Writing blog tour

Thanks to Penny Boxall for inviting me to take part in this writing blog tour! What am I writing on?  At the moment I am obsessed with anything to do with identity, history and visual art: Matisse’s colourful cutouts, butterflies, lost keys, misplaced library books, children’s innocent remarks, train journeys when one looks out of the window and finds something totally unrecognisable…I also have this draft poetic sequence that is being reshaped. I hope all these will speak to each other in some way, and become a longer narrative. In time it may fill up all the pages there needs to be, then acquire some saddle stitches, a cover.   How does my work differ from others of its genre? I don’t think I am doing anything that is completely new. For me I write with a desire to be understood. I aim for poetry that will grow on a reader. If I have to analyse my own work, it is a tapestry of different personalities and cultural understandings. I am drawn to the gaps between people and between things. I like to turn poetry into a kind of curious stare and reveal the unacknowledged truth.

Carl Fredricksen's house from UP, creation by Alan C mocpages.com
Carl Fredricksen’s house from UP, LEGO creation by Alan C mocpages.com

Why do I write what I do? I have always enjoyed writing that crystallise truth or feelings in a simple yet complicated way, and I want to write in that context. In my teenage years, I got into poetry from reading works by Larkin, Plath, Heaney, Pablo Neruda, Carol Ann Duffy etc found in anthologies (you cannot find so easily the works by emerging, contemporary poets in Hong Kong’s public libraries or bookshops back in those days) and I liked their storytelling, their layers of meaning, their uncluttered cadence. I read some experimental poetry and enjoy their exuberant energy, but this is not to say that I can really write that way. I suppose we can only be ourselves, learn to be really good at expressing the hidden springs within us, and then just go from there.   How does my writing process work? I usually reflect on ideas in a dreamy sort of way any time I can afford to – which can be in a cafe, on a train, while having a sandwich, washing dishes, or in between different sorts of work.  I enjoy making use of information or new knowledge that comes my way and transforming it into something strange or uncomfortable. Generally I enjoy writing at night or early in the morning but out of a need to juggle roles I usually am happy thinking and writing away whenever I get a chance. The good thing though is that I can concentrate quite easily when I am on my own. Usually I’ll buy a coffee, pick a seat and then the background noise of the cafe becomes like a soundtrack, and then I visualise an object that intrigues me or remember a loose thread of conversation or invent a line, and then the rest follows from there, surrounding the story. I type things up and leave the materials before coming back, tossing lines or stanzas around, replacing one word with another. It’s simple but not immediate. It’s a bit like playing advanced level LEGO. What happens next… Two stellar poets, Matt Bryden and Anna Wigley, have agreed to the challenge and will be posting their responses on how to write well in their blogs, in a week’s time. Watch out for the answers!

Review: If We Could Speak Like Wolves

Published by Smith/Doorstop by Poetry Business this year, Kim Moore’s newly launched poetry pamphlet draws the reader in with hypnotic power and builds a seamless transition between truth and fable. Watch out for the curious balance between enchantment and danger in ‘The Wolf’: ‘the one who eats chalk to make his words / as white as snow’ and ‘the one who is not / as he appears’. Enchanting one with his language, the wolf, or wolf-poet figure, is so believable that ‘he can take / a house from you’.


Water imageries and wild animals articulate the complexity of one’s mind, the desire for intimacy — intimacy with people and places– and resistance against it. I enjoy the texture and expressiveness in ‘Sometimes You Think of Bowness’ while ‘Hartley Street Spiritualist Church’ reminds me, in a strange way, of Larkin’s poem ‘Aubade’, the pendulum swing between devotion to poetry and faith, blurring the divide between the visible and the invisible world.

The title poem ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’ postulates an intimate relationship or connection that will overcome mistakes and conflicts. The vivid imagery of wolf bodies and the estuary where one can hear the wolf howls transform the abstract quality of estrangement and make it so much more palatable. The hypothesis of ‘if we could speak like wolves’ deliberately refrains from story-telling. It is as if the poet says to the reader: ‘you have to learn it the hard way.’

These poems mark the development of a sensitive and bold voice, and hold as much beauty as unrest.

Yohji Yamamoto

I went to see Yohji Yamamoto‘s current show at the V&A, his first UK solo exhibition. There in a room of white light, you see the sheer simplicity of clean lines and shades of red, black and white, whispering fashion.

