(Carcanet Poetry, 2023); pbk. £12.99
Kit Fan’s new collection is one that delves into the power of writing, on both the individual and collective level. Its conversation between suffering and healing is made ever more brilliant by Fan’s eloquence and linguistic dexterity. Drawing from life and lived history, the poems shift and change, touch upon love and suffering, running like the ink he so eloquently describes, until finally the collection matches the untitled opening piece, a story from a teacher.
Wang made many mistakes
and had to wash his brush
thousands of times. Day after day,
month after month, the pond
darkened and darkened.
It became an ink pond.
Would he have seen himself
in the ink-surface that had turned into
Fan’s writing is reflective, a point made succinctly in ‘Suddenly’, where his past emerges through its fragments: childhood illness, a period of silence for when ‘he had nothing to say’, before he ‘discovered’ ‘the Book of Not’, existential questionings and his love of literature. The writing flickers with his life, each fragment an exploration of memory, with each journey expanded upon in the subsequent poems that follow.
Fan’s relationship with writing emerges in ‘The Art of Reading after André Kertész’. It depicts his deep love for the world of words, whether it be stealing books from Paris, or recalling how ‘in a library [he] would be rich like a king’. Writing becomes core to his identity, even his sexuality is tied to it, as when he leaned near ‘a black man [he] fell in love with as he was reading Balzac’. For Fan, literature is life.
While Fan certainly moves towards writing, ‘a malleable thing called literature’, he always draws upon his Hong Kong origins, rendering that conflicted relationship first introduced within ‘Suddenly.’ The collection’s second part, ‘Hong Kong, China’, continues this exploration. ‘Raw Materials’ and ‘2047: A Hong Kong Space Odyssey’ both show the restrictive and malign presence of the government, whether it be how,
another man is
heard and charged. A
Or as in ‘2047: A Hong Kong Space Odyssey’, the ‘army of red dots watching and listening’ hints at what it will be to live In Hong Kong’s future. However its choked future existence recalls the present, marking it, as Fan himself observes, ‘emerg[ing] in the interstices between fact and imagination.’ ‘How to be a fern’ emphasises Fan’s loss, the fact he can never return, to that ‘city I loved whose name I’ve erased’ for the hurt inflicted on him. In literature there is life and freedom, whereas in Hong Kong, he ‘opened [his] heart and the wind tore it apart.’
Wind was never a city
Except when it drained the blood,
Stuffed silences like cotton wool
into my ears, eyes nose, asshole,
mouth and preserved what was left in me in mud[.]
‘Epidaurus’ embodies the collection; its fragmented structure tells of his prolonged inner dialogue [with?], and making plain how for Fan, it’s never really over.
Some nights, separated from the sea, my eyes open like a gate
without my brain in it.
and the ink floods in through the sockets, dilating the pupils
while I wait
[…] the lines are abducted; so no reunion, no embrace,
nothing left but white bones[.]
Yet, his earnest desire to recover, to move on, becomes apparent; life-giving water turns into his beloved ink.
As if the sun, the sight of sea squills, the scent of pine, wild sage and oregano
alone could heal
our first and last loves, the shattered ice, burning hills, lost people of Yemen and Rakhine –
but I’m wading in, catching the spring water with my mouth,
and taking my share of every single moment.