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

No comments: