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Besiege Me

Nicholas Wong 黃裕邦 /
Noemi Press, 2021年 /
Jacqueline Leung 梁婉揚 /

In Besiege Me, Nicholas Wong’s latest poetry collection, physical desire belies existential trauma. The word “besiege” refers to a city under attack, but also to the self as a space in which different forces – family, love, politics – exert influence. How does one come to be?

“When you gave a few pushes on my mom / to give me manhood & a prostate, you also gave me a natal chart & some bones to break / in the years of fire. Maybe I feet head no good / (brought bad luck).” These lines are from Intergenerational, a poem that comes early in the book and reads like an overture of tension coursing through the pages. The narrator, now grown and financially able, takes care of his aged, ailing parents. Through the simple chores of bringing clothes to the hospital and watching TV, Wong describes embodying an identity that constantly needs to be explained, like having to clarify which name is one’s family name at Immigration; otherwise, one remains an inscrutable other, the way queerness in a typical Chinese household is tacitly ignored.

Besiege Me has been published six years after Crevasse, Wong’s first collection, for which he became the first Asian poet to win the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. It continues his examination of themes including the wounds and wants of the body, as well as the mix of cultures and languages in Hong Kong, but also smarts with echoes of the city’s fresh battles. Pain and longing spill into silences marked by the unsaid, which is all the important things.

In the first part of Dark Adaptation, a series of poems commissioned by New York’s Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in 2018, Wong imagines a Hong Kong in the year 2052, when Cantonese is eliminated and poets are “disappeared”, a passive term used to denote involuntary vanishing. “This is how it was in the beginning: some eggs knew / what to do with _____ if _____ did not break them … A grand law about _____ was hatched fast / enough but was hated even faster.” Appearing as multiple choice questions and commentaries on everyday life, the blanks read like realisations, conveying threats that have already become reality: the enactment of censorship, and writing as a way of pointing toward what remains.

Other poems suggest that censorship and self-erasure are not all that different. I Swipe My AmEx to Cover My Father’s Treatment for a Virus in His Lung I Don’t Know How to Pronounce explores filial debt through a parent’s medical bills. In it, the narrator describes his queerness as something that can never get across: “I think _____ thoughts, / play _____ chess, walk _____ dogs.” His father’s denial follows, imagined before any attempt: “You aren’t like me.” Vacuum, which is about the oppressive employment conditions of Hong Kong’s migrant workers, refers to an assaulted domestic helper as “[  ]”, implying her lack of individuality and the ubiquity of the crime. She is insinuated to have contributed to her victimhood, and becomes a “force, / then an object / the force imposed upon.”

These turns of phrase also show Wong’s astute interrogation of language, how it looks and how it sounds – in English, Chinese, Cantonese and even Konglish, intrinsic to the formation of a Hong Kong identity. There are many references to internet slang in Golden, named after the popular web forum HKGolden, widely used by the young generation to discuss everything from celebrity news to decentralised protest action. Beginning with “the goodest English”, which mistypes “agree” as “agger”, Wong displays playful adaptations of slogans, hashtags and trends in 20 small sections (for readers not in touch with Cantonese or local discourse, there is an extensive glossary of terms at the end). Humour mixes with satire and also memories of inflicted violence, as one section reads: “The city’s walls & streets will soon grow / immune to bullets invented & not / 啪啪啪啪啪…”, which relates the sound of gunshots to the onomatopoeia of sex.

Comparing the city to the workings of the body, Wong portrays systematic failure as a form of biological collapse. This sense of corporeality extends from personal experience, from witnessing the deterioration of old age to encounters with inopportune desire, to substantiate the absurdity of our times. Like the poems in this collection, words give voice to suffering, not to alleviate but to validate its presence, and it is through these efforts that one feels more anchored. As with the final stanzas of City Mess, Mother Mess, Fluids Mess, written in the aftermath of the Umbrella Revolution, words linger like a signal, laying down what memory allows. Read now, the poem’s meaning has changed, but also remains partly the same:

The city’s brain is broken, its stem alive.

Nothing emptier beats emptying.

Can you be shockproof? I ask language.

Waylaid, it arcs away – its last spark.

Not the brightest, but the one cuing smartly: a cry.


在黃裕邦的最新詩集《Besiege Me》中,肉慾掩蓋了生存創傷。「Besiege(圍困)」一詞既可形容一個飽受攻擊的城市,亦可形容一個由家庭、愛情和政治等各種力量施加影響的自我空間。這種困局到底是怎樣形成?

