At the 28th Lambda Literary Awards earlier this year, Nicholas Wong walked away with a top-place finish in the Gay Poetry category of this important international LGBT literary prize. Born and educated in Hong Kong, Wong chose to write poetry in English—a second language he would rather consider “alternative native.” The innovative space between linguistic familiarity and alienation is Wong’s poetic playground, and the award-winning collection Crevasse, slim as it is, touches upon a wide range of topics from love, the body, and desire to post-colonialism, identity, and the social implications of writing about selfhood. Asymptote’s Hong Kong Editor-at-Large, Charlie Ng, conversed with the poet over email about themes in Crevasse, the significance of the Hong Kong context, translation, what’s next, and more.
Charlie Ng (CN): Crevasse begins with a quotation from Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. The philosopher sees the body as expression and vice versa; together they form the horizon connecting the self to the world. Your poetry explores much about embodiment and language.
“Use a pen to write on the body,/then use the body to unbind/the heart. Roll the heart over a few pages of grammar”—“Trio With Hsia Yü”
“The porn star died the day the Yew dropped,/lots of iku/kimochi/kinky chin chin and noun-and-verb confusion between his legs.”—“Star Gazing”
“Body as a verb in/-transitive in/transit from one/arm to an/other”—“Light Deposit”)
How do you understand the relationship between language and the body? How would you describe the interplay of the two in your poetry?
Nicholas Wong (NW): Some poems in Crevasse are concerned with what the body (hence desire and sexuality) means to me both as a gay man and a gay poet. Hasn’t the body become a new language for most gay men? Look at the boom of gym culture, especially in Asia, in the past few years. A new sense of the aesthetics of the body and the way it is presented has been taking shape on different social apps. And if we do speak more with the body (parts) than we do verbally, how are we going to translate this transition into creative language? What does the body require to be “embodied?” The body is always the most immediate plane of loneliness—at least this was what I believed in when I was putting poems together for Crevasse. Among the examples you cited, I particularly like the poem “Star Gazing,” which was written to pay tribute to the late Japanese porn star Masaki Goh. I wanted to know how old he was when he passed, but the Internet had no information about it. It was very sad. His body has been fantasized, filmed and desired, but there was no official source that confirmed its origin. This trouble always opens up a creative realm.