At last….here it is and I love the cover. It’s been over three year years in the making: 37 poets from over 15 Asian countries. But the concept for this anthology can be traced back to 2008 when Kim Cheng Boey and I first started talking about ‘Asian Australian’ as a designation in Borders book shop café at Westfield Shopping Mall, Hornsby. I gave one or two academic papers to develop my thinking on the subject and we started to write essays about Asian writing: about the Vietnamese poet, Than Thao, for instance. By then we had co-founded the literary journal Mascara, and not long after that Adam Aitken joined us as reviews editor. The journal has since expanded and flourished in ways I had never anticipated; morphing in exciting, sometimes necessary directions: translations and hybrid sub-genres such as prose poetry, to name a few. Despite the funding we’ve received, and academic support from people like David Herd, Paul Sharrad, Keri Glastonbury and Shirely Lim, I have to acknowledge that it remains in a liminal zone, which is basically a nice way of saying ‘in crisis.’
Which is even more reason to celebrate this anthology. Many of the poets in Contemporary Asian Australian Poets have appeared in Mascara but it was also wonderful to be in conversation with poets like the Malaysian Chinese South Australian, Shen, whose collection City of My Skin was published back in 2001 by Five Islands Press; to discover the poetry of Ee Tiang Hong and Subhash Jaireth. There are also younger poets like Jessie Tu, Bella Li, Debbie Lim, Ken Chau and Mona Attamimi. There’s the performance poet Omar Musa, the self-translators Ouyang Yu and Merlinda Bobis, the novelist and prose poets Christopher Cyrill and Suneeta Peres da Costa, and there are poets who have previously not identified as Asian at all: Jaya Savige, Paul Dawson, Andy Carruthers.
How do these poets negotiate identity/(identities) across so many differences? Do they ventriloquise? Do they strategically essentialise? Do they appropriate or do they allegorise culture and language?
However challenging, there were always going to be limitations and unavoidable absences. But with seventeen female poets, and such a variety and richness of translocal interpretations we are quietly confident that this anthology will question the assumptions and hierarchies of previously established descriptors such as ‘local’, ‘migrant’, and ‘cosmopolitan’.
The book will be launched by Professor Nicholas Jose in conversation with the editors at the Sydney Writers’ Festival 24 May 2.30pm, the Richard Wherrett Studio.