Tuesday 26 January 2021

Find your fix: Portals to new Asian poetry in 2021

Every literary community depends on a constellation of magazines, blogs, journals and reviews that help bring writers closer to their readers. Beyond providing unpublished authors with feedback and recognition, they spark conversations about and around books, fostering thoughtful engagement with writers and their work. In recent years, we’ve welcomed a plethora of outlets that publish and engage with new voices from across the wider ‘Asian’ community. What better way to start 2021 than with a quick survey of these up-and-coming platforms?

With some exceptions, I’ll be focusing on publications that have launched within the last five years, and publish new poetry – though almost all of them also publish fantastic work in other genres. Of course, we shouldn’t forget stalwarts like the Hong Kong-based Cha, which just last year published a powerful retrospective on ‘Tiananmen Thirty Years On’; or Vancouver-based Ricepaper, which began in 1994 as a newsletter at the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop. The following titles simply represent the latest sampling of new publishing initiatives that deserve a wider audience.  

Some of the publications featured below


Southeast Asia

I may be biased, but from my Singaporean vantage-point, Southeast Asia’s burgeoning literary scene has been hard to ignore. Well-loved establishments like Anak Sastra and the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore have paved the way for edgier platforms that experiment more daringly with language and form, or devote themselves to specific geographies and thematic concerns. Most exciting, perhaps, are the wave of new magazines from the Philippines launched over the past two years, including the Dadiangas Review (featuring writers ‘from Mindanao and beyond’) and Katitikan (which focuses on the ‘Philippine South’). The beautifully-designed TLDTD, which released its first issue in August 2020, merits special mention for some of its multilingual offerings – submissions are accepted in ‘any Filipino language’, including translations.

Two Singapore-based journals also come to mind. The Tiger Moth Review was founded in January 2019 with a focus on ‘humanity’s interactions with and impact on the environment’. While featuring voices from further afield, some of its hardest-hitting offerings are by Southeast Asian writers. A much newer arrival on the block is Omelette Magazine, which released its first issue – with no fewer than thirty (!) contributions – in December 2020. Both these publications join an increasingly diverse slate of poetry-focused platforms such as Softblow (founded in 2004), OF ZOOS (2012) and poetry.sg (2015) which continue to put out new work; indeed, the latter’s ‘Track Changes’ project seems to suggest that there is just as much newness to be gained in revisiting and reinventing the ‘old’.

A comprehensive sweep of Southeast Asian literary developments would be quite beyond the remit of this piece, but I would be remiss not to mention Buah, a snazzy zine by and for the Indonesian diasporic community which launched in 2018, or the Mekong Review, a broadsheet literary review (in print since 2015) which publishes new poetry alongside distinguished perspectives on culture and current affairs across the region. With the slow fade of much-missed magazines like Eastlit or the polyglot AJAR, these emerging titles have given Southeast Asian writing a new lease of life.

East Asia, Diasporic ‘Asia’, and Beyond  

Regular followers of the wider Asian poetry scene will be familiar with platforms like The Margins, published by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and Paper Republic’s Pathlight, a journal of new writing in translation from the Chinese-speaking world. Over the past five years, a pair of Shanghai-based magazines – The Shanghai Literary Review and Literary Shanghai’s Alluvium – have surfaced a rich selection of new Anglophone writing, heavily influenced by the city’s cosmopolitan character. Rivalling these publications in range and vitality is Spittoon, the colourful magazine of its namesake Beijing arts collective, which runs a monthly web column dedicated to ‘innovative writing’ from across Asia. Taiwan-based New Bloom differs from these platforms in its primary coverage of ‘activism and youth politics in Taiwan and the Asia Pacific’, but hosts a lively arts and culture segment, which featured a particularly enjoyable recent interview with the poet K-Ming Chang.

Elsewhere, literary magazines rooted in hyphenated and diasporic Asian communities are telling important stories – and featuring impressive new work. Taking their cue from Hyphen, founded in 2002 and now an iconic magazine of Asian American arts and culture, a couple of newer platforms have set out to do the same for the Asian Australian community, including Peril (which launched in 2006) and more recently Liminal (2016). In the spirit of growing the wider community, the latter boasts a comprehensive listing of like-minded publications from across the region. It was from there that I stumbled across the 4A Papers, a publication by the Centre for Contemporary Asian Art that casts an open net to the ‘stories, ideas, responses and styles’ of the region. Its latest issue, released late last year, brought me right back to my starting-point for this survey – with a moving essay by the Filipina poet Eunice Andrada.  


Each of these platforms, and the many more that aren’t included in this brief survey, is a portal to the ever-expanding worlds of ‘Asian poetry’ today, however the term might be experienced and redefined by its readers and writers. Here at the Asian Books Blog, we're very proud to be part of this growing ecosystem: as 2021 dawns, we’ll need these pages – as well as their communities and voices – more than ever before.