Special Focus on Leong Liew Geok – “The Gardener’s Had Enough”

This is Part Six 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’s Had Enough
by Leong Liew Geok

 

The watering heads leak,
The sprayer won’t work
And dirt under your nails
Continues to lurk.

Mould on the soil spreads
A smothering grey slime
Waiting to be scraped off;
It won’t be lost in time.

The bonsai needs repotting
So clear are the signs
Of malnutrition —
For fresh soil it pines.

My orchids are clogged
With seeds of palms overhead
While weeds root and overrun
Lawn and flower bed.

No plant respects me
Enough to behave,
My shrubs blindly branching,
Pursuing a shave.

You’ll understand why
After the pots are counted,
They encroach upon me
And make me disgusted.

If you do not stoop,
A torchlight in action,
To kill off the snails,
Morning is destruction.

Cease giving chances,
You’ve nothing to lose —
Throw the unblooming out,
They simply must choose.

Stop buying and adding,
You’ve more than enough
For one jungle-nursery
Stocked with green stuff.

That gardening’s a business
Is matter of fact;
No plant’s irreplaceable,
There’s nothing to regret.

There’s no meeting point
Between the living and dying:
Either you, or your plants expire,
Though you don’t feel like watering.

So be it if dead:
There are fewer to mind
And less work around
Of the backbreaking kind.

No more orchids; no more shrubs.
No more snails or other bugs.
No more jasmine-scented air,
No cacti to stab or dare.

No cause left to grumble,
Mutter about or berate.
Life would be deadly, dire,
With zero to recreate.

 

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

Read Cyril Wong on why he loves this poem.

 

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.

 

G had enough

Phalaenopsis orchids tied to, and growing on, the branches of Bauhinia blakeana, commonly known as the Butterfly Tree or Hong Kong Orchid Tree. Photo 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 or a formal preoccupation; 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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