"we... head back to English": Anglophone Lyric in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines

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English has become such a widespread international language that it has spawned Anglophone literatures in many countries. The spread of English has been one of the largely unintended benefits of empire, including in Hong Kong. For most countries the era of empire sufficiently belongs to history that literary "postcolonial" studies now seem to have largely run their course, to be replaced by the more open "transcultural" studies. This signifies the English language's loss of the stigma of empire as it gains a local habitation and a name. However, English often remains a minority language and a minority literature in a specific national context. These literatures are certainly minority ones in global terms, routinely ignored in the Norton, Oxford and other major anthologies of modern English literature. This makes all the more important a possible fraternity, or sorority, of such immigrant Anglophone literatures and the reading of them in relation to each other. Such writing will be, in the words of the editors of the first anthology of writing in English from South-east Asia, "separated by distance, cultural diversity and differing historical trajectories" (Patke et al, xv). What the writing will have in common are the characteristics of English, thereby encouraging an attention to the aesthetic qualities of the writing as well as the socio-political issues which have dominated literary criticism over the last fifty years in reaction against New Criticism. This paper attempts such a glocal study through a comparison of the work of established contemporary poets from Hong Kong, Singapore and The Philippines, each an Asian place with a recent but now strong enough Anglophone poetry to mark the foundations of a tradition. For practical purposes, this is a sample of countries and of poets, the three being Agnes Lam (Hong Kong), Kirpal Singh (Singapore) and Isabela Banzon (The Philippines).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-159
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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