Shawn Hoo is the author of Of the Florids (Diode Editions, 2022), winner of the 2021 Diode Editions Chapbook Prize. His poetry has been anthologised in New Singapore Poetries (Gaudy Boy, 2022) and Exhale: An Anthology of Queer Singapore Voices (Math Paper Press, 2021) and published in New Delta Review, Queer Southeast Asia, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine and elsewhere. His Mandarin Chinese to English translations have been published in Journal of Practice, Research and Tangential Activities (PR&TA) and Exchanges: Journal of Literary Translation. He is Translation Tuesdays Editor at Asymptote. Shawn is born and based in Singapore.
Of the Florids (Diode Editions, 2022)
Winner of the 2021 Diode Editions Chapbook Prize Runner-up of the 2021 Tupelo Press Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize
“If poetry be that sly accomplice to taxonomy, its fall guy, its wingman, its muse, then what a bird of a book Of the Florids is—meaning it makes a ruckus, ruffles our feathers, and unlocks the cage that is language so that we might be set free. What a wild, worldly, ravishing collection this is!”
Lawrence Lacambra Ypil
Of the Florids begins with an inability to speak of the natural world in the urban fortress of Singapore; a tropical island’s fading romanticism for a city boy. Unrooting the lyricism of an archive that sprawls across natural history drawings ordered by British colonists, wartime reports on animals in Japan, queer myths of the Rabbit God and the miracles of modern landscaping—the book teems with its own polyphonic, multispecies world where place can once again be enchanted. The map of the Florids start to materialise and grow like a defiant root system: even as it feeds on the soil of history, it too speculates and twists according to its own ebullient, baroque music.
“Hoo drops language into the caldron of natural history, causing it to overflow into complicit etymologies and complex heredities. With close, yet inventive, attention to the animal, insect, and plant life of his home, Singapore, and its surrounding Southeast Asia, all always at the mercy of the human, Hoo turns natural history inside-out to reveal its entirely human construction. Focused on the intersection of history and ecology, this compelling work acts as a call to responsibility.”
“Shawn Hoo’s Of the Florids showcases the interception of hyperactive language and concepts. These ambitious poems are like a turnstile that refuses to remain still. History, the body, cultures, the pastoral, the urban: poems in this collection glitter and make their mark in these thematic trajectories. ‘The florids are the sparring grounds of rootless epics,’ as Hoo’s words turn into futuristic architectures erecting in a challenging reality no one quite knows how has come into being.”
“In this sequence of erudite and startlingly lucid poems, Shawn Hoo asks us to behold the gulf between knowledge systems and the slipperiness of visual representations and mental events. He presents scenes from the writing of natural history in archipelagic Southeast Asia, opening them up on the bench, as it were, to examine the vital organs of language, memory, power, and desire, still very much alive within them. It seems to me that each poem operates like a small machine whittling down the raw material of history into something like a razor. But the effect is not one of reduction or spareness. Hoo’s thematizations of nonhuman life—indeed, that which is unseen and speculated upon—sparkle like new instruments for inquiry and imagination. I felt transformed, after encountering the referentiality and mystery of this set of poems, into a kind of early-modern florilegium, upon which the wisdom of multiple botanical, aqueous, and geological realms have been impressed.”
As Translation Tuesdays Editor at the award-winning journal for literary translation, Asymptote, I have maintained the weekly showcase since May 2021 by curating, editing, and introducing translations of fiction and poetry from more than 35 languages at the time of writing. From the verses of former poet laureate of the Dominican Republic, Pedro Mir (tr. Jonathan Cohen) to Jabuti Prize-winning Carla Bessa (tr. Elton Uliana), from best-selling poets like Park Joon (tr. Youngseo Lee) to less translated writers such as the Turkish writer Halid Ziya Uşaklıgil (tr. Daniel Koehler), the column is an exciting window into the gems of world literature.
Lao She. Excerpts from Little Po’s Birthday (1930). 《小坡的生日》老舍 Journal of Practice, Research, and Tangential Activities (2021)
“Mother has always said that she and Father came from China, that the man who watches our storefront is from India—isn’t that just nonsensical? The map of Singapore clearly does not have a China or an India!”
Wong Koi Tet. Turtle Fever (2003). 《鳖瘟》 黄凯德 Exchanges: Journal of Literary Translation (Spring 2022)
“What started out as a few piglets falling sick soon blew up into an outbreak of swine fever. These things flared up once every decade or so, according to the grown-ups who, despite their unreliable memory, seemed to recall these epidemics quite vividly. They understood that such events were a display of heaven’s strength, a way to remind everyone of a universal principle that could only be pieced together or deduced in its aftermath.”
Queer Takes on Southeast Asia and Interview with Chiang Wei Liang in Youth Meets Film (Singapore International Film Festival)
Editorial Team (Writer) for Singapore International Film Festival Programme Booklet 2020 and 2021
Inkwell Presents: Pride Around the World(ft. Aiden Heung, Andrew McMillan, Patrick Schiefen, Sherry Heung, Shawn Hoo) 7:30pm, 30 June 2022 (Thurs), Online [Link here]
The Archive as Poetic Material | A Workshop with Shawn Hoo 3:00–5:00pm, 23 July 2022 (Sat), Sing Lit Station [Register here]
Poetry from the Archives | A Reading with Daryl Lim, Shawn Hoo and Mok Zining 5:30–6:30pm, 23 July 2022 (Sat), Sing Lit Station [Register here]
More events soon!
Spoke & Bird #54: Shawn Hoo, Jollin Tan & Laili Abdeen 7:00–9:00pm, 22 June 2022 (Wed), The Hive [Tickets here]
If you wish to review, feature, or teach my work, please feel free to send me a message and I will respond as soon as I am available.
I also welcome queries on reviewing new titles (especially poetry and literature in translation), editorial guidance, creative writing workshops, and any kinds of creative and critical writing commissions or collaborations.
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