Robert Raymer’s Lovers and Strangers Revisited will be translated into French

Robert Raymer’s Lovers and Strangers Revisited will be translated into French by Éditions GOPE. The French version will be sold in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Asian places such as Hong Kong, Thailand and Cambodia. You can go to Robert’s website and learn more about the translation project.
Robert’s short story “On Fridays”, from Lovers and Strangers Revisited, was published in Issue #12 of Cha.

"Suppose someone submitted all your poems for you?"

I came across this interview with Kathleen Fitzpatrick on Nic Sebastian’s blog Very Like A Whale and was intrigued. In July, Kathleen submitted some poems to us on behalf of her husband, W.F. Lantry. Royston, J and I selected “Rainbow Bridge” for publication in Issue #12 of Cha and the work is mentioned in Henry W. Leung’s review of the issue on the Lantern Review blog:

W.F. Lantry’s “Rainbow Bridge” is a kind of translation, deriving from a Song Dynasty scroll painting that, in this case, is evidence of a woven bridge having existed in antiquity. Lantry wonderfully demonstrates the limitations of visual art without language; his poem verb-alizes the painting, not only exalting in the details but animating them and, in the process, expounding instructions to build such a bridge. The attention to detail would be prolix if not for the enjambment and inconsistent rhymes. 

Looking back, Bill was the only Issue #12 contributor (in these categories: poetry, prose, photography) who did not have a “Meet the author/artist” post on this blog, partly because I was reluctant to ‘bother’ Kathleen to get more information about the poem — I thought both of them must be very busy. Now it looks like a missed opportunity to enter into more of a conversation with her.

That said, we are really happy that Kathleen sent us Bill’s poetry and we look forward to reading more of his works in Cha and in other places.


Henry W. Leung, reviewer for Lantern Review, has written an extensive review of the current edition of Cha (Issue #12); the review is now available on the LR blog.

Henry emphasises, among other things, the Asian-themed poetry (‘Most of the poems in this issue fit the “Asian” label easily enough[.]’) and the translations (‘I laud Cha for being international and diglossic, because the presence—or shadow—of other languages encourages us to confront our own more objectively.’) in the issue as well as our critique column, A Cup of Fine Tea:

If you followed the links to these poems, you’ll know that many are paired with commentary or reviews in the correlating blog, A Cup of Fine Tea, emphasizing the dialogue that small-press literary journals are intended to be.

In the review, works by Annie Zaidi, Clara Hsu, Eddie Tay, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Helle Annette Slutz, Kim-An Lieberman, Marco Yan, Inara Cedrins and Peters Bruveris, Phill Provance, Steven Schroeder and W.F. Lantry are discussed, some very favourably. 

Henry also poses an important question to Cha editors in his review: as an Asian journal, should we be more aware of publishing pieces that fit the “Asian” label? Of course, “Asian” can be roughly interpreted at least two ways: 1) Asian-themed works and 2) works by Asian writers/artists. However, in his discussion, Henry suggests that content comes before authors’ racial make up or current location, as he points out that Annie’s and Marco’s poems, “Diaphragm” and “Remembrance” respectively, ‘don’t immediately fit any distinct cultural categories’, despite the fact that Annie is from Mumbai and Marco lives in Hong Kong. Henry reminds us, then, that a piece of work by an Asian-born or Asian-based writer does not by default make it “Asian”. I agree there is a distinction.

The discussion of “Asian-ness” reminded me of Jeff‘s editorial written for the second anniversary issue of Cha (Issue #9), in which he contemplates on the notion of “Asian writing community” in today’s globalised world:

I also had no sense of the diversity of the Asian writing community. When we began, I assumed that Asian writers were those found on the continent, locals, maybe a handful of expats. I have come to realise that this definition was far too narrow—that in a globalised world the idea of Asian writing must be more inclusive and fluid, must encompass the perspectives of writers from the diasporas, travellers to the region, even people with an interest in the continent. Asia it turns out is everywhere. All you have to do is open your doors. How else can one run a Hong-Kong based journal from a house in London?

Admittedly, the passage above does not cover works by ‘foreigners’ that are not in any way thematically relevant to Asia — a concern raised by Henry in his review of Cha. Looking through the journal’s archive, I can say that the prose pieces are all Asian-related while in other categories we have not been as strict. For example, in our selection of poetry, “Asian” is far from the first criteria that we use to judge a piece. Why is that? Henry has drawn our attention to a point that we will certainly be thinking some more. What are people’s thoughts on this?

Thank you, Henry and Lantern Review, for reading Cha so attentively and sharing your thoughts with us!

Also read “Cha A Literary Review Debate”

Eddie Tay’s The Mental Life of Cities

This post was originally posted on 22nd October, 2010. 

click image to enlarge
We are very pleased and proud to announce that our Reviews Editor Eddie Tay, who is also a professor teaching creative writing and poetry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has just published his third full-length collection of poetry, The Mental Life of Cities (Chameleon Press). The collection is “a meditation on the modern city and creative life” and the poems are inspired by “the ways in which the English and the Chinese languages intertwine and take root in the Asian cities of Hong Kong and Singapore”.  
Four poems from the collection: “Night Thoughts”, “Country”, “White Pages” and “Cities” appear in the current issue of Cha; “Night Thoughts” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize 2010.

