These ladies are not afraid to rage against the machines: part two

Kiwi Asian women poets have strong opinions. [Part two]

Kiwi Asian Woman by Pauline Canlas Wu.

Kia ora ano.

In part two of this commentary post, I will include several poems by the poets featured in part one, furher emphasizing their frankness and willingness to speak their minds about cultural connections and disconnections as Kiwi Asian poets, as well as about how they see Aotearoa New Zealand per se.

I will also feature Shasha Ali and her own comments with regard to the questions I asked other poets, in part one.

Let’s commence with a poem by Aiwa Pooamorn. This poem really reinforces the rage felt at times by these women, caught between cultures.

Thai Chinese Stay At Home Mother

Welcome to the Stay at Home Mothers Club  

be prepared

to watch Thomas the Tank Engine

on repeat

pleasure yourself orgasm

after orgasm

once baby goes to sleep

and have erotic dreams

narrated by Ringo Starr

I wait

for my drunk white kiwi boy to come home

watch Coronation Street together

while we fuck on the cum stained couch

Excitement is peeking out the blinds

at the crazy corner house

lord of the flies children

waving kitchen knives about

A white old man sits on the porch

grips his taser


come get it n-word

I don’t know how I ended up being

a stay at home mother

in west Auckland suburbia

Why didn’t you go on the pill

every other woman in New Zealand does

spare our kiwi men the indignity

of wearing condoms

Once in a while

I air out my dirty laundry poetry

in the town square

never mind they might make me

squat in the corner

drown me with their spit and cum

When a woman gets too powerful

she has to flee

like Thailand’s first female prime minister


she left her Louis Vuitton gumboot prints

all over red buffalo rice fields

opposition leader Abhisit calls her

อีโง่ ee-ngo

dumb bitch

an evil woman worse than a whore

I wish they would serve wine

at playgroup

instead of tea

like the good ol’ days

when no one judged drunk mothers

I dreamed I had an affair

with a beautiful ladyboy

my hubby says it’s cool

he’s had dreams of cheating on me too

When we have sex

I imagine I’m banging

Thai female soap opera stars

like khun Chompoo Araya

in her pink tulle dress

with tiny ruffles for days

like bags

and bags

of blushing

shrimp crackers

And I dream of going back

to the old swampy neighbourhood 

in Bangkok where I grew up

munching on wild sugarcane

playing badminton over powerlines

with ah muay and ah dee noi

buying pungent prawn crackers

from the food truck auntie

her face framed

by sweet lady fingers of bananas

and round green eggplants

my mother cooks

in her kaeng tai pla

her fermented fish entrails curry

so spicy I drown in monsoon floods

a torrent gushing out of my vagina

My mother asks me why I have to go away with a dirty farang

a white playboy

even though she’s my dad’s concubine


I can never quite go back to Thailand

the same person I was

my parents say I’m too wide

to squeeze through the narrow sois

a maze of alleyways

navigated by motorbike taxis

tangled up in my sexuality

Aiwa so well encapsulates disconnection, alienation, anger, dislocation — far far better than my prose here. 

How about this poem by Wen-Juenn Lee?


Malaysia is a prologue 
I am ashamed to write.
friends etched chapters out of countries 
built and shaped their lives
with homes in their mouths 
but Malaysia falls flat on my tongue
Malaysia is 
or fun

but how do you condense 
contented isolation
confused exhilaration 
a stranger in your home 
a wai guo ren 
in a single word?

Shakespeare did not mean 
the diaspora 
when he spoke of Antony 
straddling East and West
leg pillars on either side
yet I am Antony 
the traitor 
the foreigner
my mother says people stare at me 
as if I do not feel the Otherness myself
you don’t even need to open your mouth

but where are you really from? skin is not white 
but where are you really from? speak with an accent that clings.

The angst continues unabated.

Shasha Ali now resides in Singapore, after years spent in the skinny country, Aotearoa New Zealand. Her responses to my questions follow.

Do you ever feel that you are compartmentalized into a certain category of Kiwi writers, because of your heritage? If so, what is/are such arbitrary categories? Does such compartmentalization affect what you write? I only started writing and sharing some of my work more publicly between 20132015, while I was a vocalist for an Asian tau iwi feminist punk band in Auckland and working for Shakti, an immigrant women’s organization. I remember being intentional with my performances, specifically in highlighting issues related to people of color. So, I do feel that in some way, I was purposive and embodied; then determined how I wanted to be compartmentalized by the mainstream. I anticipated being called to comment, speak or write as an Asian and/or brown and/or Muslim feminist. Sometimes I even volunteered myself when I had a strong opinion to share. However, as an indigenous person in diaspora (Malay Singaporean), I am rarely referenced as such within Aotearoa’s context. These days, I try not to think about identity politics when I am writing as I am.

How about any dislocation from both the culture of your heritage and from mainstream New Zealand culture? I have noticed quite a bit of dislocation/distancing, even alienation from both sets of culture in several of your works, with the poet sometimes caught somewhere in between. Is this a factor in your own work? I grew up in a mesh of inter-tribal families and communities in Singapore, which is not uncommon for peoples of Malay origin; yet at the same time, was expected to make sense of Islamic practice, ‘Asian’ values and western media-influenced ideals. Alienation could also possibly relate to my backgrounding of having been a victim-survivor of child abuse. So even when I was growing up in Singapore, I felt like a misfit juggling emotions, experiences and making sense through writing. It is and was no surprise that I found solace through performing sajak, (native Malay poetry) in my teens then. That cultural juggling merely intensified in New Zealand as an immigrant, and continued to motivate my writing.

