Issue 53 (May 2020): Special Feature “Virus”

POETS featured in the VIRUS section: Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (Hong Kong, editorial) ● Lian-Hee Wee (Hong Kong) ● Joshua Ip (Singapore) ● Steven Schroeder (United States) ● Elizabeth Kate Switaj (Marshall Islands) ● Joel Pablo Salud (Phillippines) ● David Raphael Israel (United States) ● Aiden Heung (United States via Tibet) ● Frank Dullaghan (Kuala Lumpur via Ireland) ● Cheng Tim Tim (Hong Kong) ● F. Jordan Carnice (Phillippines) ● Levi Masuli (Phillippines) ● Low Kian Seh (Singapore) ● Louise Leung (Hong Kong) ● Vernon Daim (Malaysia) ● Jose Luis Pablo (Philippines) ● David W. Landrum (United States) ● Rachel Gomez (New Zealand) ● Andrew Barker (Hong Kong) ● Suzanne Lai (Hong Kong) ● Crispin Rodrigues (Singapore) ● Gavin Yuan Gao (Australia) ● Cyril Adavan (Philippines) ● Phoebe Poon (Hong Kong) ● Grace Wong (Hong Kong) ● Sithuraj Ponraj (Singapore) ● Robin Shawver (China via. United States)

Artwork by Yang Illustration

Editorial: It Takes a City of People to Save a City         

by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine is published bimonthly. Our turn-around time is fairly quick for a print magazine, which involves our editorial team members constantly working on the publication. Because of this tight schedule, we are also able to respond to pressing topical matters. For example, we were able to publish English-language features “Vigil” (Issue 42), “Extradition” (Issue 48), “Emergency” (Issue 51), and “Bullet” (Issue 52), focusing on concerns facing the local Hong Kong community or the wider world.

Our special feature in this issue is on the topic of “Virus”. The number of lives claimed to date by COVID-19, the first pandemic in the age of digital connectivity, has been horrific. And the tragedy has laid bare social, economic and racial discriminations across the world. I think of how in this time of physical distancing and self-isolation, many are not privileged enough to have a good experience of either. In 1790, Xavier de Maistre, a young French officer, was sentenced to house arrest after being involved in an illegal duel; he was ordered to remain in his room in Turin for 42 days. During that time, he wrote A Journey Around My Room, a guidebook or a travel journal which recorded his exploration of the chamber. It is said that he was inspired by Laurence Sterne’s works, which were characterised by their digressive style. There is no such “travelling” to speak of in some Hong Kong subdivided flats, however. If you stretch your arm or leg a little too generously, you are already in danger of stepping over a member of your family.

At Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, we take pride in valuing freedom of expression, and our calls for submissions are phrased in a general way, suggesting that all views are accepted and that we love to hear different voices. There is one voice, however, that we refuse to endorse—the voice of prejudice. To my dismay, we received poems that talked about staying away from Chinatown or even “cursing” Chinese people and how the virus helps them “clean” their population. The language was harsh and the sentiment mean-spirited. Thankfully, the majority of the submissions were not like that. They recalled similar events in the past, depicted sadness and frustration during this difficult time, and paid tribute to medical staff. All in all, I am hopeful of us triumphing over the pandemic stronger together in this global village. 

In Hong Kong, people have been wearing masks since early January. Every time I see so many masked faces, I want to weep. I want this to end soon. Living like this is not living. I know we will continue until the virus is defeated, but it is dispiriting. We do what we do for the sake of each other, to protect each other. It takes a city of people to save a city. 

Ten Questions

—Adapted from Daniel Jones’s “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love”

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, even though no one is advised to travel, whom would you want as a dinner guest, for one evening only?

2. Would you like to be famous in the time of COVID-19? In what way?

3. Before making a telephone or zoom call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? For example, you only have three toilet rolls left. For example, you are feeling lonely and depressed. For example, you sometimes hear the silence of the city ringing so loud you play a random podcast. For example, you have finally counted all the books you haven’t read but pretended you have. For example, there is no longer an urgent need to blow-dry your hair.

4. What would constitute a “perfect” home-bound day for you?

5. When did you last sing to yourself? Was it ten minutes ago? When did you last sing to someone else? Was the song or the singing appreciated?

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will survive the current pandemic?

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common, excluding “working from home” and “sick of instant noodles—all kinds”.

9. For what in your life now do you feel most grateful? Would it be the medical staff in hospitals? Or face masks and bars of gentle soap?

10. If you could change anything about the way OTHER people were raised, what would it be?

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