If you would like to receive a review copy of The Mental Life of Cities, please also write to Tammy.


Eddie has very generously agreed to give away ONE SIGNED COPY of The Mental Life of Cities to a Cha reader. To get this special copy, please:

1) Send an email to Tammy Ho [] with the subject line “The Mental Life of Cities”.
2) In the body of the email, answer the following question: Cha is which city’s first online English literary journal?

As simple as that! We will randomly choose someone from the pool of people who have written us. Deadline is Sunday 7 November, 2010. The selected reader will receive an email from us on the following day.

CHA Issue#12 Goes Live

Leave a comment & let us know your thoughts on the issue.

We are pleased to announce that the September 2010 issue of Cha has now been launched. We would like to thank Royston Tester for returning to the guest editor post and reading the submissions with us. We would also like to thank our Reviews Editor, Eddie Tay, for curating the special section of essays by children’s book writers about their profession and for the usual fine selection of reviews. The issue also features a new editorial on children’s literature by Jeff Zroback entitled “The Mortuary and the App”.

The following writers/artists have generously allowed us to showcase their work:

Poetry: Phill Provance, Kim-An Lieberman, Eddie Tay, Fiona Sze-Lorraine, W.F. Lantry, Peters Bruveris, Inara Cedrins, Annie Zaidi, Steven Schroeder, Helle Annette Slutz, Shirley Lee, Astha Gupta, Marco Yan, Rumjhum Biswas and Clara Hsu
Fiction: Elizabeth Weinberg, David William Hill and Robert Raymer
Photography & art: Alvin Pang (Cover artist), Mark Stringer, Yip Wai Shai and Mary Lee
Margaret Hui Lian Lim, Emily Lim, Sarah Brennan and Adeline Foo
Reviews: Reid Mitchell, Martin Alexander, Jennifer Wong, Alice Tsay and Flora Mak who review the following books:

Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s Water the Moon, Steven Schroeder’s A Dim Sum of the Day Before, Cyril Wong’s Oneiros, Leung Ping Kwan’s Shifting Borders, Christopher (Kit) Kelen’s To the Single Man’s Hut: Poems and Pictures, Song Zijiang’s Wiping the Dim Sky, Daisy Hasan’s The To-Let House, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard (ed.)’s Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults, Jennifer Ching’s A Painted Moment and Patty Ho’s Heart to Heart

Our 13th issue is due out in February 2011. We are happy to have two old friends of the journal join us as guest editors: Consulting Editor Reid Mitchell will help with the prose and award-winning poet Arthur Leung will advise on the poetry. If you are interested in having your work considered for publication in Cha, please read our submission guidelines for details. We are also accepting submissions for “The China Issue” due out in June 2011. More details are available here.

We hope you enjoy the new issue.

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming & Jeff Zroback
Cha *

– Cha in The Hindu

– A cup of fine tea: Tai Dong Huai’s “New Baby”

ASIAN CHA Issue#12 Editorial

The Mortuary and the App

In this issue of Cha, we have a special section of essays devoted to picture book authors, curated by our Reviews Editor Eddie Tay. In one of these pieces, “Portrait of a Children’s Book Author as a Young Reader”, Malaysian writer Margaret Lim beautifully describes her introduction to the world of fiction. Lim, who spent part of her formative years living in Kuching in Sarawak, had limited access to books as a child. During her first years as a primary student, there was no library in her mission school (it got one later) and the local British Council Library did not stock titles for children. She did, however, have one source of books: the patient library at the hospital where her father worked. While the first-class ward of the hospital was being renovated, its books were temporarily stored in a disused mortuary. Lim’s father, recognizing her passion for reading, gave his daughter the key to the room. For the young woman, it was life-changing moment:

I went unaccompanied, so hungry was I for reading material that I had no fear of the ghosts that reputedly haunted this place. My heart did thud though as I unlocked the door. A murky ray filtered through the dirty panes of this one window and lighted grudgingly upon the books piled up against one wall and sliding to the floor in a muddle.

O, wonder! O, brave new world. Miranda could not have been more overcome with amazement and delight.

