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'cultivated, / Wild, exotic': Nationalism and Internationalism in the Poetry of Shirley Geok-lin Lim


Born in multicultural Malacca during British rule, educated there and later in Kuala Lumpur and Boston, a long-time resident of the USA and a visiting professor to many countries, Shirley Geok-lin Lim seems a transnational writer par excellence. Yet much of her later work involves looking back to Malacca, “at a loss here, / Loosening my grip on yesterday,” afraid of losing “[s]hades of father and mother.” She is the author of poems, short stories, novels and a memoir, as well as literary and social criticism. The memoir, Among the White Moon Faces, is subtitled, “An Asian-American Memoir of Homelands,” and the plural noun is notable. Concentrating on her poetry, this paper charts her shifting sense of identity as Malaccan, Malaysian, American and as a woman of Chinese heritage whose language is English, through “[s]peech which is sufficient enterprise,” even though in these late poems she can feel “unmoored” and sense “the gravity / of the unmade I.”

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