Nina Powles – two poems

Nina Powles is a writer and poet from New Zealand, currently living in Shanghai. She is the author of the chapbook Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press, 2014) and several poetry zines. She blogs at Dumpling Queen and is the creator of Tiny Moons


The city of forbidden shrines


I was almost born in the lunar month of padded clothing

in the solar term of almost summer

in the season of ringing cicadas

in the city of forbidden shrines


almost spent a girlhood watching sandstorms

tearing through the almost golden sunlight

I almost scraped dust off my knees each day for fifteen years

almost painted paper tigers each year to burn


I could almost hold all the meanings of 家 in my mouth

without swallowing: [home, family, domestic

a measure word for every almost-place I’ve ever been]

like the swimming pool turning almost blue

or the mausoleum of almost ten thousand oranges


in the land of almost I would never breathe an ocean

never hold mountains in my arms

except in almost-dreams

in which long white clouds drift

almost close enough to touch



Forest City


They say they will build a forest city so that one day our lungs will know what it means to breathe. We won’t notice at first, just a windfall of flower stamens floating down around us one Wednesday afternoon. Then moss spreading through cracks in the pavement and vines curling around streetlights. Blossom trees leaning over balconies, reaching across inner-city highways. Yellow chrysanthemums floating inside water coolers, trees dropping ripe plums all over pedestrian crossings, painting them red. Ivy crawling down through the grates into the subway where I will climb over foxgloves and flowering aloes to get onto the train. We will carry umbrellas to protect ourselves from falling apricots. The street corner where we first met will become a sea of violets. The alleyway where we kissed will be submerged in a field of sunflowers all turning their heads towards us. The planes we saw flying overhead when we opened our eyes while kissing will be obscured by a canopy of giant ferns, the sound of their engines drowned out by leaves whispering. We will be unable to find the steps to your apartment among the plane trees. We will touch each other’s faces and realise our irises have changed colour due to the reflections of hydrangeas. We will retrace our steps to find our way home and when we cannot walk anymore we will lay our bodies down on the forest floor, skin against moss, lips touching the blooms, eyes open in the dark, imagining stars.

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Poetry, Translation

Xu Zhimo – ‘Listening to a Wagner Opera’ (translated by Shelly Bryant)

The translation of this poem was originally commissioned by Lynn Pan for use in her research for her most recent book When True Love Came to China. She has generously allowed us to reprint the work at AlluviumWhen True Love Came to China can be found at Amazon.

Listening to a Wagner Opera

by Xu Zhimo
powers divine or demonic
bring forth thunderous
sounds, a raw howl
like waves on the wild deep;
hellish fires’ rumbles
thrill, like a leonine roar
commanding the seas to split
the skies rent ‘twixt stars and sun;
a sudden silence; only soft
sounds of pine forest
its gentle birdcall before
the cabin’s fluttering curtains;
silence, a portent overshadowing
a barren snowy landscape
o’erflown by a solitary bird
singing its sorrowful song;
in sorrowful song, the reed
flute’s secret seduction
like hoofbeats on a frozen
arid land, armor’s beating rhythm;
beating rhythm, a flood of sound
booming, crashing, banging
to signal a new epoch, the tune
of hoofs pounding and blood flowing;
it is Prometheus, the theft
and the rebellion, chained
to his mountain peak, each meal
dug out from his breast;
it is romance, sorrowful and tragic
it is love, devoted and loyal
all-consuming, universal and miraculous
all-surpassing love;
the artist’s inspiration
the genius of heaven
beyond all powers of explanation
lasting beyond human bonds;
a brewing gloom’s complaint
a raging holy love
a tragic compassion’s spirit
– the genius of the arts.
brilliant, furious, fervent, tragic
out of the forge of love
the artistic impulse draws
the peerless opera of Wagner
• Published in March 10, 1923 “Current News · Learning Light” Volume 5.3.8
† translated by Shelly Bryant, October 2013


– 徐志摩



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Karolina Pawlik – from the ‘Migraintion’ series

Karolina Pawlik is a Shanghai-based researcher, lecturer and writer of mixed Polish and Russian origins. Trained in anthropology, she is mostly interested in visual culture, especially typography evolving in Shanghai since the Republican era. Some of her poems in Polish have been published in Poland. “Migraintion” is the first poetry series she has written in English. 



my roots grow secretly
into a path
for lonely wanderers



the boundary evolved
and hope
is the only way in


an exercise in trust and patience
in the entry-exit office


word embolism
I learn to live
on moonless nights


haiku half-dreamed
Wet Monday morning
downpour on my old roof


less light
is more renewal
moon lesson at the crossroads


the only clarity
is of this night
received with gratitude

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Ryan Foo – two poems

Ryan Foo is an undergraduate reading the liberal arts at Yale-NUS College. 


