he beauty of sport is its uncertainty. In this, it is a wondrous mix of both an approximation of and a challenge to life. Not wrinkles but ineptness at physical sports is the great reminder of age. Flexibility, alertness, balance, estimation, anticipation, the instinctive awareness of correctness — these are necessary on the playground. Reading Tammy Ho Lai-Ming's Hula Hooping, her debut collection of poems (Chameleon Press, 2015), I became witness to a magical metaphor bridging where sport and politics could be used interchangeably. It is interesting that the poet's choice of metaphor is an amateur sport — hula hooping has been common to most cultures over centuries. Anyone can try hula hooping — Michelle Obama or the schoolgirl next door. In this, everyone becomes an amateur hula hooper and by extension, an amateur politician.
As a hula hooper who hasn't been able to tame the hoop around her waist for more than a couple of seconds, I realise that the pet name for the game is uncertainty. That, I realise, is the binding metaphor of this Hong Kong based poet's collection.
If you had to choose
between travelling around the world in one day
and waiting for the train with me for five minutes,
which would you choose?
The "choose" in the first and fourth lines are like the arms of a pincer compelling us to choose — the choices on offer have the romance of beautiful alternatives, between travelling and waiting to travel, two sides of the same coin as it were. They are seductive, they are imbued with possibility, and so you choose. Rather, you vote.
My favourite section in the book is "China, Elsewhere, Hong Kong". Standard linguistic expectation would put the "Elsewhere" after "Hong Kong", but here again is Lai-Ming's clever politics. Note the bridge as you travel through it, it's not a means to get you to places alone, she seems to be saying. "These poems relate to specific events or places" goes the poet's annotation. You sit on alert. Here is poetry as news.
Someone said to me:
Everything seems surreal
in China. Have you heard the news?
But surreal is the norm there.
Kafka couldn't have dreamt it as well
as the people who live it.
I read that one March,
dead baby girls were found
in a Chinese river. Washed ashore. ('Have you heard the news?')
Newspapers and news reports carry accents of significance — only what is "important". Lai-Ming's use of "news" is a subversion of that impulse in the most beautiful way. Her poems on the subject gives news traction, makes the newspaper an object of conversation:
South China Morning Post, an English newspaper, is delivered
To our doorstep every morning, and we let it
Stay until all other neighbours know
Our language abilities. ("Languages")