Loh Guan Liang is the author of two poetry collections: Bitter Punch (2016) and Transparent Strangers (2012). As happens with other Singaporean poets his main references were, for a long time, anglophone but slowly his Mandarin background became to emerge in his poems. One of our favorites 追‘Pursuit’ describes a sign in Mandarin. You may read Loh Guan Liang’s interview here, as well as his poems ‘Paraplegic’ and ‘Pursuit’:
PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION
追 (Pursuit), Loh Guan Liang
My Chinese teacher once taught me
that pursuit starts with a dot breaking
the surface, then an upward slash
to the right; the sail must be erect
before the remaining strokes can appear,
junk-shaped, to chase white waters.
When she wrapped my hand in hers I saw
only unyielding sequence in penmanship,
how my pen could only write my life
forwards, not backwards. Now older,
pursuit looks more like a butterfly
searching for its other wing – what
my Chinese teacher did not say
is that we also finish each sentence
with a dot, except that it winds back
to itself, the point of departure
almost touching the point of return。
Loh Guan Liang, ‘追(Pursuit)’, Quarterly Literary Review, Singapore, Vol. 12 No. 3 Jul 2013. You may find it here.
PARAPLEGIC, Loh Guan Liang
“a chair is a poem, rather than a novel.”
– Design Museum, Fifty Chairs that Changed the World
“Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
– Oliver Goldsmith
A perfect chair
is one with broken legs:
function becomes all the more
apparent, all the more precarious
in the sudden face of need.
The hollow curve
of a chair’s back completes
positions of authority and subservience;
chairs frame empty rooms
When perfect chairs gather
I listen to their shattered histories,
how they lost all sensation from the waist
and regained it after dropping
to the floor.
Time pushes our lives out
and like perfectly broken chairs
we try to stand
with our backs proud
against the wall
even after our legs have
brought us to our knees.
Loh Guan Liang, ‘Paraplegic’
Pray Tell, Loh Guan Liang
at Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple
Between jobs, these days
I find myself living the life
of a man who measures
the chasm spanning endeavour
and its rejection
in increments of waiting.
To what end? To what end indeed.
Dejection has run me to my knees
on a blood-bright carpet
to seek an audience
with the goddess Kwan Yin
of a thousand arms and a thousand eyes,
in hopes that she can lend a hand.
There are souls seeking succour
from the slings and arrows of life,
beasts burdened by heavy yokes,
social climbers at the end of their tethers
and rats resigned to running.
The main hall quivers with questions
punctuated by numbered sticks
rattling like bamboo bones
in dull brass canisters.
Kwan Yin’s smile is gentle gold;
she looks on, lambent, silent.
Number 98 tumbles out. Moon blocks
tossed on the floor verifies the lot.
At the counter, a weather-beaten uncle waits,
and like a switchboard operator
he deftly connects my number to a slip
from a wall of tiny identical drawers behind.
When Kwan Yin speaks
she does so in arcane tongues of paper:
pink providences, black foreshadowings,
strokes resembling crow feathers
floating in hallowed wind
auguring loss, windfall, pregnancy, death,
but mostly preaching patience. Life’s decisions
determined by pithy lines of poetry.
A benefactor will arrive from the west.
You are a bird whose nest has fallen.
Silkworms are in peril.
What is lost will be found.
I cannot help but marvel
at how uncanny Number 98
reflects my current state;
the gods know, they are listening,
the advice they have dispensed
is the result of divine supervision,
not chance; this much
I so badly want to believe.
The heavens hold a mirror
to me with this pink strip.
Such is my lot that it tells me
Loh Guan Liang is the author of two poetry collections: Bitter Punch (2016) and Transparent Strangers (2012). Bitter Punch was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2018. He also co-translated Art Studio (2014), a Chinese novel by Yeng Pway Ngon. Guan Liang updates at Loh Guan Liang.