The Hidden Papyrus of Hen-taui
by Wong Phui Nam
About the Author
Wong Phui Nam (b.1935, Kuala Lumpur) began to write while he was a student at the University of Malaya in Singapore (now the National University of Singapore). He saw the writing and publishing of verse in English in Malaya (which then meant Malaya inclusive of Singapore) as a serious possibility after the appearance of Edwin Thumboo’s Rib of Earth in 1957. He published his first collection of poems, How the Hills Are Distant, in 1967 after he had left the university and returned to Kuala Lumpur. Discouraged by the language politics of the time in Malaysia, he stopped writing and publishing for many years. In 1989, only at the encouragement of Thumboo, did he bring out his second volume of verse, Remembering Grandma and Other Rumours. This was followed by Ways of Exile (1995), Against the Wilderness (2000), An Acre of Day’s Glass (2005), and a play Anike (2005). He published a second play, Aduni (2007), in the e-journal Asiatic.
It bears remembering that Wong, together with Edwin Thumboo, Ee Tiang Hong, and Wang Gungwu, was among the first generation of poets whose works found publication while they were undergraduates at the University of Malaya. His works may thus be fruitfully read with the intertwined literary histories of Singapore and Malaysia in mind.
“Wong Phui Nam has long been a giant of Malaysian literature. His latest collection, The Hidden Papyrus of Hen-taui, confirms this status, investigating the divine mystery and dissolution of the flesh in an elegantly textured sonnet sequence that channels ancient Egypt while grappling with the timeless pleasures and paradoxes of human mortality. In his masterful hands, ‘a chrysalis of words from human voices begin to form and flicker slowly into awareness,’ singing by turns about darkness, love, and the redemptive power of language, even in the face of a devouring nothingness. Here is a poet at the height of his powers, summoning spirits from the floating world, startling us into epiphany.”
- Ravi Shankar, Poet and Founding Editor of Drunken Boat, an international online journal of the arts
“To take a neophyte Egyptian priestess and invest her with the power of myth in all its richness and antiquity as structure, requires a special poetry equal to desire. That Wong undoubtedly has. The result is a word journey that helps us enhance our own, and that, memorably.”
- Professor Edwin Thumboo of the National University of Singapore appreciates Wong Phui Nam’s latest work, a major sequence of 32 sonnets
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Dimension: 130mm x 200mm