Special Focus on Leong Liew Geok – “Equatorial”

This is Part Nine 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.


by Leong Liew Geok


We were born into this:
Clogged pores, clammy limbs,
Sweat which itches and stains
Collars and armpits, souring nostrils.
Wrapped in blanket sheath,
Plants aren’t pierced by ice
And trees don’t save for spring;
A yellow sun burns harder,
Foliage throws a greener rash;
Fruit and flower clash for brightness
And rain’s soap opera, the monsoon,
Drenches us into missing the sun.

Wet or dry, we use walkways, porches,
Umbrellas, trees whose shades —
Probed by tentacles of heat —
We swelter in. Let tourists bake
Themselves on sand. We love our
Air-conditioned places, at least
Till evening draws the sun-shy
And the breeze, if there,
Takes the humid out of circulation.
Through day, by night, the nature
In which termites breed unseen
And appetites cease only for death
Takes no rest: the equatorial floods
Profligate air, saturating.


Reprinted with the kind permissions of author and Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd, the poem “Equatorial” 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.



Photo of White Ixora, after rain, 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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