Friday, August 14, 2009

My Interview on The Joe Milford Poetry Show

I was interviewed on the Joe Milford Poetry Show last night: one-and-a-half hour unedited reading and conversation about my new book of poems Equal to the Earth. We talked about my Singaporean background, art and autobiography, the mythic sea, use of meter and form, sense of humor (!), the objective correlative, children's playfulness, Chinese homosexuals, and love.

From the show website:

The Joe Milford Poetry Show archives readings and interviews from acclaimed and established poets as well as up-and-coming poets from America and Canada. The Joe Milford Poetry Show prides itself on its candid and organic nature infused with a lively discussion of poetics, genre, the writing process, and myriad theories and movements of poetry. Join us once a week for regularly scheduled shows on Saturdays at 5pm Eastern Time, and watch for special edition shows by announcement. Add The Joe Milford Poetry Show to your MySpace Friends by going to the links page.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Will Be Published by Bench Press

Bench Press: poetry that exerts pressure at every point, and so achieves a momentary rest

Bench Press, an independent publisher of poetry, will be launched on July 4, 2009. On that day its website will go "live," and unveil its logo.

The press is pleased to announce its first title: Jee Leong Koh's Equal to the Earth.

Of Koh's book, Vijay Seshadri writes: "Jee Leong Koh is a vigorous, physical poet very much captured by the expressive power of rhythm, rhetoric, and the lexicon. He is also, paradoxically, a poet in pursuit of the most elusive and delicate human emotions. The contradiction is wonderful and compelling, and so are the poems."

You can read and hear a poem from the book on the press website, and purchase a copy of the book.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Party @ 8.00 PM (EST)

Well, this boy has been partying since 8 PM (SST), but is still not partied out. March 20 is a gloriously long day this year. Welcome to my Book and Birthday Bash! If you want to hear the book from the beginning, you should go to the two earlier posts first. If not, you can dive in here. I will be reading for about 20 minutes from the last two sections of the book.

After the party is finally over, I will leave the readings up on the blog. Do direct your friends here if you think they'd enjoy my work.

The blog sidebar tells you how you can get hold of a copy of the book. The first print run is 500 copies. Wouldn't it be fun to send for a reprint before the first copies roll off the press in April? All my love, Jee

Party @ 8.00 PM (GMT)

Welcome to the Party, or welcome back if you were here earlier. At this time, I will be reading from Section III of the book. If you are the kind of reader who likes to begin at the beginning, you may want to hear the reading on the previous post first. Do sign in by writing a comment. I am online, and so will be able to respond immediately.

After this fifteen-minute reading, please feel free to hang out here or come back at 8 PM (Eastern Standard Time) when I will read from Sections IV and V of the book. Some of your favorites are in this final segment.

Since this is a virtual party, no one will hustle you to buy the book. If you like the reading, however, you may find out on the blog sidebar how you could get a copy. Thanks for celebrating my birthday with me. All my love, Jee

Party @ 8.00 PM (SST)

Welcome to the Party! I'm very happy to see you here. The time now is 8 PM (Singapore Standard Time). Click on the box to hear me read from Sections I and II of the book. I am online from 8-9 PM, and would love to respond to any comments you may have.

After the 25-minute reading, stick around or come back later to hear me read from Section III at 8 PM (Greenwich Mean Time). The final bash will take place at 8 PM (Eastern Standard Time) when I will read from the last two sections of the book.

If you like what you hear, you can buy my book. Details are in the blog sidebar. Thanks for celebrating my birthday with me. All my love, Jee

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Virtual Book and Birthday Party on March 20

I'm throwing a Virtual Book Party to launch Equal to the Earth on my birthday, March 20. Everyone is invited, and you don't even have to leave the comfort of your home, or wherever you find yourself that evening, at 8 pm (Eastern Standard Time). All you have to do is to visit this blog or my Facebook page. Invite your friends. Invite your family. Invite your dog.

Latest: I hear your feedback, and I am adding two more parties to the day: 8 pm (Greenwich Mean Time) and 8 pm (Singapore Standard Time/Australian Western Standard Time).

I'm thinking of reading, in my sexiest voice, a selection of poems from each of the five sections of the book. If you have other suggestions for the party, do write them in comments. Virtual cheese and crackers will be provided. Bring your own bottle.

If you like, you may order the book by using Paypal (blog sidebar) or by mailing me a check for US$14.99 (3963 58th Street, Apt. 2, Woodside, NY 11377).

You may also buy the book at the party, so don't forget your credit card or check book. I hope to see you there, when you write in the guest book. I promise mindblowing acts and memorable speech.

Poem: Approaching Thirtyseven

Approaching Thirtyseven

After leaving my exboyfriend sleeping in his bed,
I think about turning thirtyseven in ten days,
and about being alone the next thirtyseven years.