Lim’s excitement is palatable in these lines, an excitement I think many young bibliophiles feel when they first get hooked, even if their discovery of literature isn’t quite as adventurous or romantic. It is hard to imagine that today many kids in the developed world (the situation is sadly different for young people elsewhere) would need to run a gauntlet of ghosts in a mortuary, climb into an attic or even search a dusty library to find something to read. Instead they have access to thousands books, marketed and segmented to meet their needs and age, a perfectly graded progression from pictures to paragraphs. Well-meaning aunts give charmingly illustrated volumes as gifts, school and public libraries stock the latest titles, the internet offers a vast resource of age-appropriate material. There is, in short, a lot out there to entice the eager young reader.
Such eager young things are often aspirational in their reading: they turn the pages in search of experiences beyond their own. For many children—and this was certainly the case for Lim, who cherished adult adventures stories and The Illiad above all else—the attraction of reading is the potential discovery of something more grown-up than themselves, a slightly taboo introduction to adult things. (One of the secrets of children’s book publishing is to write slightly older than the target audience, so that readers can imagine themselves more worldly and mature than they actually are.) At least this has traditionally been the case. Whether kids will continue to try and grow up through books is uncertain. It seems difficult to imagine the youth of today needing to resort to anything as quaint as perusing a novel to learn about sex.
Many wonder if young people will resort to anything as quaint as reading a novel at all with all the forms of distraction available to them. And there may be some cause for concern. Will our kids still choose the pleasures of the written word when much more immersive and immediate forms of entertainment are available? Will they read Issac Asimov when they can play BioShock? Is their ability to focus on an extended piece of writing being hampered by the hyperactivity of the internet? Maybe. Maybe not. The only thing that it is really safe to say about these questions is that it is too soon to tell.
If our media landscape does tell us one thing, though, it is that humans still crave stories. The written word remains one of the most potent forms of story-telling, and at least for now many kids are still seduced by its charms. And for those who aren’t, well, I am not sure it is time to panic. Despite our romanticism, it is important to recall that not every child in the past approached books with the passion of a Margaret Lim. And although early childhood reading is undoubtedly beneficial, many who don’t read as kids still manage to grow into it—Tammy Ho, my co-editor for one. Tammy barely read as a child but is now the most bookish person I know. (We can’t take a day trip without at least three novels.) Nor do I think that—and this is perhaps a mildly heretical statement for the editor of a literary journal—we should always stress to our kids the value of novels and poetry over other forms of expression to the extent that we often do. There is nothing innate about writing: it too is a technology (albeit a highly successful one) just like the other devices which have the professional fretters so worried. Who can predict what brilliant artistic forms the non-readers of today will generate on their touch screens? And it’s not like the digital revolution has killed reading off anyway—quite the contrary. The internet has resulted in a proliferation of words like never before. You might quibble over what our children are scanning, about the detrimental effects of some debatable usage, the logorrhea of certain bloggers or the shortening of attention spans, but it would hard to argue that they aren’t consuming enough text.
Nor is all this reading being done online. Young Adult novels, many of them quite serious, are one of the hottest parts of the publishing industry. Harry Potter and the Twilight series reveal that kids will buy books if you can find the right formula.
One part of this formula has always been serialization, a fact I was reminded of recently. As part of my day job as an editor, I occasionally need to attend photo shoots. This particular shoot took place in a family home in which several children lived. One of them, a boy of about ten years old judging by the decorations in his room, had a bookshelf full of several neatly ordered fiction collections. This impulse to gather a series of books reminded me of my own childhood; it brought back memories of compulsively rearranging a Narnia box set and of being nagged by a feeling of inadequacy one whole summer after finding a frustratingly incomplete set of Fables of the Green Forest volumes in our cabin. His library also made me think of my cousin—an avid reader of the-stay-under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight sort—and his fondness for books from the Stratemeyer Syndicate—both the blue covered Hardy Boys titles and the yellow covered Tom Swift ones. This young man probably would have gotten along just fine with my Korean students, who gave me excited summaries of their latest Harry Potter acquisitions, bought in hardcover and in English on the release date.
This impulse to collect is one that originates, I think, from both the innate curiosity of children and their desire to be able to put limits on their experiences and environment. In serials, kids find a perfect outlet to do both—a way not only to escape into a fictional world, but also to control and organize it. And perhaps in so doing put some order on their own lives. It is a desire which publishers understand well, and exploit effectively by coming out with an endless series of series, all designed to keep kids reading and parents buying. They know that young readers are some of the true completists of the book world, a culture which is itself obsessed with collecting. Readers as a whole are avid textual hunter-gatherers. What are the great libraries and their attempt to assemble and systematize all knowledge, but child-like collecting writ large? Doesn’t our tendency to build and display our own Great Libraries of Alexandria suggest a psychology not unlike that of teenaged obsession with the Marvel Universe?
Soon with the way the internet is going, we will all be able to be completists with little or no effort, great archivists at the touch of a button. Just open your Library of Congress App and you will have all the reading material you could ever ask for. The kids too will have access to the same dizzying choice of texts. I have a feeling they might even choose to read some of them, discover a few grown up things through means that do not require lying about their age. Discovering the pleasures of the written word on their iphone will undoubtedly lack the romance of Margaret Lim’s introduction to books. And in a world of instant and unlimited choice, some things may be lost in the ease of access—some of the discipline and the sense of achievement that comes from having to work for what you want, perhaps some of the tactile pleasure of pulling a book from the shelf. But on the whole, I think the future looks bright for young readership. An infinite supply of books is infinitely better than not having enough to read. And do you really want your kids snooping around old mortuaries anyway?
Jeff Zroback / Co-editor
25 September, 2010

Phill Provance’s commentary in the form of a letter addressed to some nebulous mass re the composition of “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches”

In the following, Phill Provance comments on his poem, “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches”, forthcoming in the September 2010 issue of Cha. See what we said about the poem here.

