Jee Leong Koh writes out of the heart of a contemporary reality most readers are familiar with at second or third hand. He writes of the boats to Lesbos – not Sappho’s island any more, but a camp of migrants. He writes of exile, homelessness (literal and figurative); he understands the perils of war, and the perils of certain kinds of peace. Inspector Inspector, his second Carcanet book (Steep Tea was published in 2015 and chosen as a Best Book of the Year in the Financial Times) and it develops his earlier themes with authority, passion and a sense of possible justice. He knows best Singaporeans, Americans, and Singaporeans in America. He risks longer verse forms, sequences and prose poems. Steep Tea dialogued with women poets from across the world; Inspector Inspector struggles with the legacies of fathers, personal, poetic, and political. Predecessors from very different realms walk together at the hour just before morning. They speak in the tones of lament, wonderment, ecstasy, compelling the poet to mingle their words with his.
Scattered through the book are thirteen Palinodes in the voice of his dead father, which he answers when the father’s voice falls silent; an erotically charged sequence of love poems entitled ‘Ungovernable Bodies’; ten poems from ‘A Simple History of Singaporeans in America’; and fifteen focuses on America today in ‘50 States in 50 Days!’ There are also his unexpected, powerful single lyrics that touch the quick of contemporary concerns. His is an inclusive, generous and forgiving imagination with an enviable mastery of traditional and experimental forms.