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