There are some advantages. Give myself to poetry
wholeheartedly, undistracted by love’s demands.
Give myself to the unchanging arms of casual sex.

Back home, watching my favorite porn video,
the blond college freshman begging for the fist,
I take all of ten minutes. What to do with the other

fifty minutes to the hour, and the hours after that?
My books turn their backs on me. I clean
the common bathroom not cleaned for weeks,

but the grinning toilet bowl is a loser’s trophy.
I’m craving dully for the next hit, the bang of sex
or the wham of sounds transposing into an image.

In the interval between sex and poetry lies death.
The freshman intuits that. Which is why he begs
for the gloved fist to enter him again and again.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Poem: Thank You, Thank You

A day late, but here's another poem from the book:

Thank You, Thank You

I leave your house with a shoebox of rejection slips
editors enclosed in my selfaddressed envelopes.
Good stationery. Polite form letters. Different types
of no to poems posted with thirtynine cent hopes.

A few took the trouble to scribble their subjectivities.
(These poems don’t meet our present needs.) Four
softened the blow by mildly singling out for praise
the flirt, the grovel, the hurt valve, or the hardcore.

There's one, burgundy halflettersized, kept
face up, raised by the others sleeping face down.
This one, generous in its plural pronoun, abrupt
in its brevity, added an afterthought, Try us again.

Submission seasons come and go. Every Sept
ember burns in a shoebox, because of this one.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Poem: If the Fire Is in Your Apartment

If the Fire Is in Your Apartment

You live in a combustible building, love,
so warns the fire notice on your door.
Sure, the apartment is controlled for rent,
above a laundromat and liquor store,

but have you not observed the plaster tear
and the hardwood floor curl its long nailed toes
when flames, for regulated gas, consent
and sear cod fillet and asparagus?

Or when you plugged in the a.c. with hand
damp from an afternoon of sex, were shocked
by the hideous circuit hidden in cement,
unplanned combustion in what’s built and blocked

from us who slum in this construction sham.
So read this notice. Plan your escape route.
Run if things ignite without intent
and hammer every door on your way out.

--First published in Shit Creek Review

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Robert Urban previews "Equal to the Earth"

Jee Leong Koh's new book of poetry EQUAL TO THE EARTH contains thoughtful meditations on the poet's social, sexual, ethnic and cultural impressions, relationships and alienations – presented in a unique style of wistful desire mixed with muted resignation. The book's title appears as a phrase in two poems – "Blowjob" and "Razminovenie, or Nonmeeting." By way of explaining EQUAL TO THE EARTH's overall theme, the title may be interpreted as meaning that the great longing one feels for that which one cannot have is equal, in magnitude, to the greatness of that which one cannot have.

Such has been the nature of The Muse for many a poet, and Koh is an inheritor of that venerable artistic sensibility.

Technically, many of Koh's poems read as non-rhyming prose poetically arranged into short lines and stanzas. Yet quite a few of the poems make use of clever, complex and well thought-out rhyme schemes. These include "Chapter Six: Anal Sex," "For Lonely," "Pickup Lines" and "The Far Ships."

The book's five chapters of poems are loosely grouped thematically:

Chapter One harkens back to classic Asian Imperial Court accounts. It imparts, if the term "orientalism" may be used, that atmosphere of labyrinthine bureaucracy, court intrigue and officiated virtue. On the surface all is modes of conduct, mannered observances, moral correctness. Yet underneath a more modern sense of romantic and sexual desire simmers.

As if mindful of the cultural heritage that permeates the writer's thinking in his life – Koh begins his book with his ethnic and literary roots. His choice of style here is not so cosmic or typically "poetical" as Zen Bhuddism or Taoism – but perhaps more Confucian in feel.

Heading towards Chapter Two, the subject matter of Koh's poetry fast-forwards to modern daily life. Yet they often keep the same formal, remote, almost polite style. The poetry is now more descriptive of his own life – revealing the alienation of the author as tourist, foreigner, immigrant, world traveler.

Chapters Three and Four contain quite a few poems on sexual relations and social communications – alienated, dense with meanings, and somewhat voyeuristic. Some appear coded in Koh's personal experiences. Many chronicle his travels and encounters as an Asian gay man in the modern world, especially in the West and especially in the U.S. Chapter Five takes the reader to Koh's socially estranged experiences on stereotypically (and for Koh, somewhat superficially) gay Fire Island.

Koh is skilled at poetically deconstructing gay sex roles, gay-straight relationships, coming out, and even gay sex toys. He also manages to infuse poetic craft into such mundane, municipal topics as immigration, tourism and citizenship. No small task.

Ultimately, Koh remains somewhat of a stranger-in-a-strange-land in many of the book's poems – gently alienated from his topics, his own sexuality and other people. I was several times reminded of Joni Mitchell's conversational, outsider-styled song lyrics while reading this book.