Dear Cha Readers and Fellow Writers:

I’ll be honest: This is some kind of major compliment for Tammy and Jeff to ask me to write this little note to you. I’m not sure they wanted a note or letter, or anything even slightly epistolary. But as I sat on the New Jersey Transit train heading into New York to meet my publisher today something about the decaying yellow-brick buildings from nearly a century ago, the characterlessness of the uniformly red-brick buildings from only a decade ago, and the flat-gray sky—or is that smog?—in short (if you can forgive my momentary lapse into the voice of some High British Imperialist) what passes for the City of Newark, N.J. these days—as I was sitting here I just wanted to talk to someone. Someone I’ve never met before. Someone, I suppose, like you.

I am in Penn Station again. It is several hours since I wrote the paragraph above, which I intended to follow with a string of my New York impressions. I have rehearsed this statement several times now. I was hoping to get to the Strand (a landmark-sized bookstore you must visit if you ever make it out to these parts, by the way) early, then give all my Hong Kong readers a taste of Yankee-ness. But I ended up imagining this portion of the essay so much I walked all the way to SoHo and had to walk all the way back up town, leaving me no time to jot it all down.

As for the point of recording my impressions, it would have been to give you an idea of how I think. I figured this was as good a way as any to segue into how “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches” was written because how a poet thinks is just as integral to process in my opinion as technical aspects like style and tradition. But sifting through the tidbits just now I’ve realized everything will strain through the present, which gives me a kind of nauseous feeling as if I am an actor reciting, rather than acting, my part. Anyhow, for the sake of making that hour or so I spent thinking and walking worth something, here is what I can remember from what I wanted to tell you in a purer form:

New York really has the prettiest women. Probably all aspiring actresses. You know, it’s a shame most of them are so pretty but the difference between stardom and 2.5 kids in Brooklyn could be as simple as a few misplaced hairs. I wonder if they realize this. I wonder if it makes them miserable. I wonder how many New Yorkers are miserable. I’m sure I was when I lived here, but then there’s nothing like dating in New York in Winter. That little Russian girl’s glossy red lips and soft cashmere scarf outside the IFC theater in January were simply brilliant. God, I wish I wasn’t putting on so much weight! There are too many McDonald’ses in Pennsylvania, and I don’t exercise nearly enough. Now these girls won’t even look at me. Time was they would at least screw me then leave me for a hedge-fund manager. Funny thing about women in the city: They might think they want poets, but they all secretly, subconsciously want hedge-fund managers. What do I want? A nice piece of ass. Well, maybe. I mean, I want someone to talk to me about words and ideas and imagined things, who will rub my back and make me soup when I have a cold, but will still be a piece of ass. Yes, world, sadly I am another selfish poet (Read: Loser) with a burgeoning waistband. But, world, I am a good boy. I am a nice boy, a smart boy. I just answered wrong when they asked me what I wanted to be after school. I should have chosen “finance” or “gynecology.” I’d have a pretty little thing like one of these here then. But maybe… I mean, I’ve known several finance guys now. Most of them have more money than sense, and after all, I have more balls than cock (apparently). Maybe I should find a patron. Yes, that would work. I mean, people ought to pay me for being me as cool as I am, right? Why should it be any other way? I should directly ask my readers in this essay if they would mind being my patrons. I need approximately $160,000 U.S. dollars. I’ll tell them if they find anything I say in my essay useful to their own enterprises to contact Tammy and Jeff. Yes. ‘Contact Tammy and Jeff, darlings. Send the money express mail. Do it for art. Do it so I can breed with a pretty city girl. I love you gently and forever, Phill.’ Beautiful. Perfect. Now pop a stamp on that shit and throw it in the mailbox…..

I hope this little excerpt of my thoughts and feelings about New York gives you some insight into how I think because, likely, this is where theme comes from. Initially when Tammy and I discussed my writing this essay we concentrated primarily on how I wrote the poem. But why is just as important. To some extent, I’d wager, if you don’t find my personal point of view charming and attractive—something that you yourself would think—you wouldn’t choose a similar theme for your own work, and I expect you shouldn’t need to. Your own themes will do just as well, and probably my No. 1 rule for visiting New York also holds true for writing poems.

Now, getting into specifics of that theme I’d like to point out that blatantly pointing out ironies is normally a faux-pas in poetry. But this is one of those cases in which you take a chance and it works because the theme itself has to do with desiring a return to innocence from a place where all you see is irony. I wrote the poem after recalling a trip I took to visit my ex-intended—a woman I loved very much in a very innocent and direct way—in St. Petersburg, and the writing itself was painful for this reason. All I wanted to do the entire time I was writing the poem, in fact, was to stop writing it. I didn’t enjoy going back because more than the simple pain of losing someone the poem revealed that I had lost parts of myself in many ways: Post-relationship, pre-poem, I was dry and jaded; I had bet the best parts of myself on this love and lost, and more than anything else this is what made me sad.

