Saturday, January 26, 2008

Soneto de Amor - video

This was filmed on a hand held digital camera which has lots of whizz bang gizmos (you can immerse it in water, drop it from 5 m etc... but obviously hasn't had much invested by way of decent mic). It's from Sept 2007, Verona Sessions which is a live band/poet's show filmed weekly for TV (yes, poets on TV! Auckland's come a long way!). So apologies for the crappy picture and even dodgier sound, it doesn't give you much of an idea of what I'm like in performance but it's all I've got for now.

Soneto de Amor

The sky leans down its darkened mouth
to kiss the jewelled breasts of the hills:
the moon slides its tongue
across the teeth of the waves.

I wander the hills with only the legs
of candlelight for company:
it is only in lighting the flame
that I extinguish despair.

Tonight I watched your empty wineglass
from across our table for two.
My meat bled for you.

Once, the cobbles churned under the urgent feet of lovers.
Somewhere in the hills
dogs mourn the passing of the moon.

Friday, January 25, 2008

On being in the Cool Crowd

I'm wryly contemplating my recent selection as a representative of "creative cool chinese."

Chinese I certainly am, and I've had a good stab at being creative recently, but cool? I've never been cool. I was the nerdy girl in school who thought wearing white fluorescent rimmed cokebottle glasses would make me look distinctive. (I was right, but not in the manner I intended.) According to my nearest and dearest I couldn't talk in street slang if I tried. I recently had teenagers crack up when I accidentally said "fuck". I'm the kind of person who can get lost in a two-bedroom flat, who trips over my feet, and who can never find anything I was using two seconds ago. "Cool" has never be an appropriate adjective for me.

However, here I am being marketed as the last word in Asian funkiness, speaking at Te Papa (our national museum cum art gallery cum amusement park), no less. It's a rare honour and one I'm not sure I deserve... but good on 'em for featuring a poet!

All of this is a preamble for my main rant, on what constitutes "coolness" and why being "Chinese" would be cool anyway. Being Chinese was something that I never, until relatively recently, felt very cool about. (I can trace my turn of feelings back 7 years to when I was working in the UK. I bought and wore a T-shirt that proclaimed, "ORIENTAL BABE".) When I was a kid growing up in NZ I mainly tried to convince myself that I was more white than yellow, hated my parents for insisting that we associate with good Chinese kids, despised them for believing in the supremacy of the Chinese race (I'm not saying that only one side was wrong here) and tried to blend in with my friends as much as possible. Interestingly, a snapshot circa 1994 showed that my friends came in all colours - but all of us identified as "Kiwi" and bristled at any attempt to differentiate between us. I used to insist that I was "colourblind".

Fast forward to now and it's clear that I'm still as obsessed with my ethnicity as I pretended I wasn't, all those years ago. Much of my writing has been to soothe my own psyche - no longer as wounded as it once was, but still a deep hole seething with unanswered questions. Who the hell am I, anyway? Am I or am I not a typical case? Do I even have the right to speak out for "Asians"? Are people actually interested, or is it for them more like peering into a glass case and going, "ah. interesting."?

But despite the cynicism that comes so easily to me, I really think that people (if you can use that term to homogenise individuals) are starting to be interested, and not just because we look different, might know about exotic things like feng shui, ancestors and incense, or have a reputation for being good in bed. I think people are looking at us and using what we put forth as a way to answer their own questions about who they are and where they come from. In fact, weirdly enough I'm now getting waves of "yellow envy" from my white friends, who feel that sometimes they too would like to come from a distinctively different culture with strong roots in history and tradition.

Which brings me to the question of cultural maturity. For any migrant group, the younger generation who have grown up in the new country fight against the older generation, which is trying to honour the traditions of the original country. There's a lot of repression, misunderstanding and frustration which goes on. The new generation has to establish its right to be seen as a new cultural group with affiliations to both the old and the new.

