but more so for the black men, for the young black man, the gay man, the kind who have endured a history of oppression and violence or have heard of it. It is for everyone who wants to change the world by reading and understanding and that empathy shines through Danez’s poems. The beauty in all of them is striking, almost heartbreaking even.

Take this one for example, where the loneliness of the gay man is stark and evident, universal that it strikes a chord one way or the other.

“everyone on the app says they hate the app but no one stops

I sit on the train, eyeing men, begging myself to talk to them

 He whispers his name into my lower mouth
I sing a song about being alone”

Danez Smith does not shy away from expressing. Some poems run into pages and lots of pages (and for good reasons) while others are explained briefly and they are as effective as any other poem in the collection. This isn’t micro-poetry. This isn’t slam poetry. It is life, that seeps, bleeds ad yearns through the veins and the pores.

“Don’t Call Us Dead” is set in a time – our time, which is equal parts scary, liberating and melancholic. Let me remove my proverbial hat and tip it for Smith.

 

 

 

A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry by Grace Paley. Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley.

A Grace Paley Reader Title: A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry
Author: Grace Paley
Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley
Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:978-0374165826
Genre: Anthology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Grace Paley is one of those writers for which you to devote a lot of time and mind space. The reason I say this: the narrators and characters of her stories will not leave you. Her essays will haunt you long after you have finished reading them. Her verse will stay, whether you like it or not. To me, she is one of the finest I have read this year (I have of course read her works earlier as well – but scattered). I think this book also is the definite collection if you need an introduction to her work, before you move on to other books by her.

“A Grace Paley Reader” has a lot of omissions from her earlier works, but I guess as an editor they have to choose what to put and what to remove. Nonetheless, to me the span of her work mattered and this anthology touched on almost every genre in which she wrote. My favourite essays though are “A Midrash on Happiness” and also “Other People’s Children” which are very unsettling and yet so comforting – the paradox is hard to explain.

But then the sort of writer Grace Paley was, it is just very difficult to ignore her as a reader. “A Conversation with my Father” will tear you up in no time and you would wonder if a short story can do that, as it already has. Her economy of words, and at the same time the effortlessness of her prose keeps you stunned. Paley was also a feminist and that is reflective in her poems such as “Anti-Love Poem” or “Is There a Difference Between Men and Women” and my personal favourite “Letter to my Daughter”. She can do anything if you ask me and does in most of her work.

The introduction by George Saunders sums up her work beautifully in this one sentence: “Grace Paley will live in the minds of the readers she has moved, and in the minds of those she will yet move”. Need I say more after this?