In this way, thematically, “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches” is very much a “Fall” poem from the Judeo-Christian tradition. We can almost imagine biblical Adam writing some similar thing after he and Eve are ejected from the Garden of Eden, and to have those feelings is pretty powerful but also pretty awful. The good news about this, though, is that it places the poem within my own tradition at its earliest roots. I cannot claim this was something I was consciously doing, but then, I am an advocate of intuitive process and believe that like theme tradition is something that will come out whether you want it to or not.

Switching gears now, there were several very intelligent comments I made concerning this poem to Tammy one day, and those had to do with what was intentional. To expound on those here, my first point of intention besides wanting to talk about my visit with my ex was my desire to experiment with a contemporary form. The night I wrote the original draft of “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches” I had gone to a book launch in New York for Eric Baus’s Tuned Droves (a very good recent collection I suggest you pick up), and I was contemplating how Eric recycles images to create his special brand of word poetry. What I most admire about Eric’s work is that it dissociates with literal meaning and preferences the texture of the words themselves. Reading Eric, you are not supposed to make sense of a poem, but simply feel it out, as if you are groping around a dark room to find the light switch.

This other, more sensitive kind of reading was something I wanted for my readers, but I wanted to do Eric one better. Having studied the works of James Joyce at Oxford University, I wanted to incorporate something I think Joyce does very well in Finnegans Wake, which is create plurative meaning. To be sure, Joyce is one of my favorite authors and personal heroes, so I can safely say the modernistic playfulness in “St. Petersburg” is largely the result of my close readings of this father of Modernism.

But I also do not write from the same mental place as Joyce. My process is not nearly as cerebral, but more automatic. While writing a poem and then while editing it, I tend to feel out the words for their impact rather than intentionally injecting more information from the logical centers of my mind. So, for example, rather than cram the meanings of several foreign words into one phoneme, as Joyce would have done, I chose to rely on standard meaning and texture as my two points of reference for the reader and use this to create metonymic meanings that were closely tied to the words’ original definitions.

In this way I hoped to tread the line between what Baus and Joyce do. Rather than simply asking my readers to “feel” my meaning, I wanted to provide them with signposts; and emotional signposts at that, not heavy-handed riddles that require decades of study to unpack. And this was in accordance with another of my intentions: To make the poem appreciable to the few, but accessible to all.

Finally, to give you some idea of the structure of “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches”—a structure my editor at Cy Gist, Mark Lamoureaux, called “a new kind of form”—I will mention that this too was something automatic and “felt-out.” To my own mind imposing a structure on a poem or story distorts the content. It is forced and unnatural and, at the end of the day, can only serve as a superficial novelty, a bar trick. Yes, I could do it, probably, but I doubt the power in doing so. Rather, I prefer to let my poems find their own structures in an organic way. Naturally, someone might be better at imposing structures and could use the form from “St. Petersburg” for several very successful poems, but I wouldn’t and couldn’t. For me structure is more a matter of how content wants to exist in its own space.

The overall thought I wish to convey about “how to write poems,” then—though I doubt I can or would want to teach anyone how to write poems like me—is that the process is primarily a felt thing, not a logical thing. Of course, I have practiced the technical aspects many times, and I could show you hundreds of unsuccessful poems in which I was practicing sestinas, haiku, villanelles, etc. It takes this practice, in my opinion, for the technical skill to be there when you need it. But I would advise against seeing any such exercises as more than practice. Being an art, poetry by definition is not something you can execute well with a diagram or blueprint, but like walking or driving a car, is something you can only get better at with time and practice.

Or better yet, think of it this way: The lovely young ladies performing gymnastic feats of unimaginable skill at the Beijing Olympics probably were not thinking mid-somersault of where to place this hand and that leg. What they were probably doing was going through the motions after many years of experience. My advice to younger poets, then, is to practice and not expect everything you write to be a masterpiece. You, like anyone else who hopes to gain mastery over a pursuit, are allowed to have your behind-the-scenes “off-days”. You’re allowed to have many. It’s not, after all, what you do in all the moments leading up to the big game, but what you show and prove in that singular moment itself. And without the practice and the ability to put your skills into flawlessly unconscious use you won’t make across-the-board 10s, but will instead jam your crotch against the figurative horse. Why? Because you will still be practicing.
This is about all I have to say concerning “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches,” but I do hope you have found it useful and informative. Of course, if you think of anything you’d like me to expound upon, please don’t hesitate to send me a response via Tammy and Jeff. I am not some inaccessible hermit, and I welcome any and all commentary—unless you only want to be a prick, in which case don’t bother sending because T and J will likely filter that out.

Besides all this, I wish you the best in your own poems. And I hope that, barring any direct emotional connection, “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches” will be something you enjoy generally, something that will make you think or something that, at the very least, will keep you interested to the last word.


P.S.: Please Buy my book, The Day the Sun Rolled Out of the Sky, from Cy Gist Press for $6.95 USD, plus S&H. Doing so will not only help me pay my bills, but will also allow me to continue publishing with Cy Gist and Cha.

Who else

On Signs — What do you know about clocks?