Slowly, it develops a language to express that new culture. The artists - actors, writers, dancers, filmmakers and others - are usually the first to use the language. But initially, it's a limited vocab, full of stereotypes from both inside and outside the culture. Take the example of Chinese ghosts for example, or of all Chinese being martial arts experts. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of what people expect you to write about. And it's easy to feel gagged by your own people, who after centuries of being misrepresented as villains only want a "positive" image of their community projected.

When these artists finally break free of this cultural typecasting (and it's not so much a storming of the barricades as a slow chipping away at the eggshell), they start to explore other aspects of their identity, and eventually, move away from "cultural" talk altogether. Ideally you wouldn't be able to tell what culture a writer or artist comes from - their work has become "mainstream". And that, perhaps ironically, marks when a culture has finally come of age.

Funky Oriental Beats

Just locked down the dates and lineup for an Asian Poetry Night. I think it's the first time it's been done in Auckland and possibly even NZ - we just haven't been culturally "mature" enough as Kiwi-Asians to attempt this. (more on this later...) But for the first time, we've reached "critical mass" here in Auckland and there's lots of us out there, asking questions about who we really are, how others see us and where we are headed. And from my personal experience, there's also a lot of interest from people in listening/reading/viewing our work. So it's a pretty exciting time to be Kiwi-Asian right now.

David Tsai and I have put together an interesting lineup - between us we cover all the main Asian cultures living in Auckland....Chinese, Chinese-Hong Kong, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Korean, Japanese, Eurasian, Filipino. We've also booked a 200-person venue, so let's see if my hunch is right and we can fill it.

Here are the details (am particularly chuffed at getting Ishle Yi Park, who's leading the charge of Asian-American poets in the States, on board as our special guest):

Funky Oriental Beats

A night of spoken word, performance poetry and music by established and emerging Kiwi Asian artists - a first for Auckland. A multilingual celebration of our identity and culture. Because it's time to hear OUR side of the story.

featuring the talents of
Jamie Banks, Ming Cher, Lynette Leong, Renee Liang, Ed Mecija, David Tsai A.K.A DVRDCT and Infinite Flying Kick and special guest US Def Jam Champion Ishle Yi Park.

When: Sunday 24th Feb, 8pm, doors open 7.30 pm

Where: Whammy Bar, Basement Level 179 K' Rd

Cost: $5 at door

Thursday, January 17, 2008

dawn poem

the lino floor of the toilet is
speckled and egg-smooth.
it cracks, a small rivulet of dawn
spilling out between my feet.
happy birthday, it sings.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A poem for Hone

for Hone Tuwhare, 1922-2008.

For years now
the fantail has laughed
in your gnarled branches
and you, bro
have laughed right back in its arse
gone on circling the earth with smoke rings
fingers stained from a lifetime of
roll-your-own words.

I remember finding your old place. Didn’t even know
what poetry was then
only that I could break in through your back door
wobble along drunken fence posts
peel the silver tops off your milk
dip my fingers in stolen cream.
You would have laughed eh
to see this skinny oriental kid
with flat black fringe swaying on a stage
in Devonport. A kid with the words
of an old Maori in her mouth.

Later you came to sow your words
at my school
cast your words over thick carpet
harvest a sparse crop
of whispering tartan.
You looked like you thought
the ground was too hard
maybe it was. You didn’t see me
smuggle the wriggling seedling
back home.

When I won the world and lost it again
my sister found your words
growing wild through the house
posted me a piece
packaged with a beeswax candle
and a can of Wattie’s baked beans.

I remember washing the tears off my body
with your river water. I remember the cool feel
of your words in my crevices.

Last month
I finally waved my thanks out the window
as the wind blew us past Te Kaka Point.
I’m glad I had the chance to say thanks, bro.
A mighty tree has fallen,
his seedlings still stand tall.

