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Meet an Author: Nicholas YB Wong, “the future of global poetry”

Nicholas YB Wong

Nicholas YB Wong is a poet of multis — of culture, lingua, layer, dimension. He is, as Ravi Shankar puts it, “the future of global poetry,” one who writes with a multiplicity of voices on a multitude of subjects, from Lady Gaga and Wong Kar-wai to Sharon Olds and Eeyore to the letters of James Schuyler to Frank O’Hara. An instructor at the City University of Hong Kong, he’s the author of the collections Cities of Sameness and, most recently, Crevasse, which has been praised as “a book of action” (Jericho Brown).

Wong was a finalist for the New Letters Poetry Award and a semifinalist for the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. He is on the editorial board of the literary journals Drunken Boat and Mead: Magazine of Literature and Libations. Corgis are his favorite human breed.

Books available at The Bookworm:

Cities of Sameness (2012)

Crevasse (2015)

Event at The Bookworm Beijing:

March 20, 4 pm: The Meaning of Contemporary Poetry, with Michael Crummey, Andy McGuire, Mariko Nagai; moderated by Simon Shieh

Cities of SamenessNicholas YB Wong book Crevasse

Two Poems:

“Protégé of the Lady” (Cities of Sameness)

“What words, then, if you love me,

what beauty not to be sustained

will separate finally dancer from dance.”

— Robert Creeley

Every gay man knows the gaydar was invented

By the Dalai Lama in Uganda in 1986, the same year

Stefani was born in. When she was 5, she put

A toy poodle above her head and wore her

Mother’s apron as a tube top, singing and swinging

Her body on the couch. She knew the kitchen

Wasn’t her place. She knew the brown curly canine

Mane would speak, as a wig, in a secret

Code understood telepathically by one-

Tenth of the world’s population. In her college days,

Influenced by gurus like Roland Barthes

And Jacques Derrida, she decided to call herself

Lady Gaga. Four simple syllables that resemble

A baby talk. A name that you now glorify under the spinning

And glistening mirror ball. She needs not your approval

Or understanding. She doesn’t even care if you speak

English. All she seeks is your moves, your body language,

The drifting of your arms in the discotheque music,

Like fallen leaves flowing down the stream, suddenly

Revived by the momentum of the moment. Whether

You’re 25 or 55, single or married-but-turned-gay,

Once in love or unloved by someone, she commands you,

With her thick digitalized voice, to dance along the heavy

Beats, the subliminal rah rah ah ah ah roma roma ma

Gaga ooh la la. And you listen, believe and imitate.

You wear on your work-worn poker face a masquerade

And tell yourself you’re the queen of this place.

A place where you nearly kneel to worship this diva,

A place whose beauty comes from who are you, a place

Where you turn off your gayer, as it’s already conquered

By who we are.


“Postcolonial Zoology” (Crevasse)

It is not the pedigreed corgis they left

at the handover, but the effigy of the Queen

on toothed stamps being self-important

in dusted albums. We bolted to banks to trade

for new coins. We went to the West, away

from communist coxswains, but were whittled

to sculptures called “second-tier citizens,”

second to terriers. Our being could start

a chapter in zoology: we are inedible

bilingual centaurs spreading swine flu

at the turn of the century, we are comrades

of a blue whale found ashore due to sonic

confusion, caribous on a cruise to Malibu.

Even what we remembered migrated to corners

invisible in brain scans. In Mandarin Oriental,

India, a TV host devoured British scones

and circumscribed cucumber sandwiches

on his sun porch that looked over to rice fields.

A butler next to him. He called the experience

authentic. So were the bees buzzing in air,

sick of their queen too lazy to move.

Praise for Nicholas YB Wong:

“It is especially refreshing to encounter a poet who is as equally adept at excavating the sources and shapes of sentiment and passion as he is at untangling the knotty business of thought and meaning in verse. In these poems of lyric grace and sharp intelligence, Nicholas Wong has written a bracing symphony to lonesomeness that is disarming, charming, and intellectually tough.” —Kwame Dawes

“Wong is the future of global poetry, refracting Hong Kong through the lens of American poetics and masterfully peopling his poems with bodies, anonymous and intimate, that take shape to touch us in new forms before disappearing in a haze of longing.” —Ravi Shankar

“The crevasses of Crevasse are geological and anatomical, but Nicholas Wong does not plumb their depths; instead, his openings stay with the edges and aftermaths of feeling. There is a sharpness to these finely witnessed portraits and self-portraits that cuts into the heart all the while invoking the contexts, aesthetic and political, that unsettle the meanings of his words. And these formations and deformations are wrought with also much clarity and such beautiful sounds; this is exciting poetry that teases us with what can and can’t be written about the self, what binds the heart and what breaks it.” —Josephine Nock-Hee Park

Nicholas YB Wong is an author participating at the 2016 Bookworm Literary Festival. To read about other participating authors, please see our Meet an Author series.

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