Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review: 'Steep Tea' by Jee Leong Koh

Born in Singapore to Chinese parents Jee Leong Koh was educated in that former British Colony, still divided into four sectors – British/European, Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian - absorbing the experience of transplantation from his familial background of China with the flavors of Singapore’s multicultural aroma. Early recognized as an exceptional student he traveled to England to read English at Oxford, teaching English in secondary schools before transferring residence to New York to study Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. He currently teaches English in an independent school in New York City while he pursues his life as an award-winning poet.

But enough of the map of this poet’s migration and the changes and adjustments that that manner of maturing has had on his life. Koh writes poems that admix his ethnic matrix with his bilingual facility and adds the element of his sexuality to make some of the more intriguing, brave, at times acerbic, at times needy poems that express not only his own reaction to the cycle of life and love, but also guidelines and seductive comments about traversing the maze of contemporary relationships, especially those of same sex origin.

The Rooms I Move In
I have moved in the rooms of women poets
and, seeing African violets, checked if
they needed water,

careful not to disturb the stolen time in the
the swivel leather seat, the high cane back.

The desk, if there was one, was bright with
cast by an Anglepoise lamp, crooked,

The window might look out on an old
but the door kept its ear open to the crib.

Such rooms I move in when I move
between the men
crowded with desire they disperse in a
stranger’s hand.

Before their face I offer the flower of my
red in the red light but also out of the red

a wild hibiscus impossible to label chaste
if my red mouth is not so chastened by my

Jay Leong Koh is an important poet worthy of wide attention. Grady Harp, November 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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