Six Word Short Stories

I recently heard of the genre of Short short Short stories. A story in six words - genius, artistic wankery or just the fiction equivalent of haiku? In any case, seems to fit my state of mind at the moment, when I'm sitting at the computer with the itch to write but knowing I could be bleeped away at any moment.

Here are tonight's attempts. For some reason, they are mostly rather macabre - not a reflection of my practice I assure you!! But maybe it's a function of my chronic lack of sleep..... 2 more night shifts to go.

"Will you die?" the doctor said.

Mitzy gnawed on the human bone.

The blistered man bled his last tears.

Her last hope: a fourleaved clover.

She placed the garotte there herself.


In between catching babies and cannulating children while on night shift, I am catching up with a writing backlog for is the latest, on my colleague Angela Andrews. One way of finding out what makes me tick as a poet (and doctor - yes, I'm introspective and self centred, sort of have to be, as a writer) is to interview others, and Angela was very helpful a year ago when I was looking around at Masters of Creative Writing programs. We seemed to understand each other immediately, even though we've never yet met face to face! By chance we are in the same city (Palmy North) right now, so I'm looking forward to finally meeting her.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Year of the Rat

The Chinese New Year is coming earlier than usual this year.. and this year is "my' year. Yes, I'm a Rat. The tail end of a Water Rat, to be precise.

Auckland is kicking off celebrations early next weekend with a market day and performances, including (we hope) an Asian Poetry Stall. This is a "first' for Auckland and probably NZ, though poets who identify as Asian are nothing new in countries like the US.

Stand by for more details of F.O.B....

ACCC Chinese New Year Festival & Market Day at the ASB Showgrounds: Halls 1& 2, 217 Greenlane West, on Saturday, 19 January 2008 from 9.30am to 3.30pm. Official opening at 10.00 am by the Prime Minister.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Last year's Chinglish launch, which had people spilling out of a small dim sum shop in order to hear a bunch of largely unknown poets of Asian and non Asian extraction, gave me one of those slow moments of epiphany. (Are epiphanies allowed to be slow?) I realised that in Auckland, we have now reached "critical mass", in terms of Asian artists and writers who are articulating their unique take on identity and culture.

Of course, people of 'Asian' extraction hate being lumped in under the blanket term "Asians". Apart from coming from different countries, in different eras of immigration, and with vast differences in attitude between generations, we're all individuals. We just happen to be a bit more confused about the "duty to the group" philosophy of the East vs the "look after number one" philosophy of the West.

Anyway, having done that disclaimer, I'll go on with the story. Our little 'subculture' started talking, and I had several conversations with David Tsai, a rapper and poet, and together we hatched the idea of having an Asian Poetry Night. It will be called Funky Oriental Beats or FOB for short (obvious wordplay). And it's going to take place in Feb or March and feature a diverse lineup of Asian poets, spoken word artists and musicians. Watch this space!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Panto review... Aladdin

More "Southern Correspondence" reviews, this time from Dunedin... here and here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Thesis on the Plumpness of Oysters


Ostreola Saccostrea
Edulis virginica,
Cassostrea conchaphila
Glomerata gigas.


Pteriidae. (i)


rock sliced tide
creams the salted sorrows
of drowned men.


drip feed the juicy
sea past crusted shell,
elixir of Venus. (ii)


pearls are
the cry of
distant cousins.


the best ones are found
by ribboned sole
and flagellation of rock.


those missing coastline
may also drive
to a restaurant
with white tablecloths. (iii)


it is not enough
for the knife to be sharp,
the blade to be whet. One must also
have a dry mouth
from all that salivation.


it is said
the best ones
are still squirming
as they slide.


salt stomach
slipped sideways
on the tongue.
At last
the gush
of sweet wetness
between teeth.


i. Tiostrea lutaria, the fairest of them all.
ii. Strictly, oysters are not drip fed. They are filter feeders, sifting out nutrients from sediment and stabilising coastal ecosystems.
iii. Small outback pubs in the middle of the desert do not, generally, have the best oysters.