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Views and Reviews-- Shelly Bryant

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A Voice For Singaporean Poetry
Shelly Bryant

David Liew

Yong Shu Hoong’s poetry might have some real interest to Americans. Yong lived in the US for a period of time while doing his studies, and much of his first volume of poems, Isaac, contains reflections on his experiences there. His most recent volume, frottage, was conceived in 2002 on a trip to Australia. On this trip, Yong visited an exhibition of Max Ernst’s art, and the time spent with Ernst’s works began his writing of the poems in frottage (2005). However, as he points out in his afterword to the volume, the poems eventually came to be inspired more by Australia than by Ernst.

I love this about Yong, that he allows me to see the world through Singaporean eyes. In Isaac, I read over many poems that were concerned with places which I had lived and/or visited in the US as a kid, before I moved to Singapore. In that sense, it offers me a sort of “reverse process” of my own experiences. Instead of viewing Singpaore with American eyes, I was able to view America through Singaporean eyes. This, for me, makes the reading of Yong’s poems an especially fun sort of game.

That’s not to say that one has to have shared my experience to appreciate his poetry. He has a real sense of place in his work, and it is quite beautiful for that.

And his experiementation with words is fun to partake in too. Just his afterword’s description of how he came to the title of his most recent volume, and how the exploration of the word “frottage” led him to new discoveries which have shaped this collection of poems, is a very interesting read. It demonstrates a real engagement with language and the texture of words. And the book’s cover highlights this aspect of Yong’s work; it is really a beautifully put-together volume -- very coherent in form, in language, and in its total packaging.

One aspect of Isaac which I find especially appealing is the final section, entitled (Jia Shi) or “Family Matters.” I find it very telling that these poems, which are side by side with his reflections on his time spent in the US, are written in both Mandarin and English. It seems to me to be very representative of the Singaporean mindset -- while most Singaporeans are very adaptable to “Western” cultures, and are very capable of moving about in them (and in the languages they speak), there is still a preference for traditional mindsets and languages taken from their racial backgrounds when speaking of home and family.


Yong’s first collection, Isaac, is available at Amazon.

This article first appeared at Shelly Bryant’s blog site in January 2006


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