Special Focus on Leong Liew Geok – “The Gardener Walks to the Bus Stop”

This is Part Two of SP’s first “Special Focus” series looking at the extraordinary gardening poems of Leong Liew Geok. Born in Penang, Malaysia, Leong moved to Singapore in 1981. Thereafter, she published two important collections of poems, Love Is Not Enough (1991) and Women without Men (2000). The gardening poems in her second book represent a signal achievement in Singapore poetry. Alternating between lyrics and dramatic monologues, they are a sustained engagement with the cultivation of both self and environment. Appearing every Thursday, the series will end with the publication of a new gardening poem by Leong. Photographs taken by the poet provide intimate glimpses of her garden and, by extension, Singapore, the Garden City.

 

The Gardener Walks to the Bus Stop
by Leong Liew Geok

 

What robbery: open space bald with slate,
Without an inch of grass to show for love;
A disaster when stone is overdone.
This one’s better, though its shrubs need
Proper pruning. By their looks, your plants
Need new soil. Idiot, move those ferns
Before they burn. As for that bougainvillea
Hiking up your roof, prune and saw,
Saw and prune. Sack your lazy good-for-nothing
Gardener. Or go climb a ladder yourself.
Look at that heap outside No. 53: Belamcanda, Cereus
Ixora, Ascocenda lumped and in flower together —
More than can be said for 54: their heliconias
Need thinning to flower again.
And the weeds, the weeds are strangling
Your friends, No. 56. Shame on you to call your garden
One. Would you like to be crowded out of turf
By strangers and squatters? Use some elbow grease.
And common sense is free.
Wow! Such healthy Coleus outside 58, and pretty too:
A snap of the top on my way back would be nice
And too good to miss. What a beauty that multi-petalled
Jasmine is! A real pity it’s too far in
For me to be a thief. You don’t deserve a garden;
Yes, No. 62 — I’m telling you to send
Your fans back to Madagascar or Raffles Hotel:
Traveller’s Palms do not a garden make;
You’ll do better with Ptychosperma; under it
Dendrobiums like yours will benefit.
66: do without your bamboo corner
Unless you want suckers inside your kitchen.
Dig them out and plant some shrubs to camouflage
The side where the clothesline juts into — Oh-oh, I see
The bus coming fast —
Gottarunforit —

 

Reprinted with the kind permissions of author and Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd, the poem “The Gardener Walks to the Bus Stop” first appeared in Women without Men (Times Books International, 2000).

 

Leong Liew Geok

Born in Penang, Malaysia, Leong Liew Geok has lived in Singapore since 1981. She is the author of Love is Not Enough (1991) and Women without Men (2000). She edited More than Half the Sky: Creative Writings by Thirty Singaporean Women (1998; repr. 2009 ) and Literary Singapore: A directory of contemporary writing in Singapore (2011) for the National Arts Council. She taught at the Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore from 1981-2002. More recently, her poems have appeared online in Softblow Poetry Journal and Blue Lyra Review. She is (still!) working on her third collection of poems, envisaged for publication in 2016.

 

Bus Stop

Photo of a trio of Brazilian Ironwoods (Caesalpinia ferrea), by Leong Liew Geok.

 

*

The intent of Singapore Poetry’s “Special Focus” series is to highlight an important aspect of the work of an established poet of Singapore. This aspect may be a thematic thread, formal preoccupation or recurring image; it will provide a vital way into the poet’s writings. By making available a substantial selection of poems, SP hopes to encourage both readerly and critical immersion in the poet’s body of work. We begin to see connections, reiterations and reformulations that are missed in reading just one poem.

 

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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