This Women’s History Month, Hive Life has compiled a list of poems by seven women writers from the Asia-Pacific region to celebrate their contributions to the creative realm.
The women writers on this list have contributed to their cultural Zeitgeist by creating works of poetry that define their personal experiences of womanhood, culture, sexuality, discrimination, and so much more. We are celebrating the poems written by these powerful women this Women’s History Month, and every month of the year.
“the summer critter speaks not of frost 夏蟲不可語冰” – Rachel Ka Yin Leung
do not trespass with perhaps/ do not ponder why the brief critter sheds its days like that/ that
summer is more of a reprieve than trapping home/ that it will try and try and not find the word
for frost/ that it does not know at all that the world can stay colder than fire/ which is torrid/ that
you can even drown in the intolerable light/ in its dreams white is a figment/ & melting is but a
tributary of perishable air/ i will be lost/ i will be impossible/ spent like an envelope singing my
eyes shut/ always forgetting/ always/ this duet a starved type of blue
Rachel Ka Yin Leung is a poet, writer, and editor from Hong Kong. The poem above was awarded the Sir Roger Newdigate prize, which awards undergraduate students at Oxford University for best composition in English verse under 300 words. Alice Oswald, Professor of Poetry at Oxford, described the poem as “a strange, concise, breathless poem based on a Chinese saying” – a common attribute of Rachel’s work. Her debut pamphlet is called chengyu: chinoiserie, and features themes of coming-of-age, young love, and interpretations of Chinese idioms, representing her roots.
A kiss is not an invasion. It is not merely
an exploration. Some of the good kisses
I remember happened before you.
They were tall and dark and most of them,
handsome. Some knew a kiss was not a waltz
in the mouth, not a hungry, ravishing jaw
waiting to devour you up. Some taught me that a kiss
is not a test. It cannot patch up the leak in your heart.
Kissing you made me feel like I was a planet
orbiting around your anabolic warmth.
No string of gravity to hold me down
but falling always, towards the dark
of your opium tongue.
Pooja Nansi is a Singaporean poet, educator, and director of the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF). She believes in the power of speech and how performances contribute to the written word. She has published three collections of poetry, titled Stiletto Scars, Love is an Empty Barstool, and We Make Spaces Divine. She is an advocate for young and emerging poets, and raises up minority voices.
“Woman Knitting” – Ý Nhi
In the chill afternoon
a woman sits by a window, knitting.
She seems so patient and so anxious.
Patient, for she has the rest of her life.
Anxious, for these may be her last moments.
Is it grief she hides,
Is she filled with hope,
She never looks up.
Does she look back to first meeting,
or to last parting?
Does her knitting hide sorrow or joy?
Or is it hope or worry in her eyes?
In the chill afternoon
a woman sits by a window, knitting.
Under her feet,
a roll of wool, a coiled blue globe,
slowly unravels its circles.
Ý Nhi is a Vietnamese poet from Quang Nam Province, where she was born in 1944. She studied literature at Hanoi University, and went on to publish ten collections of poetry. She won the National Book of the Year Award in 1984. Her works have been associated with the Vietnam war period, but she has since become better known as a postwar poet, exploring the theme of womanhood in Vietnam. Her poetry is characterised by motifs of loneliness and loss.
“Not a Parting” – Xi Murong
Not to meet is not necessarily a parting
Not to hear is not
Necessarily to forget.
Simply because your sorrow has mingled with mine
As evenly as the way moonlight has blended into
the hills. And whenever
The night feels as cold as water, it touches my old
Xi Murong is a Taiwanese poet and painter of Mongolian descent, born in Sichuan Province in 1943. Her family moved first to Hong Kong, and then ultimately to Taiwan, where she studied Fine Arts in Taipei, and Oil Painting in Brussels. She is most known for her poetry, however. She gained immense popularity in Taiwan after publishing her first collection of poetry, Seven Miles of Fragrance.
“The defiance of a flower” – Chiranan Pitpreecha
Woman has two hands
To seize tight the essence of life
The twisted sinews are torn by work
Not by preening with glittering silks.
Woman has two feet
To climb toward her dreams,
To stand together, firm
Not to feed from the labour of others.
Woman has eyes
To search for a new life
To look far across the earth
Not to cast amorous glances in flirtation.
Woman a heart,
A constant flame
Building force, creating a mass,
For she, she is a person.
Woman has a life
To wipe away the traces of wrong with reason
She has value as a free person
Not as a servant of lust.
A flower has sharp thorns
Not bursting into bloom for an admirer
She blossoms to raise
The glory of the earth.
Chiranan Pitpreecha was born in 1955 in the Trang Province of Thailand. She was once a member of the Communist Party of Thailand, which imbued her works with messages of social reform. She was a student activist and feminist, which can also be read in her poems. Her works have been translated into several languages and in 2011, she was named one of the 65 most influential women in Thailand.
“Labor Pains” – Yosano Akiko
I am sick today,
sick in my body,
eyes wide open, silent,
I lie on the bed of childbirth.
Why do I, so used to the nearness of death,
to pain and blood and screaming,
now uncontrollably tremble with dread?
A nice young doctor tried to comfort me,
and talked about the joy of giving birth.
Since I know better than he about this matter,
what good purpose can his prattle serve?
Knowledge is not reality.
Experience belongs to the past.
Let those who lack immediacy be silent.
Let observers be content to observe.
I am all alone,
totally, utterly, entirely on my own,
gnawing my lips, holding my body rigid,
waiting on inexorable fate.
There is only one truth.
I shall give birth to a child,
truth driving outward from my inwardness.
Neither good nor bad; real, no sham about it.
With the first labor pains,
suddenly the sun goes pale.
The indifferent world goes strangely calm.
I am alone.
It is alone I am.
Yosano Akiko was a Japanese poet born in 1878 near Osaka. Her work explores themes of eroticism and emotional explicitness. Midaregami (Tangled Hair, 1901), her first collection of poetry, created waves due to its frankness in depicting female sexuality, passion, and spirituality. Her poems are written in tanka form, but defy convention by combining the religious and spiritual with the sexual and sensual.
“Black Deaths In Custody” – Ali Cobby Eckerman
despite the cost a new gaol has been built
it seems the incarceration rates are trebling
I only came here in the role
of a Deaths In Custody inspector
all the cells are stark and spotless
blank screens watch from the corner
the offices have the highest technology
the faces of the staff still look the same
when I walk down this wing and peer
into this filthy room the door closes behind me
the feeling in my heart is changing
from a proud strength of duty to fear
all the stories I have ever heard
stand silent in the space beside me —
a coil of rope is being pushed
under the door of this cell
Ali Cobby Eckerman is a Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal poet who has published seven books, including a verse novel, poetry collections, and a memoir. In 2017, she was awarded Yale University’s Windham Campbell Prize in Poetry. The above poem reckons with the treatment of Aboriginal people who have died in custody, with no repercussions for police officers involved.
Are you interested in getting involved with APAC’s poetry community? The Hive Hong Kong is hosting an online poetry slam in honour of World Poetry Day, Lockdown Lyricism: A Night of Poetry, on March 31st 2022, in collaboration with the city’s English language open mic, Peel Street Poetry. Five of Hong Kong’s best poetic voices will be performing their recent works and guiding a discussion about creativity during the pandemic. Registration details can be found here.
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