I stopped.




I stopped going to church at 17.

All my life, the link seemed tenuous, Jesus

didn’t hold on too tight and I hardly snapped along

to gospel anyway. They were strumming

different chords to mine, really.

Earlier, the holy ghost

of a girl had led her hips and lips to mine,

spectral communion on Sunday afternoons.

My catechism ended when I was caught and

stoned. He didn’t send any thunderbolts.




I stopped going to temples and qingming at 18.

I decided that spirituality was too much work;

my grandfather, ever the investor, would probably

have set up a hedge fund by now. The Mercedes

we bought him would be swathed sacrifice along

with hell notes from six dynasties,

and his gravestone will still be

swept of cobwebs every year whilst his body lies beyond

recognition. Joss sticks become substitutes for cremations,

and the farce of bowing three times stands stark;

a naked emperor — my cousin grudgingly elbows me:

‘nobody ever finds love at a funeral.’

How about we care a little more for the living instead?




I stopped respecting my family at 21.

Insolent fool, what do you know of struggle? You

spilled from my seed, and I raised you

from naught till now —

But Zeus rose up and imprisoned Kronus,

and Oedipus himself was a liminal figure

between sphinx and new gods, Laius.




punchup in a garden


what does it mean to have authority?

to bend and snap at the bough

from family trees to attention.


now titrate me someone who can lead

a household, muster and marshal.

i no longer need verbose phraseology,


nor half moves, nor pacifier

once again, shoved in uniforms

enthralled to sugared canes and dining chairs.


love, your bark is worse than your bite,

and the cold fertilises better than emotions. now

germinate anything but the withered shell that


threatens self-immolation before me today.

seeds for growth she sows, she says, but all she does is decay.


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Juli Min – ‘Pictograph’

Juli Min is the Editor in Chief of The Shanghai Literary Review. TSLR is a biannual print magazine of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and translation, and its editors split time between New York and Shanghai. TSLR accepts submissions year-round and hosts a monthly open mic night in Shanghai. For more information about events and submissions, please visit

Min also co-founded the Jululu Independent Book Festival and is a Lecturer of writing at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. Her work has been published in Hazlitt, Real Life, SCMP, & Storychord.




outside the window a man paints

grey stone tiles with water with

the end of a long brush

each square a house for a letter



on tiles further away

already drying, strokes, shrinking

turning into dots


the cafe is warm the sun

the yellowed gingko

leaves shaking below

JingAn temple, gilded

I, slow,

expanding around me,

bookshelves, books, magazines

becoming dots


he walks with a small limp

across the street

the thicket of gingko, French plane


leaves in the autumn

gilded like the eaves

of the temple after


a while

a light rain falls


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Shelly Bryant – five poems

SHELLY BRYANT divides her year between Shanghai and Singapore, working as a poet, writer, and translator. She is the author of eight volumes of poetry (Alban Lake and Math Paper Press), a pair of travel guides for the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai (Urbanatomy), and a book on classical Chinese gardens (Hong Kong University Press). She has translated work from the Chinese for Penguin Books, Epigram Publishing, the National Library Board in Singapore, Giramondo Books, and Rinchen Books. Shelly’s poetry has appeared in journals, magazines, and websites around the world, as well as in several art exhibitions. Her translation of Sheng Keyi’s Northern Girls was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012, and her translation of You Jin’s In Time, Out of Place was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2016.  You can visit her website at




