The World’s Wife

The partner bought me Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife in 2009. The collection features works ostensibly narrated by the wives of well-known historical and fictional men, famous men reimagined as women, or women who were well-known in their own right.
Some of the subjects include Mrs Midas, Mrs Aesop, Mrs Darwin, Mrs Faust, Anne Hathaway, Queen Kong, Pygmalion’s Bride, Mrs Icarus, Frau Freud, Salome, Eurydice, Penelope, Mrs Beast and Demeter. I found the poems largely amusing but thought one can’t read them all in one sitting or the poems become repetitive and lose their effect. All the same, when the partner once again surprised me with tickets to Linda Marlowe‘s dramatic interpretation of selected poems from the book, I was thrilled.
The reading was at Trafalgar Studios, located predictably enough just off Trafalgar Square. In the theatre, there are two studios and our performance was in the smaller one, a cosy fringe-style venue.
Marlowe turned out to be a potent and versatile performer, able to switch easily from young maiden (e.g. “Little Red Cap”) to cynical wive (e.g. “Mrs Faust”, “Mrs Beast” and “Mrs Darwin”) to emotionally vulnerable  hunchback (“Mrs Quasimodo”) to love-struck ape (“Queen Kong”). For me, her turn as “Mrs Quasimodo”, a hunchback who thought she had found her love in Quasimodo only to discover that he was more attracted to normal-looking women was particularly heart-breaking:
Because it’s better, isn’t it, to be well formed.
better to be slim, be slight,
our slender neck quoted between two thumbs;
and beautiful, with creamy skin,
and tumbling auburn hair,
those devastating eyes;
and have each lovely foot
held in a bigger hand
and kissed;
then be watched till morning as you sleep,
so perfect, vulnerable and young
you hurt his blood.
(from “Mrs Quasimodo”, Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, p. 37)
But the night was not all so serious and many of the selected poems highlighted Duffy’s unique brand of humour. The poem that got the most laughs was “Mrs Faust”, which ends with the lines: “I keep Faust’s secret still — / the clever, cunning, callous bastard / didn’t have a soul to sell” (p. 27).
Of course, much of the power and humour of the night came from the poet’s sharp writing and strong language. Hearing the poems read out loud, I was particularly struck by their rhythm, a reminder that sometimes literature needs to be read out loud to be fully appreciated. I could only imagine what it would have been like to hear Dickens the master perform his work.
On the train back home, I was re-reading the poems, and I could almost hear Marlowe reading them; it was as if she were lending me her voice, and thus giving me an understanding of rhythm that I am not sure I had before. This reminded me that a male poet living in Hong Kong, who I shall not identify except to say that his ego is so big it needs its own chair, told me that my poetry was completely lacking in rhythm. After the evening, I am still not sure if my poetry will scant perfectly, but at least I will be able to read other people’s work with a keener ear.

The performance was on 16 January, 2010.

Gontran wrote: “I know Mrs Darwin’s poem, which is very funny. But it originally comes from another collection, doesn’t it? Do you know Eliana Tomkins’s CD jazz adaptation of Duffy’s collection “Rapture”? You might like it. Here’s the place where you can buy it:
(I’m afraid I’ve never found a place, on the Internet, where you could listen to it… sorry… but maybe you’ll find something).
t wrote: “Dear Gontran, you are great. Yes some of the poems first appeared elsewhere before they were collected in The World’s Wife. I am a big fan of the poem “Mrs Darwin” and the audience absolutely loved it too. I will look at Eliana’s jazz adaptation of the award-winning collection Rapture. I read some poems in it; I should get a copy, actually.”

不想回憶, 未敢忘記

不想回憶, 未敢忘記
we stand on the side of the egg


離 離 原 上 草 ,   一 歲 一 枯 榮 。
野 火 燒 不 盡 ,   春 風 吹 又 生 。

from 草 | 白 居 易


[Click image to enlarge]
“Here we are in old Shanghai. But many of the buildings here have a kind of symbol stamped on them. This means simply one word — DEMOLISH.”


“The massive rebuilding programme ordered by the government authorities requires the residence of Shanghai’s old town to be relocated — by order.”

“These houses may look grim … but they are homes.”

(Image from a BBC documentary in which Andrew Marr looks at five of the world’s biggest megacities. You know them: London, Dhaka, Tokyo, Mexico City and Shanghai.)


