An Insightful Book Launch

Written by Hui Chien Ngoi

It was a surprise to find a Carcanet Newsletter in my mailbox. I was even more surprised when I found out that it was forwarded to me by Dr Ian Fairley, a tutor who taught me in Semesters 1 and 2. Dr Fairley specially recommended the book Moving House by Theophilus Kwek. I was pleased to know that my tutor remembered my passion for both Anglophone and Sinophone literatures, including poetry. Out of my interest, I decided to attend the book launch for Moving House which was held on 28 June 2020 at 2 pm. The session was also joined by Mary Jean Chan, a celebrated poet and critic. In this blog post, instead of writing the book review, I will be sharing my opinion on the overview of the collection as introduced during the book launch.

Moving House is the first UK collection of Theophilus Kwek, who is a writer, editor, and translator from Singapore. From the colonial era till the present, the topics of Kwek’s poems are set against the background of important historical and political events. Of the few poems read by Kwek, his inspiration includes Pyongyang, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the incident in which 3rd Sergeant Gavin Chan was killed in peacetime training, and so on. The emphasis on factual incidents are interwoven with Kwek’s acute understanding as shown in the poems. With respect to his choice of focus, Kwek states that, on the one hand, poetry can be considered historical when it depicts the historical moments. On the other hand, poetry also constantly transcends its historical framing when it is presented to the reader. I agree with Kwek’s conception which captures the tension between historicity and contemporaneity of poetry. In fact, it is plausible to argue that we can never record the present in words. What we write is always our reflection of what has already happened. The so-called ‘present’ in literature can only be the reinspection of the past events. Even the ‘reinspection’ also resists stability of meaning as we develop new insights as time passes by. Therefore, a historical event will not lose its contemporaneity when it is relived in literature.

I like how Kwek’s poems illustrate the sceneries from different geographical locations. As a Singaporean Chinese who studied at Oxford, Kwek’s poems record his experiences in both sides of the earth. In this regard, poetry serves as a repository of memories and emotions, the beauty of which is captured by the title Moving House. It reminds me of Moving Worlds, a journal of transcultural writings published by the University of Leeds and Nanyang Technological University. Both publications use literature to promote a global understanding unrestricted by geographical boundaries. I was also attracted by the cover of Moving House with two tortoises. Our cultures are like the shells that we carry wherever we go. Some may regard them as burdens, but I think they also serve as our shelters which protect us from the cultural attacks. This is because the cultural shells will slow us down, thus giving us more time to integrate ourselves with the new cultures. Most importantly, the shells we carry will remind us of our identities which will make us the irreplaceable ones in this crowded world.

The book launch was an insightful session. The selection of poems read by Kwek intrigued my literary curiosity, so I bought the book online with a discount from the ticket purchased. It is really exciting to hold the paperback in my hands now. As a Malaysian Chinese studying English literature at Leeds, I look forward to discovering Kwek’s experiences in his marvellous collection. It is important to note that, instead of being confined to the realm of British and American literatures, English literature is an anglophone art form which can be produced by anyone who masters the language. In other words, the study of literature involves not just the ability to appreciate the linguistic aesthetics, but also cultural elements embedded within the imaginative space.

Indeed, in this globalised age, how shall we define ‘house’? How can a ‘house’ move across the expanding map in our history? I shall look for enlightenment from Theophilus Kwek’s Moving House.

Author

Hui Chien Ngoi
I am Ngoi Hui Chien, a Malaysian currently pursuing the MA English Literature at the University of Leeds. I was a pure science student from upper secondary at SMJK Shing...
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