It isn’t the size that undermines the exhibition but rather the want of a compelling narrative. It is a little sad for the fashion designer who has taken Asia’s catwalks by storm. What I find lacking from the show is something that explains the biography or success of this designer. In what ways is he different from other designers? Apart from pointing out that he is loved by the Bunda school students as ‘an idol’ and that he has got a law degree (unusual for designers), I find little to inform or appeal to me. The blurb for the show points out that he stages his S/S 2011 menswear collection at V&A, but little else, not to mention that menswear is hardly the best selling point about his clothes.

The multimedia element is not very confidently used in the show. The video featuring interviews with Yohji’s teachers, students and friends is placed at the beginning of the route, where viewers have scarcely read or seen anything other than the artist’s profile at the entrance, and the interviews are done in a very matter-of-fact way, a rough sketch.

It is the fashion collection that saves the show. The distinct choice of fabric, thoughtful tailored cuts and the drama in the textiles and craftsmanship. It is a little hard to find the annotations for each garment though, for the catalogues seem to be placed at the far end of the room where no one looked. Nevertheless, the Guardian is right to point out that the show features some of his very interesting collaborative work with other artists or filmmakers.

A quick browse at the exhibition’s souvenirs for the show also disappoints. I went there planning to buy something, almost anything, related to Yohji, and came back home empty-handed: there were only a few plain-style tees featuring paper clip and cliche calligraphy designs, rubbers and pencils, and a few small badges and furoshiki bags. I felt like I have just walked into an H&M cross-over collection.

I would love to know if this is because of the lack of attention from the V&A or the designer himself.

The candid work of Japanese artist and printmaker Emiko Aida

I came across Emiko Aida‘s art prints first at the International Art Fair this year in Royal College of Art, and later at the art print specialist shop For Art’s Sake in Ealing. A 60x40cm aquatint art print called Reverie in the Rain caught my attention. A girl is asleep, in the background a verdant surrounding. It is an apt imagery of an artist’s mind: an active slumber of imagination.

There is a constant play of the wind, the trees, the seasons in her work, tinged with sweet nostalgia. I am drawn to the piece entitled Koinobori, carp-shaped wind socks that celebrate Children’s Day. The poignant choice of colours of those wind socks, the flippant tilt of the pole are put in strong contrast against a more aged background – slate coloured surrounding full of buildings – highlighting the triumph of innocence, the invisible passage of wind and time.

The artist is interested in detail and painting moods. Her work reminds me of the use of imagery in Kazuo Ishiguro’s books: that focus on the introspective, the nostalgic for a floating world. While I think the rich details work in some of the works such as the Koinobori and the sushi imageries, the more abstract artpieces such as The Echo Sounding series might benefit from a bolder, surreal treatment or a stranger use of colour. A tall man in a long coat stands in the rain, looking at the outside world. The fact that his back is facing the viewer provokes curiosity: we can only imagine what will his thoughts are in this rainy weather.

In some of her work there is at times a strange lack of perceptual depth – as if the world has been pressed flat. Check out the perspective she has chosen for the oil painting The Ninten City, with a boy in a hoodie top, overlooking the city from the rooftop, oddly placid. Such perspective gives impetus to the work,  hinting at the unreal, creating a dialogue on the art of perspectives with the work by Matisse and Magritte.

It is most difficult to dwell on the beauty of Japanese art and culture, without thinking about the sorrows of Fukushima.

Arab world in Knightsbridge, London

The London Evening Standard reported a traffic accident of two Arab drivers crashing their Lamborghinis in the streets in Knightsbridge, London, damaging four other expensive cars along the way. Allegedly from wealthy families in Abu Dhabi, these car owners reassured shocked passers-by that they would pay for the damages.

cars in knightsbridge

Two weeks ago, we had stood in the same area, leaning against the railings outside Harrods, watching and counting the number of posh cars fleeting past. In the half hour that we spent there, I must have seen at least forty snazzy cars – Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and the more common BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes. A considerable proportion of the car owners or drivers are from Asia and the Emirates. We saw one long, cream coloured limousine with a car plate in exotic Arabic.