in my defense

ditches dug, mounds erected

smooth surfaces made rough

safety measures

preventing passage of hostiles

the scarred face of home

my safeguard

against invasion




7 March 3529


Kepler K20 mission arrives

at HAT-P-11b

then looks back, homeward


on Earth the descendants

of those whose jaws dropped

at the K20’s images

of the titan Saturn


note in despair


even Sol is not the lucida

in the probe’s newfound constellation




Images 2014


a stellar year



the Berlin Wall falling



at Altair’s orbiting wards


while Attila the Hun

ravaging Rome and

Muhammed fleeing Mecca


on Dereb’s planetary plane


lightyears crossed

distant eyes espy

movements of Earth’s people

long deceased


the same day Hubble descries

a star’s death throes

its exploding ecstasy



In the Reading Room at the Science Academy


The astronomy journal knows its audience. On the stodgy-looking cover, Luke Skywalker’s name and home planet in large, bold print. I turn to page 03-114, an article about recently-sighted circumstellar and circumbinary planets. I read: as of late 2014, all the circumbinary planets so far sighted are gas giants; none have rocky surfaces. 

I memorize the name Kepler 16B, the first transiting circumbinary planet seen by Earth eyes. Perfect for the planet in my short story. I wonder if anyone will pick up on the poetic license – my Kepler 16B will be inhabited, not a huge gasball orbiting its two suns.

Exoplanets in orbit around a single star in a binary system, the two stars orbiting each other once every century or so. I wonder whether Tatooine was meant to be circumstellar or circumbinary. Not well-versed in Star Wars lore beyond the films, I cannot answer the circumbinary-or-circumstellar question. I make a guess. Tatooine: transiting circumbinary planet (but not a gas giant). At least, this fits the sunset in that iconic scene.

The long hand draws near the 5 on the clock’s face. An afternoon, whiled away pondering the path of a planet that does not exist. “Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” Owning the chide, I pack up and leave the Reading Room. Outside, the blaze of my single sun nears the horizon.

evening commuters

under a plane tree canopy

– standstill traffic


bound by metaphors

provided by my race

I think of his magnetism

as that which draws me

not noting its other

equally strong impulse

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Verena Tay – four poems

Within Singapore, Verena Tay ( has published two short story collections, Spectre (2012) and Spaces (2016), and four play collections, and edited twelve fiction anthologies, including Math Paper Press’ popular Balik Kampung series. She is now working on her first novel as part of her PhD studies in Creative Writing at Swansea University.



relations blocked*


woman sits

Today hot. Lucky I rest.


artist draws woman sitting

In her curves, there are lines, and her lines, curves.


friend paints artist drawing woman sitting

Get right – shape, position, colour – you have a picture.


i describe friend painting artist drawing woman sitting

I see. I like. I write.


you read me describing friend painting artist drawing woman sitting

Your view?


* inspired by Liu Kang’s Artist and Model (1954). Oil on canvas. Collection of the National Gallery Singapore











curl your shoulders


fumes feed your

i me mine






exploding        then       rules

till now




and audiences have learned



illiterate i

read only your body and

wonder how you

won respect when all you

do is

fuck off


* inspired by Latiff Mohidin’s Aku (1958). Oil on board. Collection of the National Gallery Singapore



Curated Five: Only in Singapore

Each pencil-charcoal shaded paper

Human form perfectly caught


Three profiles facing left

Two girls, one man

Two shirtless youths

One full-bodied, gazing left

One seated, turning right


Note their ethnicity






Too much




the road oft taken

roads are never equal. poets always claim:

wander to wonder, explore bent undergrowths,

discover divergence. the efficient truth is

we’re forest shrews scurrying black

the everyday path until we know well

how many steps taken to and from home,

where to swerve, not trip over dip-holes,

when to slow down, not fly over bumps,

and crash into our enemies’ mouths.

surprise is far too risky. can we survive?

ages hence, the woods can be just as glorious

by absorbing how way leads on to way.

evolved into blind mole rats, we’ve kept alive.

so why can’t we hold our heads up high?



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Luis Morales-Navarro – three poems

Luis Morales-Navarro (莫路) is a writer/coder interested in natural language processing, computational literature, networked physical computing, poetry and speculative fiction. Currently he is a Resident Research Fellow at New York University Shanghai.