Andrew Marr thinks that London is the best world megacity: ‘Tokyo with its Japanese conformity. Shanghai – still under the thumb of Communist bosses. Dhaka – mired in corruption. Mexico City with its exuberant extremes of colour and violence. So here’s the good news: London, the nearest we have to a megacity, has lord knows plenty of problems. It’s got terrible housing, huge inequalities, transport nightmares. But compared to many of its rivals, it does feel more open, more mixed. More of a genuinely *world* city. Sometimes, you have to go pretty far away to realise how lucky you are back home.’

‘Sometimes, you have to go pretty far away to realise how lucky you are back home.’ –This is true for me, too.


My friend took this picture. Be quiet — music is banned.

Kowloon Tong, 9:10am

At this point, the receptionist is late for work already.


7th April, 2007, Mai Po

22-02-2007 (Thu)
最近很喜歡跟一年級學生通電郵, 預備跟他們在這學期談詩, 評theories, 寫故事: 學習不只在廣大課堂, 知識不只幾篇文章藏. 不想把魚白白送給他們, 卻是引導他們手握魚竿善用資源.
有些同學跟我說不敢講英文, 怕不夠動聽. 不講怎會好? ‘Native’也好, 不’native’也好, 世界大同, 你的唇舌不比別人的短: 有信心, 讀對音, 甚麼難得到你? ‘Hong Kong English’難道不是English嗎? 外國人學也學不到!
從前爸爸每一年過新年都會說: ‘年關難過年年過’. 爸爸是百分百粗人, 可間中會說幾句精句. 一轉眼一年真的飛逝, 自己也老了. 今天早上救護車把爸爸送去醫院: 醫生說他血壓比平常人高出一倍; 我當然擔心. 兩個孖妹陪同爸爸左右, 爸爸竟問醫生可否抽一支煙! 剛剛接到爸爸電話, 他興高采烈的說我的彩票又中了三個數目字(己是第四次). 全家上下人人穩守崗位, 努力工作: 在其位, 執其政. 但偶然還是想發大財, 完旅遊讀書退休豪食夢.
07-04-2007 (Sat)
有時我幻想身處黑暗中耐心觀看雀鳥飛翔及蝴蝶糾纏於黃綠紅花間. 現實的我卻是永恆的頭埋書本, 不知天昏地暗或是雨下窗前. 誰說初起步的文人易當?
今晚夜我本可寫最感性的字句, 但心裡總是忐忑不安. 是因為突然的天氣轉變, 是被俄羅斯電影 Solaris 所感動?
期盼於四月十六日星期一午飯時間與 curious 及 intelligent 的一年級生閱讀我最喜歡的英文詩之一: Archibald MacLeish 寫的 “The End of the World” (“世界末日”). 最後的一句實在難忘: ‘Of nothing, nothing, nothing — nothing at all’. 生命真的是如斯灰暗寂寥麼? 我不全認同, 也不全反對.


This post was originally written on 23-06-2007 (Sat) 
這些是從我家窗外拍得的窗照.還記得最初搬進這位於上環荷李活道的小房子時,感覺自己像進駐了驚嚇大師希治閣的電影 Rear Window 《後窗》的片場.但這裡亦同時點綴著一點點東歐的情懷, 因為這些窗讓我記起在波蘭克拉 科夫的短暫住處.我能清楚看到對面各家的一動一靜,卻怕自己的舉動也給全然窺探.日子久了才發覺對家的四口子早己習慣這種坦然的生活方式,只是有時會不覺意的看到我在把弄電視機的開關按鈕或是在書櫃中拿出一本本陳舊的詩集.
最近窗戶對面的其中一間房子搬進了一男一女, 他們可真讓我感到不自在. 男的總愛赤膊的站在窗前假裝整理著曬在窗旁的衣服. 我可不是特意在找不對勁的事宜,只是好幾次我的男朋友看到他時,他便猛然的把頭縮下, 露出烏黑的髮頂.女的也是動不動便把頭探出窗外東張西望, 似乎在密謀些甚麼要緊事.
我住的大厦有五層, 每層有兩個住戶. 我的neighbour是一個法國男人,有個我不能發音的名字.住在一二樓的全是老人家及他們的草根家人,夏天的時候走過他們的樓層都會聞到一陣異味.老人是這樣子的了.或許他們夏天都不會使用冷氣機,只會任由汗在流, 說他們環保也可以.其中一家的婆婆常會帶孫兒在街上吃白飯.她捧著白飯的雙手滿是深深的歲月印記.我老是跟自己說要把這情境寫進詩裡.
八月當我不在香港的時候, ‘包租婆’ 會給我的天台來個大翻新.這種唐樓真的需要不時維修! 聽傳聞說這一區域可能會給政府收買重建.千萬不要! 難道香港這小城市就容不下一點點的舊港風貌麼?