                                                            Shasha Ali

Relatedly, what about anger at not only mainstream Kiwi culture and its (still prevalent) stereotypes, but also ire towards some of the (still prevailing) attitudes of your heritage cultures? Again, I have noticed this aspect in several of your works. Is this a facet that impels your writing? I used to pride myself as an angry young Asian feminist in New Zealand. In fact, I remember being affirmed at every creative moment that I was able to articulate anger that resonated with other young feminists who experienced marginalization in society or within their own diasporas. After a while though, it kinda drained me. After all, I felt alone, misunderstood and the reality of being underrepresented as a minority remained. I started to feel like people liked me angry, but were not really listening.

Finally, what would you really like to see in Aotearoa New Zealand poetry? I have been based in Singapore for the last two years now. I would really love it if Aotearoa’s writers’ festivals expanded to include the work of lyricists, such as rap poets and composers. In 2017, I attended the Singapore Writers’ Festival, and you know, I had very low expectations considering the limitations on freedom of speech and expression here compared to New Zealand. However, I was amazed that they invited musicians and composers on dialogue panels to talk about their different creative writing processes, intermedia transcendence of text/paper to multidisciplinary styles of performance. It also shattered the traditionalist notion of writers as merely interested in publishing achievements, and opened up space for multigenre writers to exist, connect and belong.

A poem by Shasha follows. I do not need to decipher for you: the anguish is apparent … captured in Asia, as much as Aotearoa.

              Dear Malay men

I know you
You are the bloodline 
That survived on
Vessels of fish and silver

Alone not
Under the canopy of a banyan tree
Shading lovers watching sunset 
Roaming hands under shirts for a last sigh

From the Sultan Mosque
Fathers gather to prayer
And mothers call you to hurry home
to no answer.

You Malay men
With your time for cigarettes, music and Kopi
In no hurry to marry
And make good
Of women
Aborting or delivering
children of Allah
Only to then be 
shamed and rejected
By believers of Allah.

And yet
I defended you
Against my parents
Against the Chinese-privileged Singaporeans
Against Malaysian Malays
And against my white ex boyfriends

And still
You wouldn’t

Your Sister
Your Mother
Your never sought Daughter
Will weep no more
For you.

We will make homes
Of our wombs
Warm safe and loved
To care for seeds
Of tomorrow’s
Malay men
To heal the sorrow
Of today’s
Malay women.

Vanessa Crofskey also writes powerfully. Of course. Living in this supposedly multicultural country is not easy. 

                                   Dumplings are fake

Im so authentic i use chopsticks to eat macaroni
watch hentai on my huawei
and go to ponsonby central to eat chinese

i don’t carry hot sauce in my bag, but i do bring soy to the party
my favourite movie of all time is studio ghibli
and my dad is the white side of the family

my phone vibrates every time a council says “diversity targets”
i get suggested ads for the national party in chinese,
and that thinkpiece on bubble tea is a redirect to my
dot com slash about me

i’m so authentic all my exes had asian fetishes
my mum she love the white man at her dinner table
he tells me to say something in my language
so i say “hello”

and he says
wow! say something else!

so authentic i hugged my granddad on my trip home
and he froze at the shock of intimacy
(we’re that great at building walls)

my great grandma would walk up and down a mountain
with bound feet and huge sacks of rice on her back
for her husband, and i can’t even text a guy back

guilt is an after school curricular
filial piety an apology

i learnt off my mum to fear a full stomach
and i’m always too heavy

my best representation is in a section of pornhub
where all the asian girls and the mixed chicks don’t speak
have big tits, and white men cum all over their faces

i posted about it on snapchat the other day
then a dude screenshotted my next selfie

so authentic i was already just a space that needed filling
something to discipline

tall poppy in a sea of lotus,

Joanna Li provided a fine diasporic poem for part one (ancestors). Not a photo of herself though. Here she is now. To wax cliché  it is good to place an appearance with a name.

                                                         Joanna Li

I would like to conclude this commentary post with a poem by Nina Powles. It is important to point out that not all the poetry of these Kiwi Asian women poems is full of alienation and anger. Of course not. But, the merging/non-merging of cultures for them all, is never far from the forefront of their work, as here. This is the future of our poetry of whetever genre. It will not vanish; it cannot.

It is here to stay. No amount of whitespreading* will dismiss this.

Ode to the Huangpu River

O river of cellophane hearts / river of plastic and metal and bone / curled river of pretend pearl / I know that bodies once floated in your arms / Now you carry all my fragments to the ocean / in your waves of artificial light / in your hot fluorescent current / You river of birdcages / River of burning paper tigers / River of glow-in-the-dark stars and planets and blue whales / falling and falling from the ceiling / their bioluminescent bodies sink into the softness of your bed and stay there / finally at rest / You are artificial light that will not fade / You are blue lanterns / You are polyester orchids / You find yourself in pieces / strewn across the Pacific

Xie xie.

Terima kasih.

Tēnā   koe.

Thank you.

Salamat po.

Dor je sai Pauline, for your fine artwork.

[* whitespreading — a logocentric rationalization by noncolored people, whereby the work of writers and thinkers from other cultures becomes incorporated into expanded yet still noncolored topo1 and tropes. See also Stephen Greenblatt (1990) re: subversive discources and their incorporation into dominant discources.]