A special issue connecting contemporary poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and Singapore.
Lisa Samuels wrote that distance is never dry. To read distance as both connecting and disconnecting, enabling as well as disabling. That separation, noise and delay are not obstacles to communication and language, but some of their operational conditions. For small island nations like Singapore and New Zealand, the surrounding water could signify inaccessibility, isolation and inertia. Or it could signify radical exchange and transformation, uncertainty and potentiality. In these poems, distance is not a gap to be closed or eliminated, but traversed in a manner akin to alchemy.
Great poems, Ben Lerner says, strategically disappoint us; we want poems to be both internal and social, closed and open, specific and universal. This impossibility frustrates, arouses contempt, but perhaps, in a thoughtful writer, might be transformed into something useful. How much pressure is there on these poems from Aotearoa and Singapura to give up their secrets? They have used the pressure, bending or sidestepping or refusing or delaying, but never simply yielding—I imagine their poets must be proud. Here are some useful poems, poems that might enable us to shift our grammar, syntax and, in several cases, even our languages. Here’s what they wrote.
Hao Guang Tse
HANA PERA AOAKE (Ngaati Hinerangi, Ngaati Mahuta, Tainui / Waikato, Ngaati Waewae) is an artist and writer based in Te Rotopateke in Ootepoti. Hana runs Kei te pai press with Morgan Godfery and recently published their first pukapuka, A bathful of Kawakawa and hot water with Compound Press.
ESSA MAY RANAPIRI (tainui / waikato / maungatautari / waikawa / manakau / tararua | mātaatua / whakatāne / pūtauaki | cuan a tuath / guinnich / thames / highgate | takatāpui | they / ia) kaituhi residing on ngāti wairere whenua / they will write until they’re dead
EMMA BARNES (Pākehā, they/them) lives and writes in Aro Valley, Pōneke/Wellington. They released their first book this year, I Am In Bed With You and are co-editing an anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writing from Aotearoa with Chris Tse. It is to be released at the end of 2021.
ZARAH BUTHCER-MCGUNNIGLE is the author of Nostalgia Has Ruined My Life (Giramondo Publishing, 2021), and Autobiography of a Marguerite (Hue & Cry Press, 2014). She currently lives in Auckland.
CHRIS TSE is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC. He and Emma Barnes are the co-editors of Out Here: An anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aotearoa. His third collection, Super Model Minority, will be published by AUP in early 2022.
FRANCES LIBEAU (fka Claire Duncan, they/she) is a writer/composer/sound designer from Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland. Their writing & sonic work features across disciplines including poetry, contemporary music, film, contemporary art & theatre.
CAROLYN DECARLO is a queer writer living in Aro Valley, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, with seven other mammals. She runs Food Court Books and We Are Babies Press with her partner Jackson Nieuwland. Her chapbook-length collection ‘Winter Swimmers’ was featured in AUP New Poets 5. She also co-wrote the chapbook BOUND: an ode to falling in love (Compound Press 2014).
ANA ITI (Te Rarawa) is an artist based in Ōtepoti. Working across sculpture, moving image and text, her practice often explores our relationship to language and place.
JACKSON NIEUWLAND is a genderqueer poet from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. They are the author of I Am A Human Being (Compound Press, 2020). Their chest is still aching after all these years.
YEOW KAI CHAI is a poet, fiction writer, and editor. He has three poetry collections, One to the Dark Tower Comes (2020), Pretend I’m Not Here (2006), and Secret Manta. (2001). A co-editor of Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, he was Festival Director of Singapore Writers Festival from 2015 to 2018.
JACK XI (they/he) is a queer, disabled poet. A member of the writing collective /Stop@BadEndRhymes (stylized /s@ber), they have been published in OF ZOOS, Wyvern Lit, Perverse, Freeze Ray, Cartridge, and several Singaporean anthologies. jackxisg.wordpress.com
HAMID ROSLAN is the author of the Singapore Literature Prize-nominated parsetreeforestfire (Ethos Books, 2019). His other writing can be found in the Asian American Writers Workshop, Asymptote, The Volta, OF ZOOS, and the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, and is forthcoming in the Practice, Research and Tangential Activities (PR&TA) open-access journal, and Tilted Axis Press. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing at Pratt Institute.
FIONA SZE-LORRAIN is a poet, literary translator, editor, and zheng harpist who writes and translates in English, French, Chinese, and occasionally Spanish. The author of four books of poetry: Water the Moon (2010), My Funeral Gondola (2013), and more recently The Ruined Elegance (2016) and Rain in Plural (2020), both from Princeton University Press, Sze-Lorrain has translated more than a dozen volumes of contemporary Chinese-language, French, and American poets, and guest/coedited three anthologies of international literature. She works as an editor at Vif Éditions, an independent press based in Paris. As a zheng harpist, she has performed worldwide. She lives in France.
ANDREW KIRKROSE DEVADASON is a queer transgender Singaporean poet and student of linguistics and literature. His work has appeared in journals including Cordite Poetry Review and PERVERSE.
ANNA ONNI has goals including writing a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel, making cinnamon rolls as a monthly ritual, and analysing news events through tarot readings. She illustrates for the Singapore War Crimes Trials Project, The Birthday Book (2020), and literary anthologies Food Republic (2020) and Singapore at Home: Life across Lines (2021). She is currently working on expanding The Book of Sainted Aunts: The Illustrated Portraits of Mildly Martyred Sinners-Turned-Saints Since Queerdom Come that was published for the 2021 Southeast Asian Queer Cultural Festival.
RUTH TANG writes performance texts & poetry & makes weird internet experiments. They grew up in Singapore and presently live in Brooklyn, NY.
GREGORY KAN is a Wellington based poet, born in Singapore. He published his first collection of poetry, This Paper Boat, in 2016 and his second collection, Under Glass, in 2019. He completed his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Auckland in 2011 and in 2012 completed his Masters in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University Wellington.
HAO GUANG TSE (谢皓光) is the author of The International Left-Hand Calligraphy Association (Tinfish Press, 2022) and Deeds of Light (Math Paper Press, 2015), the latter shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. He is a 2016 fellow of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, and the 2018 National Writer-in-Residence at Nanyang Technological University. His poems have appeared in Poem-a-Day, Tammy, New Delta Review, Pain, Minarets, Big Other, Hotel, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Entropy and elsewhere. He was born and raised in Singapore, where he continues to live and work.