Book Reviews

Infinity Diary (The Pride List) by Cyril Wong at Seagull Books

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Romance / Poetry
Reviewed by ParisDude on 08-January-2021

Book Blurb

This volume of poems by Cyril Wong, one of the leading figures of poetry in Singapore, reflects the many ways in which love between two men can unfold, balancing emotional outpourings with meditations on the nature of relationships. The poetry punctures the sometimes oppressive reality of life in a city that is hypermodern yet far from free and, through twists and turns, ultimately lifts the reader to a place beyond pleasure and pain. Sensual, anecdotal and, of course, confessional, Infinity Diary charts an evolution in the work of one of Asia’s most intimate English-language poets.

 

Book Review

No man is an island. Right and wrong, Mister Donne. No man is an island all right, if we look at things from a social perspective. But seen from an individual, psychological point of view, isn’t everybody very much an island? We cannot cast off our skins, slip out of our minds, and go live in someone else’s skin or mind. Fortunately, if we are all islands, we have speech, we have writing to build bridges. And poetry, as it is, must be the most rickety of suspension bridges, like those improvised contraptions found in remote abodes that are held together by bamboo, raffia, and prayers. And yet, as strings of words go, poetry is also the most direct, albeit haphazard of short-cuts from one island to another. It is the stenography of the soul, if you permit an atheist to use that word. Poetry is the most potent way to paint pictures, convey meaning, and stir emotions.

 

‘Infinity Diary’ is a wonderful example of how strong and how hazardous a means poetry can be if you are a wordsmith sitting on your island (literally and figuratively) shouting your innermost across the chasm of the churning sea that is reality. Cyril Wong is a young multiple award winner from Singapore, and he is extremely gifted. Of course, for me reading a poetry collection is never as easy nor as fast a process as reading fiction, for instance, or even a highly annotated and footnoted history book. It’s not a linear start-to-end endeavour either. I always need to be in the right frame of mind to engage with poetry, need to be ready to let a stranger into my comfort zone, for words are powerful when wielded with talent, as is the case here. I can only bite off chunks of the book, sometimes no more than a poem at a time, then let it sink in, digest it, deal with what it does to me intellectually and emotionally.

 

Well. Prose poems. Mister Wong offers prose poems, sometimes even in the eerily familiar-looking form of paragraphs like those of a short story. Of course, he knows his handicraft, from inner rhymes to alliterations, from rhetorical, sometimes even elliptical questions, to anaphora. Most people know how reluctant, how loath I am to analyze writings to death along linguistic lines (morphologies, phonetics, contextualities, whathaveyounots), so once more, let’s not go there. Let’s just look at what ‘Infinity Diary’ is all about. It’s a collection of compelling snippets of the young author’s mind. From what I was allowed to see (and nothing feels more voyeuristic than reading someone else’s poetry), Mister Wong’s mind seems to be very much an island indeed, with him as a solitary Robinson Crusoe sitting in the wind that “is a sentence of breath that began in the lungs of another universe”, gazing at the horizon, towards all those other islands that surround him, his “eyes snapped open like umbrellas in a thunderstorm that hasn’t happened yet”. Sometimes it feels as if his loneliness was weighing on him; sometimes he appears to be feasting on it, relishing the sensation of “dessication, a surrendering to nothingness like the closing of a book”. He reflects little nothings of everyday life like what people are doing around him in that bustling city that is modern-day Singapore. He reflects on Nothing, too, and on Infinity.

 

He is not alone, however, but gratefully accepts (and cherishes) the presence of his loyal and loving latter-day Friday, his Significant Other whom, like Crusoe did with his Friday, he has taught the rudiments of his language. His companion is woven into the fabric of many poems, some of which evolve with anticipatory unrest around the nagging question of absence, the what-if of good-bye, because “your face [is] like a claw wedged into every limb so every gesture must hurt of you after you’re gone”. Death, absence, and love are amongst those essential themes reflected on in this collection: “When we love like this, we’re all the broken boys of our own religion”, as Wong says at one point.

 

I loved this book, a kaleidoscope of water-color paintings of modern every day life, of the struggles, the hurts, the questioning of a young man in a city-state that not only frowns upon his very nature and the nature of his love, but pursues it (as a reminder, same-sex sexual activity between males is illegal even if consensual and committed in private, in Singapore). It’s extremely brave to be as outspoken as Wong, who even vents his annoyance in strong terms in the poem Dear Stupid Straight People. I cannot pretend I understood all the lines—that’s poetry in a nutshell, it being the most direct but not necessarily the straightest way from one island to another. That’s also the beauty of poetry. I’m sure to check out Wong’s other books and to come back to this one again and again to scratch his poems some more and scrape off some more meaningful morsels to feed me on my own island.

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by the editor for the purpose of a review.

 

Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Collection
Heat Level
Publication Date 15-October-2020
Price $15.00 ebook, $21.50 paperback
Buy Link https://www.amazon.com/Infinity-Diary-Pride-List-Cyril-ebook/dp/B08LBBQB2J