An Interview with Jee Leong Koh

Q: You live in New York City. Is that home now? Is your family in Singapore?

A: I love New York City, have lived here for five years, but it is not home yet. Although my school is sponsoring me for permanent residency, the outcome is uncertain, especially in this economic downturn. I rent an apartment, with two housemates, and have often thought of Philip Larkin’s Mr. Bleaney. Most Singaporeans own their apartments. It’s hard to think of New York City as home when I don’t own a piece of real estate. This sense of contingency however is good for my poetry. Larkin stopped writing much after he bought his house.

My sister lives in Virginia with her family, but they will return to Singapore when my brother-in-law completes his work attachment. My parents live in Singapore. I visit them once a year, during my summer break. My life in New York City has acquired a pattern, if not a home.

Q: As a Singaporean, were you ever subjected to a judicial caning, and if so, was your taut, trembling teenage body completely naked or in a partial state of undress? Please be specific and don’t leave out any details.

A: No judicial caning, but then I did not vandalize public property nor take a street sign home. I was beaten however at school, twice. The first time, with a thick wooden ruler on the palm, for screaming too loudly when a teacher was telling the class a great ghost story. The second time, for swinging on the painters’ scaffolding, the same Headmistress, who really thought the world of me, gave my ass two strokes of the cane. My thin white shorts could not absorb enough of the sting.