Inside Harrods, we saw many elegant Muslim women, draped in their long qihabs, their enchanting eyes giving one a feast of their hidden beauty. Some of their qihabs were impressively opulent in the sense that qihabs could be, decked with glittering, precious stones. They moved in such slow, graceful steps. Some of them had Prada and LV handbags. We saw these immaculately dressed women, who inhabit an entirely different world and culture, emerging from the expensive, chauffeured cars and entering the department store in unmistakable style.

My friends asked, since these beautiful women were dressed in black garb for most of the day, what do they need the luxury goods for? The truth is, I don’t know. Perhaps they are after the luxury goods for their sheer beauty and quality, rather than feeling the need to show off.

The phenomenal glimpse of the Arab world in Knightsbridge has reinforced my belief that to stereotype people or races is often misleading if not futile.

Dutch eco-design: uncomfortable stories of the pigs and sheep

I am drawn by the work by a Dutch designer, Christien Meindertsma, who made her name with the pig book project, hinting at the residue traces of slaughtered pigs in the products made for human activities and comfort: beer, chewing gums, glue, bread softener…The pig’s yellow earplug affixed to the chic book cover is hugely disturbing.

pig book

Next she sets her eye on one sheep sweater: she knitted a sweater, a pair of socks, a scarf and a pair of gloves from the wool of a single sheep. She also attached on the garments the identification of the sheep that donated the wool.

one sheep sweater

One of her recent projects, urchin pouf, seems less outrageous at the outset. but the unconventional, organic design celebrates the strength and vitality of the wool-giving crossbred sheep that grazes the grass in New Zealand.

urchin poufs

Check out her eco-design philosophy from the following interview with the artist (Design for a Living World).

The unhappy Kate Winslet and the course of true love never did run smooth

I was very upset to find out the split of Kate Winslet and her partner Sam Mendes. To me, they resemble what we all want: love life, fame, wealth and family. That personal ambition and family life can go hand in hand. Now we find out the truth, that even Kate has been unhappy in her marriage.

Kate Winslet

What shocks everyone is that two highly successful, committed and intelligent people turn out not to be a good match for each other. They are not Katie Price and Peter Andre; not Tom Cruise. Nicole Kidman or Katie Holmes. They don’t get themselves involved in fleeting affairs or celebrity gossips. Anyone who is or was in a relationship will understand that the course of true love never did run smooth. As Hanif Kureishi said in his talk at Foyles the other day, some day we find ourselves loving someone intensely and hours later people quarrel and hate each other. But despite what knowledge or real-life experience taught us, we continuously try and fail to resolve how relationships fail, even when all the attributes of the individuals seem right, and that two people try hard to live up to the expectations of each other.

We cannot understand how Kate, a star actress with five Oscar nominations and one Best Actress Oscar behind her, could fail to make this work. We do not know why Sam Mendes, widely acclaimed as a director for highly cerebral films – American Beauty, The Road to Perdition, Away We Go, Revolutionary Road – says quit to a 7-year relationship with such a highly intellectual, charming and arguably one of the best actresses in Hollywood.

We missed in reality that success does not guarantee happiness. Success – if it means fame – brings more fame, and money, and often both. But it does not by default lead to happiness. A relationship or marriage works or fails to work solely because of the bond between two persons and their willingness to love and compromise. Attraction and magnetism help, but it is also an element of choice, a life decision, to continue loving and being with someone from day to day. I know nothing about their relationship and the rumours spread by online and offline media are but rumours, and their decision to split can be motivated by a number of reasons, but I can imagine the stress of making things work when both the husband and wife are so well-regarded in their achievements, when there is so much at stake for them in their lives.

For those who have watched Revolutionary Road directed by Sam Mendes (click here), they can see how good Kate’s performance is, playing the role of a distressed middle-class housewife. The role demands it, but for us all, it is sad to feel and remember that the anguish we once watched on the screen could be more deeply rooted than that. I remember watching the film (and also, to some extent, The Reader) and being shocked by the frustrations that seemed to well within her, and I don’t think it’s just the acting that demands it. There is something else that seemed almost forced and unnecessary in her expressions.

The split was announced a week after the Oscar night. They did not try to steal the show. It is far better to focus more on what they have achieved in life, than what they haven’t been able to make through. And who knows, perhaps they can find a more satisfying bond or happiness in the years to come?

Ref: what they said of each other and their relationship (click here).