Koh as a poet understands art & sex as forces that both come from the same dark, inner, hard-to-grasp place. He is that kind of artist that struggles within the eternal, pulsar-like oscillation between the Dionysian temptations of creating sex and the studied, Apollonian thoughtfulness of creating poetry about sex. Koh lives and writes in that space created by the tug between the two. EQUAL TO THE EARTH is one of his results.

--Robert Urban, Urban Productions, NYC

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Poem: For Lonely

For Lonely

Lying on top of you, my arms and knees
support my body even as I grope
for how much of me your frame will carry.

You hold me closer, you’re not heavy. So
I lean a ladder into you, step hard
up, and clamber to the top window

to hear you play Chopin’s Etude in C
Minor. I enter through the window, drop
into your room. I sit down quietly.

You come to a passage hazardous and slow
like footsteps on decaying floorboards
of an old house. The pedal mutes the piano.

Then I become afraid you will not be
playing, beside me, with such quiet hope
forever, for nightfall, for lonely,

and what that will do to me. I tiptoe
to the window while stroking your forehead,
lean back into myself, walk away below.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vijay Seshadri previews "Equal to the Earth"

Jee Leong Koh is a vigorous, physical poet very much captured by the expressive power of rhythm, rhetoric, and the lexicon. He is also, paradoxically, a poet in pursuit of the most elusive and delicate of human emotions. The contradiction is wonderful and compelling, and so are his poems.

--Vijay Seshadri, Author of The Long Meadow (Graywolf Press)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Poem: Pedestrian


In Bryant Park, a woman walked past me—déjà vu—
her bare left foot a bruise as big as her right shoe,
traveled with slow, small steps measured by habit, round
the Starbucks stand and stepped towards my bench again.
This time I was ready for her—to imitate
her walk in a stumbling meter, interpret her pain.
She did not stumble. Her eyes threw me off—black dabs
in ovals whiter than the inside of an eggshell.
Her face was a patch. She did not make a sound.
She was neither Death nor Love and, like that mademoiselle
finishing her espresso, meant nothing to me too.

But when I stroke the bolt that locks the metal plate
to your shinbone, imagine how the sudden rain
blinds the bike, the thundering traffic blunts the stabs
of laughter tearing the night air on the Brooklyn Bridge
and how the last possible moment thrusts the yell,
“Watch out!”—she pedals, singing, on the hanging ridge
of my back, ringing and ringing her tiny bell.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Christopher Hennessy previews "Equal to the Earth"

In his second book of poems Equal to the Earth Jee Leong Koh digs deep into the rich soils of ancestry and history, of sexuality and identity, of (exterior) place and (interior) voice.

Koh's capacious mind and rapacious imagination draw on sources and inspiration as varied as Chinese history, the plum blossom, Spinoza, a book on anal sex, E.M. Forster's notebooks, a poet's rejection slips, the epistolary relationship between Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva, a straight man's tale of a great blow job he enjoyed, Keat's abandonment of Hyperion, and more. His poems are like the sexy nerd you meet at a bar, the one you really want to get to know better-- with his glasses and tie on and nothing else.

In several poems on gay themes, Koh sets himself apart from other gay writers, grappling with how to construct his own sense of sexuality but also playfully celebrating what it means to be different, even among the queers! Koh also is keenly aware of his gay father figures. In the stand-out poem "Pickup Lines" he imagines come-ons from Hart Crane, Auden, and Cavafy.
His poems contain what poems must, the paradox of both the personal and universal. Whether recalling his father's stories about Karma or passionate sex with a lover in a bathroom at work, Koh's writing brings the reader's emotions and memories to the surface. His poems are in turns sexy and sensual, poignant and pointed, somehow emanating from a singular voice that shows confident formal control as they conjure moments of magic out of the thin air of human history and personal drama.

-- Christopher Hennessy, Outside the Lines: Talking with Contemporary Gay Poets, Univ. of Michigan Press

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Poem: Ten Poems on the Plum Blossom

Ten Poems on the Plum Blossom

This happened in Jiangnan Province in 1658—on Mao Xiang’s country estate, Chen Weisong met and flirted with a servant Xu Ziyun beneath the plum trees. Chen was thirtytwo years old and Xu was fifteen and famous for his flute playing. When Mao wanted to punish Xu for aspiring above his status, Chen pleaded on the servant’s behalf. Mao demanded from Chen one hundred poems on the subject of the plum blossom the next morning in exchange for not punishing Xu. After Mao had received the poems, he released Xu to Chen. Being only one tenth the poet Chen Weisong was, I wrote “Ten Poems on the Plum Blossom” for my Xu who is also my Mao.


The old branch blossoms in the snow,
pink lips on a low brown bough.
I see your face in the whitewashed hall
and remember home in Singapore.