Nongfu Spring

Clusters of dust blossom with the winter

In my body there are kegs of Chinese beer

I inhale blue-white air

Walls drip sweat and all I want is water

The bottle a place in darkness

The forest trail

The wide bridge flowing with the currents

and the end of wilderness,

craving juices, gazing at plums that quench thirst

Springs melted from snow and ice on top of the

mountain converge underground,

moving along holes and cracks in the basalt

There are many aged boats

The spring adjusts the seasons with the wind of her soul

It dissolves silicon dioxide in surrounding rocks to form

silicate-type mineral water with low sodium

from beneath the volcanic basalt surface

purified through the rock stratum before gushing out from below

suitable for long term consumption

Clouds poured into her mouth

become words walking her gardens

Two drops on a leave laugh as if sharing an inside joke

all this came to pass with us

money plants creep in through the water

Unintelligible characters swim

Flowers are born, beautiful people surrounded by water

I ask Feng Xiaoyang about the Nongfu Spring

He says it doesn’t exist



Cuaderno Verde

for Claudia Mejía


Demonstrate your understanding in 511

a conversation with Borges

a petition from an old severe peasant


—after surfing for three years— in Nanjing

the emperor receives the patriarch of Hindustan

these happenings and these beings are momentaneous


their mansions raided corporal punishment

too feeble to talk playing decent go pre-dream

brought to the house confiscated poetry


on the road in particular, the datalogs

flake across the desk if one person committed a crime

revise the law if the household had seniors or children


—full of nihilism— the Bodhidharma:

I don’t know who I am. who is it?

three pounds of lino. the letter kills.



Wéixīn Man

I dreamed I was a profile. When I woke up I ignored

if I had a dream where I was a profile or

if I was a profile dreaming of being me

It all started when we looked at each other

with a special tactile chemistry


When the world crashes on my hand

other people and I are of the same womb

made me what I am

we are just good friends

I’m a wéixīn man


And we are still good friends

software for the purpose of finding you

wéixīn man with character amnesia

use it only as a backup

that its sorry was dancing

I close my eyes and there you are


When my hand laughs

I’m a wéixīn man, and I’m gonna say

You know the way it is

watching every glyph

content not for sale


“At thirty a man stands”

giving the right to use his content

with no fees or charges payable to him by them

export it everywhere in the world

Another wéixīn man

By its grace i am new man

And my song is filled with joy

Of its image I am a reflection


“At forty a man is no longer puzzled”

under rocks and a thousand places

in order to comply with applicable laws or regulations

his data may have already been disclosed

pack it in a crate and ship it off

because autocomplete software


A gust rises I’m a wéixīn man

With predictive text from the 1950s conquering my words

But we are still friends. The software studies my habits

And my answer sounds like me with character amnesia

like me at my most generic






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Cyril Wong – three poems

Cyril Wong is the author of The Lover’s Inventory, and other works of poetry and fiction in Singapore.


On Universality

Ben Lerner writes in The Hatred of Poetry,

“Everybody can write a poem,” and asks if

“the distillation of your innermost being …


[can] make a readership, however small, a People …?”

Maybe because I’m not American


or because I was never a Universalist,

I’ve always thought, “Of course not!”

I write for you (as you watch your action-movie


beside me on a plane drifting through turbulence)

but more likely for me—or the infinity within me/us


that doesn’t toss, swell or shrink beyond

the vicissitudes of self, the words we tell ourselves.




What is the word that means

an existence of looking

both inwardly—without judgment


or desire to derive absolute sense—

towards an unfolding profundity,


and outwardly from somewhere

beneath the surface of our bodies

at every word, gesture and


reciprocity passing for time, all

without feeling divided, absent,


sorrowful or benumbed?





We think about moving to Malaysia

when we have enough money

or when we run out of excuses.

Anywhere freer than Singapore.

Not freer, but across the causeway

we could disappear in that hinterland

that isn’t an island; that is vast enough.

We talk of leaving but never go.

Night inclines us to each other.

Two homosexuals in a possibly more

conservative country—the irony.

Or maybe not at all ironic, since

being invisible is what we’re used to

and now it could be an advantage.

Yes, the irony. No hope of changing

society; instead we pick a Malaccan

condo beside a hospital, as healthcare

is important in our old age. Imagine

that: we might die together

far from here, when our home here

shades into a dream we might finally

depart, before waking up together

inside a better dream. Our merging

bodies on the bed; peninsula

withstanding the sea.

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