Singapore poet on Financial Times' Best Poetry list

Now based in New York, Singapore poet Jee Leong Koh (above) says he is humbled by the Financial Times' recognition for his collection, Steep Tea.
Now based in New York, Singapore poet Jee Leong Koh (above) says he is humbled by the Financial Times' recognition for his collection, Steep Tea.PHOTO: ST FILE

New York-based Singapore poet Jee Leong Koh's fifth poetry collection Steep Tea has been selected as one of four works on the international daily the Financial Times' Best Poetry of 2015 list, part of its list of the year's best books.

The other three poetry works recognised were: The Poems Of T.S. Eliot: The Annotated Text, Volumes 1 And 2 (Faber & Faber), edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue; Horace: Poems (Everyman's Library), edited by Paul Quarrie; and Jamaican poet Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric (Penguin Poetry).

Steep Tea, published by the British publisher Carcanet Press in July, is Koh's first poetry collection published in the United Kingdom. It sees him addressing themes such as identity, home and nostalgia and features epigraphs by poets ranging from Cultural Medallion recipient Lee Tzu Pheng to Irish writer Eavan Boland.

A poem from the collection titled In His Other House was also chosen as a Poem Of The Week in September by British newspaper The Guardian.

FT writer Maria Crawford praised Steep Tea for being "disciplined yet adventurous in form, casual in tone and deeply personal in subject matter".

"Koh's verse addresses the split inheritance of his post-colonial upbringing, as well as the tension between an emigre's longing for home and rejection of nostalgia," she wrote.

Koh, 45, told Life via e-mail that he was "amazed" and "humbled" at the recognition by the newspaper.

"I couldn't have written Steep Tea without moving to the US to come out as a poet and a gay man. The poems reflect the experience of finding my rightful place in New York. They were written over 12 years... You might say that I had to steep myself in hot water before brewing this cup of tea," he said.

Koh, who has a degree in English literature from Oxford University and now teaches at a private school in New York, is working on a book of haiku, tentatively titled Does grass sweat, as well as a book of essays.

He also actively promotes Singaporean writing abroad. He is involved in running the biennial Singapore Literature Festival in New York and the arts website Singapore Poetry.

"Singaporeans should embrace our own writers. This involves reading, viewing, hearing and discussing their works until they become an integral part of us," he says.

•Steep Tea is available from Carcanet Press (£8.99 or S$19) and Amazon (US$14.99 or S$21.20).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore poet on Financial Times' Best Poetry list'. Print Edition | Subscribe