“Pray, my dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to wind up the clock?”
Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tistram Shandy, Gentleman, Volume I, Chapter I
Random musings
The cover image of the September 2010 issue of Cha by Alvin Pang is chosen partly because of its abilities to confuse. We are too attuned to finding meanings in everything.

Our clock does not tick.
It really doesn’t.
“Is it the flag that is moving? Or the wind?” Hui Neng said neither. It’s the heart that is moving. The needles on the clock face are not animated; does it mean our hearts do not flutter?
Is this a reference to Havisham’s stopped clock?
Frank Kermode says in The Sense of an Ending:

The clock’s ‘tick-tock’ I take to be a model of what we call a plot, an organisation which humanises time by giving it a form; and the interval between ‘tock’ and ‘tick’ represents purely successive, disorganised time of the sort we need to humanise. (p. 45).

The clock face in Modern Times approaches six o’clock. Ours approaches one. Any significance?

Mad Hatter talks about Time. In all his insanity he manages to remind us that ‘Time’ and ‘clock’ are two separate entities. ‘Time’ is a being with subjectivity, ‘clock’ is his tool. The ‘T’ and the ‘c’.

‘He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!’

Do you know the author of the poem “The Watchmaker’s Shop”? It has the following lines:

I wonder he doesn’t get tired of the chime
and all the clocks ticking and telling the time;
But there he goes winding lest any should stop,
This queer little man in the watchmaker’s shop.

Or, consider this image in Sunday Times magazine earlier this year:

I wrote in a blog:

Yesterday, we saw this remarkable image in Sunday Times, which is part of a series of photographs by Andrew Moore capturing the tough times in Detroit. The pictures are from the photographer’s book, Detroit Disassembled.

When JZ and I saw this image for the first time, we both immediately thought of Salvador Dalí’s famous “The Persistence of Memory” (1931). In the painting, melting pocket watches are found in a landscape scarcely inhabited by humans. The tick and tock gone for time, although persistent, no longer means anything without a perceiver. Or, to be precise, time as a concept is defunct if there is no one measuring its units.

Here’s another famous clock:
I wrote:

So many years have passed since my first visit to Cambridge. And the giant Corpus Clock (above) outside of the Taylor Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, only reminds me of the harshness of time more.

According to a Wired article in January 2009, the Corpus Clock (also know as “The Time Eater Clock”) does ‘un-clocklike’ things such as slowing down, stopping and even running backward (Dr John Taylor, the clock designer, says, “I wanted a clock that could play with you.”). But we all know regardless of the movement of the device, time marches forward, waits for no one. (Listen to the programme “The Physics of Time”.)

The insect on top of the clock, which is called a chronophage, or time-eater, is at first glance scary, but at second glance, pitiable. The creature looks as though it is punished by a higher power to forever ride on time, and yet never able to control it. It looks ghastly. Humans are it.

Indeed, sometimes, a clock that ticks could be disconcerting. In my poem “Minute”, the persona’s father is uneasy about the ticking of the clock. In another poem, the clock forcefully ‘fucks’.
Finally, one of the poems by Kim-An, forthcoming in the new issue, has this line: “Because her new clock barreled forward from January”; and one of the books reviewed:

Meet Eddie Tay

Eddie Tay is the Reviews Editor of Cha and has previously contributed poetry (“Whose Woods These Are”) and reviews to the journal. In the September 2010 issue, we are very delighted to have the opportunity to feature four poems from his third poetry collection, Mental Life of Cities, forthcoming in late 2010 or early 2011. You will like these poems: the play of light and memory in “Night Thoughts”; the merging of book, body, and longing in “White Pages”; the intense and vulnerable revelations of the persona in “Country”; and the haunting meditation on city life in “Cities”.
Bio: Born in Singapore, Eddie Tay is a long time resident of Hong Kong. He is an assistant professor at the Department of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he teaches courses on creative writing and poetry.

Meet Robert Raymer

Cha does not normally reprint works (apart from the “Lost Teas” section). So, when we do republish a piece, it has to be very good. The September 2010 issue will feature Robert Raymer‘s short story “On Fridays” from his collection Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2008), winner of the 2009 The Star-Popular Reader’s Choice Award. The collection has been published three times, originally in Singapore by Heinemann Asia (1993) as Lovers and Strangers. Over a span of 24 years, the 17 stories set in Malaysia have been published 78 times in 11 countries.

The story we are reprinting, “On Fridays”, has a good publishing track record: an early version was published in Singapore in 1989 and last published in 2003 in The Literary Review (US) and Frank (France) as a joint publication. Robert did a blog series on the collection, The Story Behind the Story, starting with the first story, “On Fridays”.

In a new blog post, Robert mentions that “On Fridays” is his 100th published short story. The post begins with the following:

“On Fridays” from Lovers and Strangers Revisited — my 100th Short Story published! — will be reprinted in Hong Kong-based Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. Cha is also providing a link to my blog “On Fridays: The Story Behind the Story” sending the Story Behind the Story blog series international with its first literary magazine connection. “On Fridays” has now been published 13 times!

