Fanling in October, Pui Ying Wong


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In brilliant and wise poems of lyric beauty, Pui Ying Wong refreshes and breathes life into the belief that “the personal is political.” Each close observation of the everyday in these poems, she infuses with her rare knowledgeable empathy in relation to the world’s tragic colonialisms, human displacements, cultural erasures, and historical upheavals. Like no other poet I have ever read, Wong masterfully juggles the magnitude of the paradox of living, lifting, as she says, “the clay of memory / into the clay of these lines.” This book is a kiln remarkably transforming reality into truths.
— Yerra Sugarman

The poems of Fanling in October by the brilliant metaphorist Pui Ying Wong sneak up on you. Her comparisons turn like tiny keys to open vast centuries where “days stretch like nylon socks.” Wong evokes vivid scenes from the past— all the while acknowledging the impossibility of recapturing the very moments she so movingly recreates. As time obliterates Fanling, a neighborhood of Hong Kong, “the red of an empire spreads like jam/over every street.” Yet Pui Ying Wong’s poems accordion out to North America, her lines those of a warmly intelligent person talking to herself—but not minding if she’s overheard. The gorgeous poems of Fanling in October belong in your pocket as you walk and think—thinking all the more deeply because you’re reading Pui Ying Wong.
— Molly Peacock

Pui Ying Wong is a master of the startling metaphor. “Poets gather moments like puddles gather rain”; “the river’s refusal to change course”; “cranes surround it like a team of surgeons”; and many more. What wonderful craft! This singular quality makes her poems miracles of surprise and beauty. But Pui Ying Wong also brings to the reader quiet, compelling insights into life and the world, and command of a virtually lost art: how to end a poem in a way that its last twist is also a new beginning. Reader, read Fanling in October and any concept you have had of the limitations of poetry in our time will vanish.
—Lee Slonimsky

Hotel Peninsula

         Salisbury Road, Hong Kong

I know this place since childhood,
a baroque building with fancy boutiques
and an elegant café.

The fountain is the center piece,
a fleet of Rolls Royces
the backdrop.

It stands while the British
come and go.

It once housed Japanese occupiers
like Nazis in Paris did with The Ritz.

Nixon stayed here. So did Tom Cruise.

It faces the harbor named after an English Queen.
Sparkling hills and neon remind everyone
that the city was made by grit and money.

When an ocean liner comes in,
opulent like the Hall of Mirrors,
crowds rush to see it.

I find myself here after many years,
spotting the hotel from the ferry deck
and know

I have no use for its quaintness—
high tea and hush talks.

I miss the sampans,
their toughened, stitched-over sails,
their generations on board.

A grandmother might be at the steer,
a girl might be doing homework,
a way of life that would soon be gone
like a lost net.

I loved afternoons on the promenade
after escaping the stifling classroom,
my rebellion against rote learning, dead classics,
instructions given in a language not my own.

Some nights I watched ships
leaving the harbor and the future
grew in me like a sail.

I go after it. The sea is open.


Pui Ying Wong is the author of three full-length books of poetry, The Feast, An Emigrant’s Winter and Yellow Plum Season, along with two chapbooks, Mementos and Sonnet for a New Country. She has received a Pushcart Prize. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Plume, Prairie Schooner, The Southampton Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, among many others. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband, the poet Tim Suermondt.