About the book

About the author

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(Click here to listen to Yam Gong's reading of "Moving a Stone".)

Yam Gong is a singular poet. He is a literary outsider, yet respected across both experimental and traditionalist camps, among both older and younger generations of writers in Hong Kong. His first collection, And So You Look at Festival Lights along the Street, appeared in 1997. His forthcoming volume, titled And So Moving a Stone (Hide-and-Seek-Peekaboo) You Look at Festival Lights along the Street, contains both new and previously published poems, playfully illustrating that Yam Gong’s books are really one continuous work. Yam Gong’s knack for variousness allows him to be funny and lighthearted, and meditative and serious-minded, often in the same poem. 

About the translators

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James Shea is the author of two poetry collections, The Lost Novel and Star in the Eye, both from Fence Books. His poems and translations have appeared in various journals, including Bennington Review, Brick, Kenyon Review, and The Iowa Review. He has received grants from the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, Hong Kong Arts Development Council, National Endowment for the Arts, and Vermont Arts Council. He is an associate professor and the director of the Creative and Professional Writing Programme at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). Since 2018, he has been the associate director of the International Writers’ Workshop at HKBU. 

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Dorothy Tse is the author of several short story collections and has received the Hong Kong Book Prize, Hong Kong Biennial Award for Chinese Literature, and Taiwan’s Unitas New Fiction Writers’ Award. Her first book to appear in English, Snow and Shadow (translated by Nicky Harman), was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Her first novel in English Owlish (translated by Natasha Bruce) is forthcoming in 2023. The cofounder of the literary journal Fleurs des Lettres, she is currently the director of a bilingual MA programme in creative writing at Hong Kong Baptist University. 

Further Reading

From the translators' introduction to Moving a Stone

Yam Gong is a singular poet. He is a literary outsider, yet respected across both experimental and traditionalist camps, among both older and younger generations of writers in Hong Kong. His poems may appear to be accessible and “friendly,” evoking his widely used nickname of “Uncle Yam Gong” for some, until one discovers their sly paradoxes and sleights of hand. Even his slow writing process and unusual titles suggest an idiosyncratic writer: his first collection, And So You Look at Festival Lights along the Street, appeared in 1997 when he was forty-eight, more than twenty-five years after his poems began to be featured in journals. His second major work, And So Moving a Stone You Look at Festival Lights along the Street, was released thirteen years later and included selections from his 1997 debut. His forthcoming volume, titled And So Moving a Stone (Hide-and-Seek-Peekaboo) You Look at Festival Lights along the Street, contains both new and previously published poems, playfully illustrating that Yam Gong’s books are really one continuous work. The name “Yam Gong” is the pseudonym of Lau Yee-ching, and means, literally, “drinking” (yam) and “river” (gong). Asked in a 2012 interview by the poet Liu Wai-tong to explain the origin of his pen name, Yam Gong said he took the characters from a random Chinese poem, in which yam was the first character and gong the last. He didn’t share the poem’s title; revealing it, he said, would take all the fun out of it. Borrowing language to refashion as his own is a hallmark of Yam Gong’s work. As noted by the Hong Kong writer Yip Fai, Yam Gong’s poetry can be a heady mix of lexical registers, including dialogue, English song lyrics, idioms, lines from classical Chinese poetry, slang, and phrases from prayers. Yet the poet She-kwan once referred to Yam Gong’s poetry as having a subtlety and quietness “like the sound of a clear stream heard in a temple,” and the Taiwanese poet Yu Kwang-chung described Yam Gong’s poem “Flying Ants over Water” as a masterpiece, noting that the poem is “magically beautiful and yet the language is so innocent and clear.” Yam Gong’s knack for variousness allows him to be funny and lighthearted, and meditative and serious-minded, often in the same poem. Born in 1949 in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island, Yam Gong is the third of eight sons. Both of his parents immigrated from Guangzhou province in southern China and came from well-to-do families. His father worked for the family business, a major Chinese medicine company. In 1949, he opened his own trading company, but the firm went bankrupt due to the British colonial government’s ban on trade with mainland China during the Korean War. Unable to secure a suitable position, he remained unemployed for almost ten years. Yam Gong’s mother began working at home, mending clothes and doing transcriptions, after her family’s businesses, a traditional cake shop and an ice house on Hollywood Road in Central, closed down in the late 1950s. When he was thirteen, Yam Gong quit school and began working. He took all kinds of jobs—first as a delivery boy and later as staff in a restaurant kitchen. As he got older, he found work moving heavy items, like crates of soft drinks and gas tanks; he was also briefly employed as a car mechanic. In 1973, he found a permanent job as a maintenance worker at the Kowloon Wharf, a large dockside warehousing site near Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, where he was responsible for repairing forklifts and cranes. By the late 1980s, when the wharf was completely transformed into a mall complex named Harbour City, Yam Gong was maintaining the air conditioning and water systems in the plant room, where he would remain until his retirement in 2021. According to the scholar Lui Tai-lok, the Ocean Terminal’s Café do Brasil was “the coffee shop in the mid-1960s and early 1970s.” While young bohemians and student activists gathered at the salon-like café, Yam Gong worked nearby at the wharf. For six days a week over nearly fifty years, he put in eight- to nine-hour shifts—both days and nights, with frequent overtime. While his coworkers gambled during breaks, he often read. Yam Gong has mentioned that he rarely sat at a desk to write poems; instead, he scribbled down lines during short work breaks and on his bus commute. Asked once if he wrote on his days off, he replied wryly, “No, time is too valuable to use it on poems.”

More writing about Yam Gong
  • 《於是你沿街看節日的燈飾》(And So You Look at Festival Lights along the Street, 1997)

  • 《於是  搬石你沿街看節日的燈飾》(And So Moving a Stone You Look at Festival Lights along the Street, 2010)

  • 《於是搬石伏匿匿躱貓貓你沿街看節日的燈飾》(And So Moving a Stone (Hide-and-Seek-Peekaboo) You Look at Festival Lights along the Street, 2022)

 

Buy the book here.

Moving a Stone: Selected Poems of Yam Gong is a book-length selection and translation of Yam Gong's poetry, published in 2022 by Zephyr Press and Spicy Fish Cultural Production. The book presents Chinese readers with a new view of Yam Gong's poetry and gives English readers a first look at the breadth and depth of Yam Gong's work. Yam Gong and the translators, James Shea and Dorothy Tse, all live, work, and write in Hong Kong.
 

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