July 1, 2017 marked the twentieth anniversary of the return of Hong Kong's sovereignty from the UK to China. On the face of it, Hong Kong may not seem to have changed very much since the 1997 handover. However, beneath this veneer of immutability, people in the city have witnessed and experienced changes - subtle at the very beginning but in recent years increasingly evident - that could prove to be as irrevocable as they are tangible. One of these changes concerns language.
The majority of the population in Hong Kong speak Cantonese as a first language, even though some may speak Mandarin, English or other languages at work. A constantly evolving language, Cantonese is unfortunately being stifled and side-lined institutionally in Hong Kong and there is a sense that it is "endangered". With all this background in mind, I have been intrigued by the various ways non-English native Hong Kong poets incorporate foreign elements, including language, form and thought, into "the local ethos" of Hong Kong in their work.
Aspects of interest are the appropriation of Western poetic forms, explicit references to Western writers in epigraphs or even the body of the texts, reworking and transposing lines from Western poems to suit the Hong Kong cultural and political context, and creative misreadings and wilful erasures of Western texts. The paper then takes as a case study the poetry of the Hong Kong poet Nicholas Wong, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in 2015 for his second poetry collection Crevasse. Looking at the haiku sequence at the end of Crevasse, which is an erasure of letters between James Schuyler and Frank O'Hara, Wong's long Occupy Central poem, and several others, this section investigates how Western literature and culture are incorporated into the expression of a unique Hong Kong identity filtered through gender politics, bilingualism, cultural production and Hong Kong-China relations. The paper ends with a reflection on the impossibility of fashioning a coherent narrative about Hong Kong, and the potential strengths and drawbacks of this reality.