Singapore Poetry’s “Special Focus” series highlights an important aspect of the work of an established Singapore author. By making available a substantial selection of work, SP hopes to encourage both readerly and critical engagement with the author. We begin to see connections, reiterations, and reformulations that are missed in reading just one work. The inaugural series looked at the extraordinary gardening poems of Leong Liew Geok. This second series brings you the searing brand of truth-telling in the writings of Justin Chin.
Poet, fictionist, essayist, and performance artist, Justin Chin told the truth as he saw it in its defiant and risky–human, in short–contradictions. Born in Kuantan, Malaysia, in 1969, he was sent to Singapore for schooling, as many Chinese Malaysians were, and still are, to obtain a more “useful” English-language education. Having little interest in school, he did poorly at a national examination, went to the University of Hawai’i to study journalism, before landing in San Francisco, where he made his mark as a writer. He soon gained a reputation for writing about subjects that other authors shied away from. Four books of poetry and fiction were published by the San Francisco indie outfit Manic D Press, a collection of essays Mongrel by St. Martin’s Press, and a second volume of essays Burden of Ashes by Alyson Books. His poetry won the Thom Gunn Award and was named a Finalist by Lambda Literary. Chin died of a stroke last year, in December 2015, at the age of 46.
A major statement of why he wrote can be found in his autobiographical essay “Hid and Found” (Burden of Ashes, Alyson Books, 2001):
Growing up in an atmosphere of censorship and repression, where one generation who learns to keep silent and play safe passes those fears on to the next generation and the next, takes its toll; it does what it’s supposed to do. Writing is an ongoing risk. And it is a risk that I take on, maybe because I know no better way to make sense of this mud of life. Every day I have to fight my feelings that what I do is trivial, frivolous, and meaningless. And in the end, in the dustbin of my history, when all is decaying and rooted, composting to bits, whether my work survives after me, or even survives the next few years, will remain to be seen. What I know is what this work did. It gave me the courage to speak, and to find some semblance of myself worth the words. And that act has in no small way loosened the straps on that old muzzle made in the government store and sent to every home and every parent who willingly, or perhaps not so willingly, put it on themselves and their children, and their children after that.
Much beloved in San Francisco, Chin’s friends and fans remembered him in a special tribute, organized by Radar Productions, held in January 2016 at the San Francisco Public Library. This July, a memorial reading of his works will be held in Singapore on Saturday, July 23. For details, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: R.E. Morrison
SP is pleased to present the first part of our “Special Focus on Justin Chin. ” “Buffed Fag” is a hybrid work collected in his first book of poems Bite Hard (Manic D Press, 1997). Read it aloud to feel its full-on effect. The series continues every Wednesday.
by Justin Chin
I want to be a buffed fag.
When I walk down the street I want folks to do a double take, gawk in disbelief, mouths agape, and say, “Oh my god! That faggot is so buffed!”
I’ll spend six hours in the gym every day, blasting my quads, doing leg lifts, squats and presses and curls so I will be The Buffed Fag Of Your Dreams. I will pose and flex my muscles while having sex because that’s what turns the boys on. I will have them worship my muscles and tell me how good I look as they chow down on my glutes. I’ll bench press until I look like the Tazmanian Devil of Bugs Bunny cartoons, as I walk down the street in all my big chest skinny waist top heavy neanderthal arm drag swagger, thinking I’m the hottest shit in the universe and I am…
Because I am a Buffed Fag (at least I want to be). I will have sex with the towel boy at Muscle Systems, the guy who makes the protein shakes at Gold’s, and the trainer at Market Street Gym; and I too will be able to pull off the bad fag attitude thing, previously reserved solely for store clerks at Tower Records and Video.
Oh, I do so want to be a Buffed Fag, hanging out in the locker rooms of gyms to pick up other buffed fags and to score injectable steroids, remembering to wash my needles with bleach and never sharing them, because I don’t want to be a diseased fag, just as buffed fag with a dick shrunken to the size of a Vick’s inhaler; but I won’t care, because I am a buffed fag.
I will scan the L.L. Bean, J. Crew, and International Male catalogs and pick who I will marry; last week it was the one-piece perforated lycra jumpsuit, this week it’s the low cut eazy-breathe fundoshi, next week it’s the tan-thru bikini underwear, and folks will believe me as I partake of my fantasies because I’m a buffed fag and I have the god-given right to sail through the world being just like everybody else, to have the whole puny world owe me a living because everybody loves a Buffed Fag (even though they’re assholes), and everybody listens to a buffed fag (even though they have the IQ and personality of a box of cat hair).
You know you too want to be a buffed fag, you can’t help it as you watch them waddle down the street sure that folks would move out of their way, downing their protein shakes, spirulina shakes, shaking their way down into the psyche of Ooo-Ooo-Baby-Hot-Baby, boogieing on down to our little techno-trance dance clubs breeding ground display cases for buffed fag bodies. So c’mon, what’s stopping you? Decency? Pride? (Forget it.) A sense of self-worth? (Ha.) Intelligence? A semblance of life? (Forget that.) Let’s all be Buffed Fags and the whole damn scrawny world will belong to us.
“Buffed Fag” from Bite Hard (Manic D Press: San Francisco) © 1997 by Justin Chin. Used with permission of publisher.