First Reads: Right of the Soil

In Yong Shu Hoong's sixth collection of poetry, Right of the Soil, he contemplates how a person is invariably bound to the land on which he first sets foot. The poems address topics like belongingness and birthright, and also attempts to sharpen Yong’s understanding of his relationship with his homeland. A new sequence of poems then plunges readers into Hell, reimagined as Singapore’s third integrated resort that opens underground in the centennial year of 2065, with its concepts inspired by Haw Par Villa’s main attraction, the 10 Courts of Hell.  

Here are three poems from the collection.

Right of the Soil by Yong Shu Hoong

To be awakened by a scent
is dissimilar to the way
sound, light or movement
interrupts sleep. Sweet spices:
stacte, onycha and galbanum.
Incense: clandestine tentacles.
It is 3am waking/dreaming
in the Garden of Gethsemane,
a diffusion of knowledge.
Of the nearness of nocturnal
flowers. Or prayers in an
olive grove. The interchange
of atmospheres, as the
sprawl of moonlight gets
rescinded by mist ascending.

Meat Joy, 2014
To put it blandly, it is
just lunch.
But armed with a pinch
of salt, I can certainly try
to unlock all the flavours
and serve a fresh perspective.
Take for example, a wedge
of New York City, stuck
in a mall in Hillview where a few
HDB blocks used to stand,
before the entire estate
was roundly erased. After the dust
settled, the new sign proclaims:
Dean & DeLuca. A chain of
upscale grocery stores, first
started in SoHo in 1977.
This is 2014, 11.30am.
I’m having my $18 burger.
The beef is so thick that
well-doneness doesn’t seep into
the patty’s core. I survey
the large plate, and consider how
best to devour the grub.
My mouth isn’t wide enough.
So I pick up the knife
to draw blood by carving
through the meat, reflecting:
How well this red sap
must look, when splattered
across the floor space
of gleaming white marble!
I feel like having a brawl,
the taste of violence upon
the wingtip of my tongue.
But there’s no worthy opponent
here – only nerdy schoolgirls
fretting over homework, and
straight-laced office workers
celebrating Happy Birthday
with a silly cupcake bearing
a desolate candle.
I want to get up
and blow out that flame
wavering for way too long
under someone else’s nose,
but I’m too filled to move.

I don’t dare request
for more hot water to douse
my half-spent teabag.

Lunchtime is officially over

If not for the haze, lapping
menacingly against full-length window.

Shovelling Snow
— Medford, Massachusetts
There is first the crisp sound of metal
digging into snow, before the ghastlier crunch
as my shovel scraps the surface of the road.
Still I work diligently at the task, keeping
warm with perpetual movement, clearing
the driveway, while stockpiling dirt and snow
Out of harm’s way. And all this time, I’m
imagining myself curating a shallow grave
just enough to deadbolt this unfamiliar cold.

Right of the Soil is forthcoming and will be available for sale online, and in bookstores, after its launch date, 2 November 2018.


Yong Shu Hoong, author of Right of the Soil









About the author

Yong Shu Hoong has previously authored five poetry collections, including Frottage (2005) and The Viewing Party (2013), which both won the Singapore Literature Prize. His poems and short stories have been published in literary journals like Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Asia Literary Review (Hong Kong), and anthologies like Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (W.W. Norton, 2008).

He has edited anthologies like Passages: Stories of Unspoken Journeys (2013), as well as Here Now There After (2017), which was commissioned for the #BuySingLit movement. He is one of the four co-authors of The Adopted: Stories from Angkor (2015) and Lost Bodies: Poems Between Portugal and Home (2016).

Yong lives in Singapore, where he teaches part-time at Republic Polytechnic and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). He was writer-in-residence at NTU from August 2013 to February 2014. In February and March 2016, he is the Presidential International Visiting Scholar at Wheelock College, Boston, in the United States.