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

This is the final part 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. We end this series with the publication of a new gardening poem by Leong.


The Gardener’s Alphabet
by Leong Liew Geok


A is for aphids, all creamy inside,
B is the bamboo, which roots far and wide.

C is for compost, loosening the soil,
D for the dragon scales clawing brick wall.

E is the earthworm, secret aerator,
F is food for plant health : fertilizer;

G’s for green fingers and groundcover to boot,
H is Heliconia, each sucker a shoot.

I is for insects, as well as insecticide,
J, the jasmine, fragrant and white.

K is for Kopsia, native to this region,
L is the lallang, whose toughness is legion.

M is methylated spirit, for mites, scales and mould,
N is carnivorous Nepenthes, from jungles of our world.

O is for orchids, loved for lasting power,
P is the pruning, so shrubs keep shapely order.

Q is Quisqualis, budding out from its trellis,
R is for roses and rhododendrons, stifled by the tropics.

S is the snail, object of enmity,
T is Tacca, its dark whiskered blooms a curiosity.

U is Umbrella sedge, a papyrus relative,
V is for vines, camouflaging the sensitive.

W is for weeds: recurrent, obnoxious, rampant,
X, Xanthostemon, blooms overwhelmed with stamens;

Y is Yucca, panicles held high, not low,
Z is flowerless Zamia, just leathery leaves to show.


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.


Garderner's Alphabte

Photo of Bat Lily (Tacca integrifolia) by Leong Liew Geok. “Tacca” in the poem refers, however, to the dark whiskered blooms of the Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri).



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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