Tapping At Glass, Tim Tim Cheng
Verve Poetry Press, 2023 £7.99
This is a rich first collection, with a great deal in it. If anything, a little too much. I longed to increase the leading a little so that some poems had more room to breathe. I would probably, for preference, have held a couple back.
But in a first collection, the poet often wants to get everything in — to show her range (which is considerable). Tapping At Glass is bubbling over with exuberant, emotionally diverse, typographically varied work.
Geographically, it took me a while to orientate myself. Many pieces are set in Hong Kong, where I have never been, so I needed to look up references, to find out a little about the North East New Territories and the Sai Kung peninsula, for example. But I love poetry that takes me places, and this pamphlet certainly does that.
I also like poems that are emotive, that really make me feel something, which many here do. ‘Boyfriend for Scale’, for example, has considerable bite, though first I needed to read (following the ‘after’ epigraph) Maggie Smith’s ‘Wife For Scale’ (a poem I will also not forget). Putting in a little work for a poem, when it’s worth it (as it is here), is okay by me.
Cheng’s ‘Boyfriend for Scale’ is set on an unnamed tourist site — in a part of the world where she may easily be seen as ‘too young, too female // and too Asian’. The ‘smirking’ tour guide gets Cheng and her boyfriend, an ‘interracial couple’, to pose for a photo ‘next to a phallic statue’. ‘What does this stone look like?’ the guide asks. Big joke.
Subtly (and sharply) the poem moves into an ‘aside’ to the boyfriend, or the reader, or both:
Tell me: if I said it’s a human-sized dick,
just like you to the tour guide,
would that make us sacrilegious
This is well-placed sarcasm, not fun. Importantly, this is what she considers saying, but doesn’t actually articulate. The couplet form is precisely right to evoke both closeness and separation, hesitation and clarity.
Here’s the understated, but haunting, ending to ‘Boyfriend for Scale’:
[ ... ] we are sick of
the millionth photo of one important leader
shaking hands with other important leaders.
We stop holding hands too.