Jee Leong Koh’s
latest book of poetry, Seven Studies
for a Self Portrait, provides an
intricate point-of-view puzzle for the
reader A quote from Nietzche at the
beginning of the book lays down the
rules for the game. “I create and carry
together into One what is fragment and
riddle and dreadful accident.”
The book is divided into seven sections,
all of them interrelated and linked to
self-identify, primarily homosexual
The first section, “Seven Studies for a
Self Portrait” offers the reader seven
self-portraits of artists, each told
from a first-person point of view:
Dürer, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Schiele,
Kahlo, Warhol and Morimura.
Here is Vincent van Gogh’s.
#3: After Vincent van Gogh
God sank a mineshaft into me for
I could not see in the coalming
Coal dust ate the baby potatoes
When a man slammed into a woman,
climbed in their heads and
formed a cloud.
I carried away what was mine,
black into blue, red to rose,
yellow to gold.
I burn a house and change it to
I burn the fuse of flesh and my
a wheel of fireworks, a vase of
The next section section, called
“Profiles” characterizes seven men, each
from the third-person point of view.
The third section, “I am my names,”
presents seven captivating riddle poems
in the first person.
The world is never what it
It is far more interesting
to guess the secrete affinities:
The boy and
girl sleep side by side,
the lion by the slab of lamb,
the garden’s promise by its rot.
My name is Mystery. I am a
The fourth section, “What we call
vegetables” provides seven humorous
poems about the identity of vegetables,
most in the first-person, plural. Here
is the poem, "Stem" from this series.
(And, yes, there could be a
double-entendre in regard to the word
We spare, we spear
your gut. We spare
most of you
our acrid smell
A few get us.
his chamber pot.
As do doctors.
As do saints
The fifth section provides "Translations
of an Unknown Mexican Poet." The
sixth section, "Bull Ecogues"
presents poems about the experience of
homosexuality in contemporary culture.
The last section, "A Lover's
Recourse: After Roland Barthes," which
is the longest, provides a series of
quick, odd, and often funny,
relationship proverbs. Here's an
fading is a fault but silence is
Must unendurable, Jee, is the
What is the answer to the riddle of this
highly creative, puzzle-type, book?
There's only one way to find out . . .
—Reviewed by Mary Ann Sullivan