“When you gave a few pushes on my mom / to give me manhood & a prostate, you also gave me a natal chart & some bones to break / in the years of fire. Maybe I feet head no good / (brought bad luck).” (「當你推我媽幾把 / 給我剛陽氣與前列腺,你也給我天宮圖和讓我去折斷的幾條骨 / 在火之年。或者我腳頭唔好 / (陀衰家)。」)這些文字來自詩集前段詩歌《Intergenerational》,讀起來像一首貫穿書中張力的序。詩中主角現已長大成人,有經濟能力照顧老病雙親。黃裕邦透過帶衣服到醫院和看電視的簡單瑣事,具體描述他需要重複解釋的身份,像是在入境處要釐清哪個字是姓氏一樣,否則他只會是個不可思議的存在,正如非異性戀在一般中國家庭往往都會被默默無視。

《Besiege Me》於黃裕邦首本詩集《Crevasse》出版6年後面世,他憑《Crevasse》成為了首位獲得蘭布達文學獎男同志詩歌組別首獎的亞洲詩人。最新詩集繼續探討身體的傷口和需要,以及香港的文化和語言融合的主題,同時刺痛城市近日鬥爭的傷口。痛苦和渴望滲入沉默之中,未盡之言才最重要。

黃裕邦於2018年受紐約古根漢美術館的委託創作了《Dark Adaptation》一組詩歌,在詩歌的第一部分中,他想像於2052年的香港粵語會被抹去,詩人也會「被消失」(形容人非自願消失)。“This is how it was in the beginning: some eggs knew / what to do with _____ if _____ did not break them … A grand law about _____ was hatched fast / enough but was hated even faster.” (「最初是這樣子:有些雞蛋知道 / 應該怎樣對待 _____ 若 _____ 沒有把它們擊破… 一條宏大的法律 _____ 快速出台 / 夠快但更快被憎恨。」)空白位置像是日常生活的多項選擇題和評價,讀起來恍如真實,表達出一些已成現實的威脅:審查制度以及要透過寫作指出僅餘的價值。

其他詩歌提出審查制度與自我抹殺無異。《I Swipe My AmEx to Cover My Father’s Treatment for a Virus in His Lung I Don’t Know How to Pronounce》透過父母的醫療帳單探討孝道。主角描述自己的同志身份永遠無法被理解,詩中寫道: “I think _____ thoughts, / play _____ chess, walk _____ dogs.” (「我想 _____ 想法 / 捉 _____ 棋,溜 _____ 狗」)他會想像,在作任何嘗試後,他的父親都會作出否定道:「你不像我。」《Vacuum》寫的是香港外籍家庭傭工高壓的工作環境,以「[  ]」代表受襲的家庭傭工暗示了她缺乏個體特徵和罪行的普遍性。她被暗示是有份導致她成為受害人,並成為了 “force, / then an object / the force imposed upon.” (「力,/ 然後物件 / 被迫承受的力。」)。

這些詞組轉換展示出黃裕邦對語言精妙的質問,包括於英文、中文、廣東話甚至是形成香港固有身份的港式英文的外觀和發音。《Golden》中有很多提到網絡潮語的例子,詩歌以流行網絡論壇高登命名。高登論壇於年輕一代中非常普及,討論話題涵蓋明星新聞到無大台的示威活動。黃裕邦以 ”the goodest English” 開頭,串錯 “agree” 的 “agger”,在20個小部分中展示了口號、主題標籤和趨勢的有趣改編(結尾有廣泛的詞彙表供不懂廣東話或本土用語的讀者參考)。幽默感既充滿諷刺意味,也伴隨著被暴力侵害的記憶,正如這一段: “The city’s walls & streets will soon grow / immune to bullets invented & not / 啪啪啪啪啪…” (「城內的牆與街道將變得 / 對想像與真實的槍聲免疫 / 啪啪啪啪啪…」),將槍聲與性愛的擬聲詞連結。

黃裕邦比較城市與人體的運作方式,將制度失敗描繪為一種生物崩潰。這種物質性從個人經歷擴展,從目睹衰老到遇上不合時宜的慾望,到證實我們時代的荒謬。如本詩集中的詩歌一樣,文字的存在是讓苦難發聲,不是要減輕痛楚,而是要證明痛苦的存在,亦是這些艱苦令人更加堅定。就像在雨傘革命之後寫的《City Mess, Mother Mess, Fluids Mess》最後的章節,文字猶如一個信號徘徊,在記憶點頭的時候放下。現在再讀,詩歌的含義已經改變,但部份始終如一:

The city’s brain is broken, its stem alive.

Nothing emptier beats emptying.

Can you be shockproof? I ask language.

Waylaid, it arcs away – its last spark.

Not the brightest, but the one cuing smartly: a cry.

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