Hong Kong Poets Under 40 / November 2012 (Issue 19)

Arthur Leung

 Arthur Leung holds an MFA in creative writing (with distinction) from the University of Hong Kong. His poems have been widely published in print magazines, anthologies and online journals. He is a regular performer of his poetry, having been featured in the Hong Kong Literature Festival, Hong Kong International Literary Festival and invited to give lecture demonstrations in schools. He has also been invited to participate in "Art Talents Pop Up! Poemography Exp." as a contributing poet, and in Hong Kong Baptist University's International Writers Workshop as a local writer. Leung serves as an Associate Editor for Cha and is on the international editorial board of Yuan Yang. He was a winner of the 2008 Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition. In 2009, Leung was commended by the Home Affairs Bureau of the Hong Kong SAR government for his outstanding artistic accomplishments. [Cha's profile]


For me, writing is both exhilarating and painful. While the satisfaction of being surprised in the act of composition is precious, there are hard times in finding the right sound, the right word, the right phrase for what the poem needs to express. Years of disciplined practice have to be gone through before mastering technical skills like unfolding a long sentence effectively over lines, writing a description without adjectives, making sure every word and line works together as a unified whole. Although I think no standard formula for poetry writing exists, there are a couple of things I keep reminding myself when working on the lines. Overt sentimentality must be avoided. Poetry is meant to be read aloud: its tonal and rhythmic qualities are crucial. Finally, we are writers of the twenty-first century and what is written should reveal our times; hence, no archaisms of expression or thought.

I believe that as poets we are the products of our culture, and that we value the musical and communal bond between ourselves and our readers. We want to write in a way that is musically and rhetorically meaningful, but that at the same time attempts to be responsive to the world we perceive and the life we are given. The cultural identity of our voice is important for this reason. I consciously consider myself a Hong Kong poet, and as a result, places and lives in Hong Kong are often my subject matter. Hong Kong is a small but culturally diverse city, with a hectic lifestyle and a comparatively boisterous social environment—rich in both vocal and spectacular elements. Even if English is not our mother-tongue, the language is significant to us, owing particularly to the postcolonial legacy of more than 150 years of British rule. My poetry in English often emphasises the reimagining of the sounds of the language in a specific socio-cultural context, through a speaker whose native language is phonologically and syntactically very different—and this can be done with or without the direct employment of Hong Kong English. I also regularly translate the work of Chinese poets into English, and I trust the practice of translation enables me to absorb the rhetorical strategies of the work and the energies of the language being translated, both of which are beneficial to my original writing.

As a poet writing in English, I recognise every single line should be in the service of the art of English poetry. Despite the fact that writers of this generation mostly write in vers libre, I think an understanding of poetry's historical development and elements of craft and of the functions of prosody and form is essential. Meter and traditional forms sometimes facilitate what we want to accomplish, as they can speak in inevitable ways. It is always worth striving for the daring, the inventiveness, the explorative spirit in poetry, even though we all know most of the poems being published now will be mediocre. Just keep reading and trying to write something good.



Distant kapok trees, a figure wanders
among spying silhouettes, sits on a bench
and contemplates leaves falling and frozen
on the white pond – strollers left long ago.
The face in familiar shade, never turns,
vanishes, and appears for someone's presence,
withdraws before making up a reason
as though remembering the loom close,
as though this share of memory is true.

That alehouse they say, the oldest in town.
Bar tables soiled with black gum, drinkers
go for heavy rock, assemble in sweat,

the smoky corner of hollow Heineken cans.
Last echo of the cymbal, door opens,
an umbrella spread out. Red and content,

no more gossiping about lost wives.
Just neon signs, buses along the street,
the hoarse appeal of a blind man's erhu.

Nothing actually hurts inside the bus
packed like a box of melting Maltesers
though a voice shrieks from the lower deck

raving at the green light, whatever it does,
how the world's turned downside up
and becomes a joke, how it feels right

in this milky season to press the bell
and squeeze the way out, understanding
a breath of fresh air will reset logic.

(Revised version of a poem of the same title originally published in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore.)

The Revisit

Worse than the Tiu Tin ghost
Nga Wu appeared, suspended
above my bed, ceiling bound.

I hid my face behind papa's arm
for an elder dressed in black.

Narrow corridor, 14th floor
I saw a black figure behind
and ran as swiftly as I wish,
Nga Wu could not catch me.
I knew this was but a dream
and jumped out a window high up
the wall, woke with a scream awaking
adults in the helpless house.
No more story to hear,
I cannot get rid of Nga Wu.
Journey to the bin, 12th floor
garbage outside, my instinct
tells me everything is real.
I see a black mouth open.

Same vision. I slip out 14th floor,
walk downstairs, turn my head and see
someone in black. I run breathless, glide
to a window. In a flash I jump, scream and wake.
Same warning. The dirty creature out there,
hair untidy, face wrinkled. Grin of a wolf,
her owl eyes stare at a small child
alone. She’d seize and eat him alive.
Grandfather’s dead. Inevitable,
I finish dinner, take the garbage out,
the collection bin at staircase, darkness
of corridor on 12th floor, I see Nga Wu
creep on the wall. The window opens
wide to swallow me as I feign sleep.

Beyond that crayon scribble, the haunting of unknown neighbours.
Beyond that dull wall, mahjong clamours.
Beyond that dimly lit corridor hide Nga Wu and two eyes of the Tiu Tin ghost.
Around that brown door lingers a boy punished by his grandfather, his ceiling
          distant as stars.
12th floor, the same door owned by new people.
12th floor, children at play in wall scribbles so familiar with their laughter
          and mine as one on
12th floor, I spring and touch stars in a pulse
For I belong to here.
For this row of square tiles holds his wish to build houses – one for Ah Dee,
          one for Ah Nok, one for Little Bird.

(Revised version of a poem entitled "Nga Wu: A Trilogy” originally published in Loch Raven Review.)

Opening Sea Urchins

By the hut
women in blue open sea urchins
in heaps black sea urchins
in heaps furious spikes
in heaps clamps break and pry open the tough hearts
in heaps women scoop out
from that golden yellow.

Walking a day’s journey, overcoming black rocks
in heaps worn-out faces
in heaps finally we see
in heaps through a mountain crack
of an ocean.
By the store you sit
amidst women in blue.
Out of seawaves
out of broken urchin shells
out of the coffee you sip and say

face of spring – reflection in coffee
as the milk dissolves slowly
out of the soft heart.

(A reimagination of a Chinese poem by Leung Ping-Kwan, this poem was first published in Fifty-Fifty: New Hong Kong Writing.)
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