Back home in Velvet Underground last year,
you stuttered your coming out in a poetry slam.
I did not hear your pink confession then.
Now in New York, I hear you loud and queer.


Walking down Broadway, you digress to decree
which man scorches or not. Sharp noses, those
Jews’, are extremely hot. Alternately
hot and cold, I try not to think of my nose.


You do not see the tea list right before
your nose; the waitress and I laugh at you.
I muss up your hair—no white streak—
almost kiss the petal of your cheek.


Plum blossoms keep me up all night,
keep flowering slowly from my lesion,
flowering for no one, no reason.
Then daylight swabs the window white.


Why am I not your type? Both Prunus mume,
both poets, Singaporeans, shy, unsavvy
men clambering up, hoping to get some...
fruit from a different tree? A chokecherry?


Your Puerto Rican cherry’s sweet: he runs
his mother’s errands and, though home by nine,
tumbles more men than you and I combined.
How can I compete, souring in the sun?


In your “The Astronaut and the Samurai,”
their culture clashes bar them from the sky.
Not now. Age is the newer prejudice—
old shoguns order flowers, not harakiris.


In a short decade, you’ll turn thirtyfour
and long for a man a decade younger. Breech
bluelashed to the gnarled stake, you’ll reach
for pink buds and they will dance away, draw closer, dance away once more.


Chinese plums do not ripen to rich blue,
delicious, cold and sweet. They do not bruise.
You know as well as I, they turn yellow and hard
stored in your golden vase, turn small and tart.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poem: Wildwood, Nebraska City

Wildwood, Nebraska City

The sky opened like a Chinese hand fan glued
to ebony guards, the road that ran due east and west.
I wasn’t surveying the fan but was reviewed
on its silk like the clouds a painter’s hand expressed
so well the rags of white evoked the idea, cloud,
or like the trees whose jaunt downslope looked so unplanned,
they tricked the eye to assign depth to a flat land.

I’d planned a walk and so I left behind the sky,
its opened fan, and followed the short carriageway
to Wildwood. The Victorian house was no Versailles,
owning two stories and on each white flank two bays.
The door was locked. A guided tour cost three bucks.
Through the glass—papered walls, gilt mirror, carpeted stair,
a small town banker’s idea of comfort deluxe.

I strolled around the house to find the arts and crafts.
A man was digging in the ragged garden, tree
shaded in violet. The barn door tinkled a welcome.
Inside, a whitehaired woman, with a ring of keys
stringed to her right hip, smiled and asked where I was from.
I said New York, instead of Singapore, a draft
answer, and so arrived at I’d come to see.

A modern exhibit—photographs of the stars
and stripes seen through a cunning local eye. A rag
evoked a phantom limb or else a jagged scar.
Sky and trees were filtered through translucent flags.
Behind the flags the works of regional artists—
watercolors of robins and colonials, gags
of silk scarves, fruits etched into blackwood clumps of fists.

Back of the barn, decorous as a buttoned blouse,
hung a series of pastel “Architecture” prints—
Outhouse in Blue. A Winter Outhouse. Outhouse
with Goose. Outhouse with House Depicted Through A Squint.
I noticed, with a thrill, the artist’s name and crest:
Laurine Kimmel, who, together with her spouse,
bequeathed to artists her town home where I’m a guest.

I turned to go, thinking of Kimmel’s sense of humor
when painting shit. A man wanting a watering can
searched in the barn for one that would do well in summer.
I stepped outside and almost stepped on his black mutt.
The dog rose quickly, trained by nature and the man,
and sniffed my shin. It knew I don’t live in these parts.
I hurried down the eastern guardstick of the fan.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Poem: Florida


This evening walk around Lettuce Lake
begins on the planks of good intentions.
Palm fronds droop, like fingers over railing, over land
sliding below wetland, and weeds
yielding along an indeterminable wave to duckweed,
a false green carpet to the door of the lake.
Bald cypresses, wearing beards of moss, sit
surprised in water, their grayish knees
breathing above the rootless bladderworts.
Here, the wading bird is king, the Great Egret
picking its way between land and lake,
spearing the temporary frog to an unexpected hump of ground.
Here, the roseate spoonbill swirls the mud.
Even the osprey, which nests in feathertips of trees,
must bury itself in the lake, wings held up
like an archaic angel landing on a gravestone,
before rising with silver in its beak.
And here, reads the sign in stainless steel raised by park authorities,
is Alzheimer’s Walk
that travels two feet above the bog, two feet
from the leafy stink, but does not sink.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Book Cover

My publisher and I have finalized the cover for Equal to the Earth. I sent her the design mock-up, and she re-did it, with the proper fonts and format. I hope the Rothko-inspired design will convey something of the book's themes and method, while staying away from the usual poetry covers based on photographs and paintings. Is there an art term called abstract figurative? There should be. If the cover suggests something of the sensual serenity of Matisse's paintings, I would be very happy.