|Professor Michael Hollington,
has written at length about New Ends, Old Beginnings: The title of
Louise Ho's superb new collection of poems wrings the neck of a
clichι. The commonplace 'new beginnings' has been inverted and thereby
subverted: what results, appropriately enough for a collection of
poems about Hong Kong's future, is radical uncertainty.
Eliot's 'In my end is my beginning' floats into the
mind, and Ho reveals herself as a modernist rather than a
post-modernist poet, in whom echoes of Eliot and Yeats and Auden are
often to be heard.
But what if we take 'ends' in its other major sense?
The implications are even more unsettling. Susan Sontag has remarked
of Walter Benjamin that his sentences 'do not intend'. What can we
make of non-intentional sentences, utterances, poems, in relation to
the prosaic everyday means and ends of politics and history?
Ho's poems here chart an Odyssey towards such a
sensibility. She starts out under the regime of the 'old ends' with
some kind of classical antithesis: her first group of poems includes
two that appear in sharp contradiction one about the pro-China,
anti-British riots of 1967, and the other about the Democracy movement
and its suppression in 1989. In this world, there is an apparently
reassuring sense of limits and borders trains seem to come to
their end at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and there is an
apparently clear border between China and Hong Kong at the Mai Po
But this Odysseus then embarks on a journey 'into
exile' in Australia which vastly enriches and complicates her poetic
language. It is an encounter with the strangeness of all language, as
well as with the poet's complexly-layered relationship with the
English language in particular. She listens in the silence, and hears
strange sounds from birds and beasts. She confronts what she hears
with a profoundly original sense of humour. Elsewhere, she hears the
wonderful diphthongs in the Australian pronunciation of 'o', and
registers the prosaic English 'home' as 'heaoaium'.
'Heaoaium', she learns in Australia, is nowhere:
Hong Kong is a 'floating island', and Australia a place of radical
impermanence for her. At the same time, however, the emptiness of
Australia seems to increase her capacity to take on 'big' subjects.
Like another Chinese poet, Mao Tse Tung, she likes to play with images
of size, juxtaposing 'little' Hong Kong 'this compact commercial
enclave' with 'big' China. And amongst the 'big' subjects she now
tackles are two that are essential for the public poet reflecting upon
July 1997 and the like: time and history.
Though she obviously feels that she doesn't fit into
the modern, ad hoc, Australia, she wonders who is really at home in
this place no-one, it seems, except Aboriginal people.
Thereafter the poet returns to Hong Kong, upon whom
she calls with renewed power to confront its multiplicities. Back in
Hong Kong she is now (at least) French, Australian, Chinese,
Mauritian, colonist and colonised, English and above all Cantonese.
Though it's the English persona, perhaps, that knows most about 'The
varying declensions/ Of layered self-deprecation/ The sleight of
hand'. From a deeper layer of the self comes a prophetic warning of
potential disaster in Hong Kong's future.
Louise Ho is a strongly visual poet. She finds a
powerful image for the complex process of metamorphosis that July 1997
means to her in Mak Hin Yeung's sculptured 'Bronze Horse', where a
horse's torso and a human torso coalesce both of them headless. This
'end of era or change of chapter' is negotiated in poems of all shapes
and sizes, apparently 'big' and apparently 'small', such as the
pregnant 'At the Crossroads', in which three paths point the way
Ho reflects in these poems Thomas Mann's 'pathos of
the middle' that ironic sense of historical perspective that
realises that knowledge of absolute beginnings and absolute ends can
never be had by beings essentially immersed in time. She illuminates
and exemplifies many paradoxes, including that strange one that seems
to decree that nowadays so much of the sustaining of the Western
tradition seems to be done by non-Westerners, and so much reinventing
of the culture of the colonisers by the apparently colonised.
She is a cosmopolitan sophisticate with a saving
dose of simplicity. Would that the introduction of the euro might find
a laureate with half the vision and wisdom and sense of fun that
Louise Ho applies to July 1997.
"'In certain situations, to get anything done at all
requires extreme measures. What is remarkable her form of extremity
is that the cultural, political and personal tensions of the city
are so precisely focused by the tensions of her language.'"
Department of Comparative Literature
Hong Kong University
"'The local and global meet as complex neighbours in
Louise Ho's work resulting in poetry of rare beauty and power. Louise
Ho explores society, other people, history, and most of all herself,
with ironic imagination, a controlled craftsmanship and poetic
authority that are truly remarkable.'"
East-West Research Center
"'Louise Ho's superb new collection of
poems...illuminates and exemplifies many paradoxes, including that
strange one that seems to decree that nowadays so much of the
sustaining of the Western tradition seems to be done by
non-Westerners, and so much reinventing of the culture of the
colonisers by the apparently colonised.
"'Like another Chinese poet, Mao Tse Tung, she likes
to play with images of size, juxtaposing "little" Hong Kong
compact commercial enclave" with "big" China. And amongst the "big"
subjects she now tackles are two that are essential for the public
poet reflecting upon July 1997 and the like: time and history.'"
University of New South Wales
University of Toulon and of Var
Copyright © Louise Ho