Prize-winning Hong Kong-born poet Sarah Howe makes verse of city’s Basic Law

Prize-winning Hong Kong-born poet Sarah Howe makes verse of city’s Basic Law

South China Morning Post

Clare Tyrrell-Morin

Having played down her Chinese side while growing up and studying in the UK, Howe, now at Harvard, has turned to it again as she makes an ‘erasure poem’ out of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution

We meet in a small office on the second floor of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, overlooking a tranquil garden unseen from Harvard University’s main thoroughfares. It’s freezing outside, but the view is spectacular: the bare branches of an ancient tree, contemplated by scholars for generations, silhouetted against a wintry sky. It’s a good view for a poet.

The office belongs to a Radcliffe Fellow, Sarah Howe, who is spending the year here with 50 other artists and scholars. You may not know her name yet, but Howe could become one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated writers.

In December, the 32-year-old won the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award for authors under the age of 35. The previous month, scientist Stephen Hawking read out a poem, titled “Relativity”, that she had written for him for Britain’s National Poetry Day. And, in January, Howe was presented with the £20,000 (HK$204,000) T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry at a lavish ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London.

Her winning collection was “Loop of Jade”, which weaves around her identity as a British-Chinese poet born in Hong Kong. The dualistic, hybrid work dances between the search for her mother’s Chinese roots and subjects as varied as censorship, 14th-century Flemish paintings, evenings in Arizona and the rain in London. The book captures a quest for identity, dislocation and the crossing of waters – themes familiar to many a Hongkonger – yet, equally, it is an exploration of the Western literary canon and the impact Chinese poetry has had on it…

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