An Epic Of Durable Departures by Jason Wee

A manifold document on mortality and friendship, Jason Wee’s An Epic of Durable Departures offers a poetry that illustrates – structurally, tonally, emotionally, even erotically – what the most sensitive and intelligent amongst us already know, which is that the truest form of mourning is not about moving on from loss, but about incorporating the brokenness of the past into our present in expansive ways. In Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, a play about the breakdown of romantic feeling, a sequence of dramatised events play out from the present to the past to facilitate pathos with regard to the inevitability of impermanence. In not a dissimilar way, Wee’s collection branches from the future backwards into memory – not to indulge in poignancy, but to betray the fallibility of memory in demonstrating how poetry may enrich and enliven the ways in which we remember those we still love.  

At the heart of this collection is a close friendship between the poet and the late performance artist, Lee Wen, bearing witness to the latter’s losing battle with Parkinson’s. Messing with time and memory from the start, the book’s opening “Epilogue” ends with a proleptic gesture about future death to pre-shadow words that fill subsequent poems sliding further and deeper into the realm of reminiscence:

These fall off my fingers into the dark:
                                negatives, a watch set ten minutes ahead,
                the little given, I kept from dying

Memories become poetically preserved “negatives”, mitigating the absolute tragedy of the inevitable through analeptic imprints on a future of ironic – but also life-affirming, ever-renewable – contemplation about past love through each successive poem. Diverse modes of lyrical expression – myth, fable, ghost-story, art-film, queer-confessional – intercut each other via renga- and haiku-esque lines in capricious ways that do not only challenge our conventions of reading but shift our attention to the tensile pliability of language to re-capture what is “true” about our feelings of the past.

A monumental moment in the book could be “Drawings”, a poem that brings together – in a manner almost mystical – all the best aspects of the poet’s conscious to unconscious intentions in documenting and re-drawing memory, marrying the heartbreaking minutiae of physical disability to the layered possibilities of expression in simultaneous tribute to Lee Wen’s own artistic practice: “Perhaps this is all / the art your arm can make / that morning so early // it is night … / a fist shaking the sky down … the rest is // more or less greater pain … a boat sails / blue with beginning, / like a long-held breath, a boat // dropped sails, calm as / a notebook before it’s inked, / the boat now Elysium.”


by Cyril Wong