Bio: Named as one of the “50 Expats You Should Know” in Malaysia by Expatriate Lifestyle (January 2010), Robert Raymer’s short stories have appeared in The Literary Review, Thema, Descant, London Magazine, Going Places, and Silverfish. Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2008), a collection of 17 short stories set in Malaysia won the 2009 Popular-The Star Readers Choice Awards. Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia (MPH 2009) is a collection of creative nonfiction about his experiences of living in Malaysia for over twenty years. His blog on writing, interviews, and book reviews can be accessed from his website.

Meet Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Consulting Editor Reid Mitchell will review two poetry collections in the September 2010 issue of Cha: Steven Schroeder’s A Dim Sum of the Day Before and Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s Water the Moon. Apart from Steven’s  “I Can Smell Roads”, we will also publish Fiona’s “A Talk with Mao Tsz-Tung”, a piece from her collection.
Although Fiona regards herself as a Parisian, her poetry occasionally reminds one of her Asian heritage. “A Talk With Mao Tse-Tung”, for example, is such a reminder. Reid describes the poem:

A Swedish journalist recites Mao’s poetry; the Chairman’s presence is unavoidable, even years after his death.

Bio: Author of a book of poetry, Water the Moon (Marick Press, 2010), Fiona Sze-Lorrain writes and translates in English, French and Chinese. A guzheng concertist, she performs worldwide. Her CD, In One Take, is forthcoming this fall. One of the editors at Cerise Press, Sze-Lorrain currently co-directs Vif Éditions, a French publishing house in Paris. Visit her website for more information.

Meet Steven Schroeder

Steven Schroeder, who told us he’s already expecting the first snow in Chicago, has appeared in Cha several times. His poems “Guidebook Says” and “A Water Planet” were published in the first anniversary issue (“Guidebook Says” was also discussed on A Cup of Fine Tea), while his poetry sequence “Shenzhen, Three Times” was featured in Issue 8 of the journal. In the September 2010 issue of Cha, we will be publishing a poem from his collection A Dim Sum of the Day Before: “You Can Smell Roads”. Our Consulting Editor Reid Mitchell, who is reviewing the book for the issue, described the poem:

It is set in a city “growing / unfamiliar fast,” presumably Shenzhen. The newly rich are displacing the traditional dwellers: “Now / oyster fishermen’s huts have given way to tents, and you know they will not be here long.”

Bio: Steven Schroeder is the co-founder, with composer Clarice Assad, of the Virtual Artists Collective (a “virtual” gathering of musicians, poets, and visual artists) that has published five poetry collections each year since it began in 2004. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in After Hours, Concho River Review, the Cresset, Druskininkai Poetic Fall 2005, Macao Closer, Mid-America Poetry Review, Poetry East, Poetry Macao, Rhino, Shichao, Sichuan Literature, Texas Review, TriQuarterly, Wichita Falls Literature & Art Review, and other literary journals. He has published two chapbooks, Theory of Cats and Revolutionary Patience, and five full-length collections, Fallen Prose, The Imperfection of the Eye, Six Stops South (reviewed in Cha), A Dim Sum of the Day Before, and (with Debby Sou Vai Keng) A Guest Giving way Like Ice Melting: Thirteen Ways of Looking at Laozi. He teaches at the University of Chicago in Asian Classics and the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults.

Essays by Children’s Picture Book Authors

Clockwise from the top left:
Sarah Brennan,
Adeline Foo, Margaret Lim and Emily Lim.

In the September 2010 issue of Cha, we will be publishing essays by four children’s picture book authors: Sarah Brennan, Adeline Foo, Emily Lim and Margaret Lim. These essays are curated by our Reviews Editor, Eddie Tay, who is a professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, teaching poetry and children’s literature in the English Department.

Meet David William Hill

David William Hill’s “Stone Fruit”, which will be published in the September 2010 issue of Cha, is a beautiful prose poem. Although short, it provides the reader with a powerful sense of time and place. We read it again and again, allowing the protagonist’s memory to linger in our mind, like the hot summer days it describes. David tells us about the story behind the piece :

“Stone Fruit” is one of several brief stories I’ve written in which the focus is on work, on manual labor. I’m interested in the physical experience of that work, the impact of work on the body, how the work we do can literally shape us. Our bodies conform to the work, especially after so many years. I’m interested in the particular aspects of one kind of work versus another, not simply in the idea that manual labor is difficult, that it wears people down. I want to explore aspects of setting and how that impacts the body’s experience of work. The characters in “Stone Fruit” spend long summer days in the sun, and their bodies, their hands and faces, reveal this in deep tans and deep wrinkles. I have another brief story that is set in a bleach factory. That environment has a very different impact on the bodies of the people who work there. Our work affects our attitudes, our thoughts and behaviors, which in turn affects the stories we tell with words. But our bodies tell stories, too, wordless stories. I’m interested in this paradox of using language to explore these wordless stories, to explore, particularly in relation to its labor, what the body knows, and what it can tell us, if we only pay close enough attention.

