Jennifer Wong’s Goldfish

Jennifer Wong
Jennifer is a Hong Kong-born writer, translator and copywriter currently living in London. She is the author of two poetry collections including Summer Cicadas (2006) and Goldfish (2013) published by Chameleon Press. Her poems have appeared in literary journals including Eyewear, Morning Star, Frogmore Papers, Warwick Review, Orbis, TATE ETC, UCity Review, Cha, QLRS (Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore), Dimsum, One Night Stanzas, Iota, New Writer, Rising, as well as poetry anthologies including Oxfam anthology of Young British Poets by Todd Swift and Kim Lockwood (Cinnamon Press, 2012), World Record: An Anthology edited by Neil Astley and Anna Selby (Bloodaxe Books, 2012), Prairie Schooner – Fusion online journal edited by Kwame Dawes and Agnes Lam (August 2013) and Asian Poetry in English forthcoming from Math Paper Press. She is a regular contributor to Asian Review of Books and Sphinx Reviews.

Jennifer studied English at Oxford and received an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. In 2012, she took part in the Poetry Parnassus festival hosted by Southbank Centre and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. She worked as writer-in-residence at Lingnan University in Hong Kong for Spring 2012, and is an associate board member of the UK literary magazine Magma Poetry.
“From childhood memories, fairy tales, taboos, deep-rooted faiths to translated truths, Jennifer Wong’s dream-like and surreal second collection reveals the changing landscapes of Hong Kong and modern China.”
“‘I know my home is not a country anymore, just a festering colony of the mind’ says the speaker of Jenny Wong’s poem, ‘Gift’. But the colonies of the mind are full of life, of pleasure and melancholy. The modern city of Hong Kong with its crowd of lingerie departments, coffee, Xerox machines and stilettos, merges into the voices of ancient and modern China in a set of fine translations … fleeting images of the world from Mexico to Berlin, where ‘Life is a solo act,/ a casual scooter’. It is a poignant, tender, free-flowing colony we move through, handled with great sharpness and delicacy.”

– George Szirtes
“Jennifer Wong records the colour and detail of the world around her with great precision and delicacy, and reinvents the commonplace as something surreal. The poems are deceptively simple, but yield rewards with each reading, like magic boxes that reveal new treasures and hidden secrets.”

– Tamar Yoseloff
“With her tender, subtle evocations of place and relationships, her work represents a distinctive Hong Kong poetic voice we keep returning to with insight and delight.”
– Prof. David Parker
“Poems written with sensitive delicacy … Jennifer knows the cosmopolitan worlds of urban Hong Kong and London as well as the solitudes of her own heart.”
– Tim Wells
Love in the Time of SARS
We met in the year I looked
rather awful with my braces.
You offered to help me with maths
which became our common excuse.
On weekends we’d go
to Sai Kung, Stanley
or ice skating at Festival Walk,
glad to be on our own.
When my dad fell sick you went
with me to the hospital,
waiting about patiently,
peeling oranges.
For a year or so after you left
for Canada, we kept up with
our letters, but recollections
of what we went through
dwindled, as someone else
held my hand in the cinema,
your IDD calls and MSN messages
reduced to a nearly nothing.
With a pang of nausea I removed
our sticker photo from my cell phone.
He wasn’t as good in hiking or sports,
but he wrote me a song based on Eason’s
‘The Ferris Wheel of Happiness’.
We walked along the waterfront, drinking Vitasoy.
Meanwhile, decrepit buildings
were pulled down like useless teeth
to make way for the new.
For months I listened to news
on the sudden death of birds,
the closure of Mai Po.
Some of our faiths were shaken.
We learned to hide our sorrow,
struggled with late night revisions,
and mulled over choices of university.
Before long the precious years
would pass us by, sooner
than we hoped for or realised.
Paper Stars
A tall jar full
of paper stars,
rainbow coloured.
‘I hope you like them,’ I murmured,
walking in a circle,
feeling the weight
of long origami nights,
rehearsing my line.
On Time
Waiting on the platform
of the JR Yamanote line,
my friend explained,
‘Trains here are seldom late
until someone jumps onto the tracks.’
The afternoon crowd increased.
The digital panel and broadcast
confirmed our suspicion.
Commuters glanced at their watches,
staring blankly at an absolute nothing.
Minutes ago the jumper was with us.
The news column tomorrow would be brief:
name, age, metro line, passengers affected.
Minutes ago the jumper was with us.
Perhaps she already had lunch—
miso ramen or teishoku—perhaps not.
Did she put on any lipstick?
How did she make up her mind
on the station, section of the track?
Someone must be left to deal with
her cell phone and gas bills.
The train finally arrived—
the jumper was with us, she’s out,
we’re in—we filed in one by one,
all the time holding on to our masks
and the metal handrails.
Gobbling Down Auspicious Chinese Dishes
It’s feeding coins into the fruit machine.
It’s a national race, greed, a feast
of all-you-can-eat lucky homonyms.
Say abalone: fat pockets of prosperity.
Say prawn noodles for laughter in the house
and lettuce sounds exactly like money-making.
To maximise profit, try raw fish salad.
Tuck into the whole chicken,
symbol of family unity.
In the new year it’s unimaginable
to skip the most auspicious dish:
dried oysters with black moss
that reek of fantastic news.
As for dessert, help yourself
to ‘smiling sesame balls’
and if all these aren’t enough,
buy a paper windmill from the temple,
give your money to the poor,
wear red underwear, drink pomelo juice.
Embroidering Chinese Pin Cushions
We start with a satin circle,
fill it with wood shaving or cotton,
steady the centre, cut out
six square cloths to make
six little dolls whose hands
almost touch.
Grandma lets me draw their eyes,
their meek smiles. She teaches me
how to braid their hair.
From early evening until midnight
we’d sit, talking as we work,
the kerosene lamp glowing in the dark.
We’d make enough to fill
a red-and-blue tarpaulin bag:
three cents for a cushion. A fortune.
Next day we’d bring our satin work
to the missionary church
where the sisters would teach us songs.
Looking at the stained glass windows
and the brass eagle on the altar, we’d hide
our blistered fingers in jingling pockets.
from Goldfish (Chameleon Press, 2013).
Poems reproduced with the publisher’s permission.
Order Goldfish here, here or here.
Visit Jenny’s website and culture blog.
Visit Chameleon Press.

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