Spanning five decades, Wong May’s startlingly original poetry gleams with wit; her delicate but acute irony balances its lucid seriousness with a fizzing verbal lightness.
Wong May’s poems exhilarate and excoriate, each precisely chosen word arriving as a surprise on the white space of the page. Her four collections—Picasso’s Tears (2014), Superstitions (1978), Reports (1972), and A Bad Girl’s Book of Animals (1969)—reveal a mind at brilliant and unceasing work: engaged with history, dismissive of patriarchal pieties, plainly sensual, and darkly funny. Born in China, raised in Singapore, educated in the United States, and now living in Ireland, Wong May has a transnationalist vision, her reference points ranging from Li Qingzhao to the English Romantics, Simone Weil to Dora Maar, her mother’s imperious deathbed demands for Häagen-Dazs to the “58 Chinese ‘nationals’ [who] breathed / Their last with packed tomatoes / In a sealed van from Zeebrugge to Dover.” In her omnivorous engagement with the world, Wong May fractures the line not just between the personal and the political but between languages, nations, and traditions. Again and again, she writes herself into places where certainty frays. In so doing, she expands our sense of what poetry might be, and do. She recently turned to translating classical Chinese poets. In the Same Light: 200 Tang Poets for Our Century, is published by Carcanet Press and Song Cave; it is the Poetry Book Society Spring 2022 Translation Choice.
This is a complete surprise, & miraculous coming from America! I have gone underground with my poetry for 40 years.WONG MAY