Bio: David William Hill was an interviewer and assistant editor for the groundbreaking oral history book, Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives (McSweeney’s, 2008). His fiction has appeared in several journals, including Cimarron Review, Watchword, and Hobart Online, and his story, “Lucky Photo”, is included in the inaugural exhibition of Invisible City Audio Tours in Oakland, CA. He holds an MFA from San Francisco State University and is a co-founding member of The Flat Earth Collective, whose primary focus is to bridge connections, through readings and other endeavours, among diverse writers and artists, far and wide. He has taught writing courses at San Francisco State and The Academy of Art, San Francisco, and he is also a special education teacher. He now lives in Hong Kong.

Meet Elizabeth Weinberg

Elizabeth Weinberg’s beautifully written and observed “The Earth that Stands Before Us” is one of the three short stories featured in the forthcoming issue of Cha. The three-part piece, which is a story of handing on tradition to a younger generation, movingly portrays the sorrow of an old master’s career at an end.
Bio: Elizabeth Weinberg is a native of the Washington, DC area who spent much of her childhood traveling the world. She is currently pursuing her B.A. in anthropology at Williams College in Massachusetts, where she is the editor of two literary magazines, The Williams Literary Review and Monkeys with Typewriters. In 2009, she spent four months living and studying in Bali, Indonesia, where she had the opportunity to apprentice with mask-masker Ida Bagus Anom and write a collection of stories about her experiences. After finishing her degree, she plans to pursue writing fiction full-time.

Meet Alvin Pang

Earlier, we unveiled the beautiful cover of our September 2010 issue here. Apart from “Wall in Namdaemun Market, Seoul”, we will also be publishing four other photographs (three from Singapore and one from China) by Alvin, whose poems were published in the second issue (February 2008) of Cha. When discussing a possible title for this group of pictures, Alvin mentioned “copy.paste” (and later, “copy.paste.cut”), “e pluribus unum” and “sama sama” because ‘the images all seem to have to do with repetition, or an assemblage of similar but not identical units’. In the end, however, we chose “We Belong Together” as the title. Alvin wrote: ‘it evokes the idea of a set/collection/family of units. Call me sentimental!’ Our response was: ‘Don’t you know – Cha is overall quite sentimental ….’
Bio: Alvin Pang is a lifelong image junkie and trafficker, but usually smuggles them through poems. A poet, writer, editor (and occasional photographer) based in Singapore, he has appeared in major festivals, anthologies and media around the world. A Fellow of the University of Iowa International Writing Program (2002), he was Young Artist of the Year (Literature) in 2005, and snagged the Singapore Youth Award (Arts and Culture) in 2007. His latest books include City of Rain (Poems, Ethos Books), and TUMASIK: Contemporary Writing from Singapore (Autumn Hill Books: USA 2009). He’s a Canon loyalist but has recently flirted with iPhonography. He has always needed glasses.

Meet Shirley Lee

‘Potent references’ was the comment guest editor Royston Tester gave to Shirley Lee’s poem “Letter to a Prominent Korean Man And to You”, which will be published in the September 2010 issue of Cha. Royston was right: potent references indeed. Shirley’s poem is a heroic and (unfortunately) timely and necessary assertion of the right of all humans to all of our heritage. She claims Homer and Virgil for Korea, and so probably acknowledges everyone’s right to the Samguk Yusa. (qtd. Reid Mitchell).
Bio: Shirley Lee, composer and recording engineer, is currently reading for a degree in Classics and Persian at Oxford. She has read at Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival, and has had her poetry published in various journals and anthologies. She edited “A Visual Collective Biography of the Former Korean ‘Comfort Women’”, published in the summer 2008 issue of the Asia Literary Review.

Meet Rumjhum Biswas

In Rumjhum Biswas’s poem “Bones”, which will be published in the September 2010 issue of Cha, the persona tells us about her mother’s small bones — ‘still warm and sticky / from [her] smoldering pyre’. This is, then, a poem about death, or the aftermath of death, and yet the language in the piece is calm, controlled and precise: every word is heavy, as if the words are small bones, each carefully picked. In the final stanzas, the persona says she ‘made sure’ that the pot containing her mother’s bones ‘sank deep’ and ‘receded far into the waters’. Did the persona want to protect the earthly remains of her mother, which were never intended for anyone to see? Did the wish to have the parent’s remnants far away from her suggest some concealed parent-child tension? Or, is ‘the waters’ a metaphor for the persona’s emotion? The waters, however calm on the surface, hide violent turbulence beneath.

:::: Also read Bob Bradshaw’s analysis of the poem here.:::::

Bio: Rumjhum Biswas has been published in India and abroad in both online and print journals and anthologies. She has won prizes in poetry contests in India and one of her poems was long listed for the Bridport Poetry Prize 2006, while “March” was commended in the Writelinks’ Spring Fever Competition, 2008. Also, her story “Ahalya’s Valhalla” was among Story South’s Million Writers’ notable stories of 2007. Biswas was a participating poet in the 2008 Prakriti Foundation Poetry Festival in Chennai and a featured poet during the Poetry Slam organized jointly by the US Consul General, Chennai and The Prakriti Foundation in December 2009. She continues to write full time and blogs mainly here.