Deeds of Light by Tse Hao Guang
53 pages – BooksActually
The book begins quoting Goethe, “Colours are the deeds of light, its deeds and sufferings” from the Theory of Colours. Little did Goethe know that his theory, albeit initially rejected by the scientific community, would be received so well by the intellectual cohort of philosophers and physicists across the world including the young Singaporean poet, author of the Deeds of Light, Tse Hao Guang.
Careful: step out into the not-quite-street.
It could be a swamp, and sunk boar, pushed
roots into the air, and stank, and free
from old purposes still it tries to take
you in. This parking lot is where the gash
of a hill once stood. Breathe slow. Speak
The book, Deeds of Light, is a brave confrontation of the 21st century, of a world that is still battling with colour biases. The cover of the book—with its strokes of yellow gradually fading—enhances the philosophic precision of its content. The poems are fragments of daily life. They are like several slices of a movie, not stitched in whole, in episodes, not in a sequence. The poems here are like splinters, acrid and pithy. At a subterranean level, each poem is a home seeded deep inside bodies battling within narrowing urban spaces, their identities their belongings. Tse Hao Guang offers us the pleasure of being with the self yet journeying through experiences of startle and struggle at the same time.
The book is indeed a surprise–well written and aesthetically assembled. Sometimes, it is a cage with All the Sounds of Mynahs and sometimes it is about a web of Hedge Fund Managers. In “Gongs, Alarms,” the speaker’s confidence is noteworthy as he lists the various identities he hails from including this self attestation: “…I am from the are you from China”
There’s serendipity when “a lunar eclipse/ occurs when the earth comes between two familiar/ celestial bodies.” “While You Were Sleeping” echoes what had befallen Sandra Bullock in the film Serendipity; that when the air is still, loneliness builds up like an anthill. It is then when “A fire/ chills the grass, the tree, and air/ assumes the nonchalance of a door.”
Could there be any subtler way of highlighting patience as the cause of grief in the heart of a reluctant lover watching his lady taking the elevator in various shades and belongings “at 7.25 a.m. each day except/weekends”? And at the end, such patience consummates the collection with an almost prologue:
tall tree in the ear,
garden of face—
when you burst this brittle
pot, will I, now broken,
learn how to listen,
lie face down,
bury my head in the richest
earth, and, mouth
full, go praising
This deed testifies a better view of hills from the poem “Seven Thousand,” or the knowledge of mid-autumn when “breeze turns against the grass to flick/ crickets from their hiding.” This fresh crop of Asian poetry by the young Tse Hao Guang deserves recognition for freeing language from its own limitations by sketching its proximity to love, light and loneliness. This is surely my recommendation if one is losing count of the multiplicity of the self in this fast faced, post-post industrial eminently urban world.
Linda Ashok lives in Hyderabad, India. She’s probably a poet and mostly a reviewer. She manages RædLeaf Foundation for Poetry & Allied Arts. For literary credits, Google is the best option. Linda tweets at @thebluelimit.