By Teo Zi Lin
Title: Do You Live In?
By Shirley Geok-Lin Lim
Published by Ethos Books, 2015
No. of pages: 105
Available at ethosbooks.com.sg, Ethos Books, Kinokuniya, and Select Books
Shirley Geok-Lin Lim’s latest collection Do You Live In? is a collection of poems related to her travels, as she had lived in various parts of the world, including USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. These poems weave together her personal experiences in different lands enhanced by history and memories.
Lim was born and raised by her father in Malacca, Malaysia, but studied at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts on a scholarship at the age of 24. After completing her PhD in English and American Literature, she eventually settled in the United States.
Being someone who has lived and travelled in both the East and the West, Lim is able to capture the differences between cultures and fuse them in poetic language. Her style of writing is surreal and imaginative with narrative descriptions, but the true strength of her words lies in their ability to evoke emotions in readers.
Lim’s poetry creates a spiritual connection with readers as they are relevant and relatable. For example, her poem “Do you live in Singapore?” takes a closer look at and displays better understanding of Chinese culture by narrating the typical Asian parent’s wish for their children to marry well:
Can someone make my mother’s wish come true?
Transnational CEO with private plane,
do you live in Singapore? Is it you?
The urgency in the rhetorical question shows the children’s willingness to fulfill their parents’ wishes, but the caricatures also hint at their desire to break free from such expectations.
Lim’s poems on Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution in 2014 are among the strongest in this book as they illustrate how the students stood up for their beliefs against all objections in order to see the city they love unmarred.
In “Our People’s Wish”, Lim portrays the desperate desire of the people in Hong Kong to remain a democratic country:
One country, two systems. This dream pursues
the dragon now, with tear gas, plastic cuffs.
Can someone make our people’s wish come true?
Do you live in Hong Kong? Is it you?
The rhetorical questions here demonstrate that the people of Hong Kong are aware that the only way to bring about change is to support the movement led by the student protestors. The urgency in voice shows their burning desire to find that “someone” who can make their wish come true.
Having lived in so many lands, Lim understands best the individual’s indebtedness to his birthplace and culture, as well as the ability of the individual to break free and tread his own path. She articulates this philosophy in “Again:”
the clamoring child, who stands
under the wide-brimmed roof, picking
the loose string, unraveling self from land.
Distinctive, philosophical, Lim’s collection portrays what it means to embrace a diversity of different cultures while at the same time showing her affection for these cultures.
Expect a thought-provoking and evocative reading session, for Lim’s poetry prompts you to reflect on the necessity to accept and reinforce your identity and beliefs, while discussing the dilemma and balance between nation and individuality, your affection for the nation, and what is expected of you.