Tilting Our Plates, Cyril Wong.
A groundbreaking volume of poetry. The title suggests how the humblest of acts can be enlightening and the poems in Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light work through two clefs. The bass clef relates to mortal earth and the treble clef to mythological time. Two narratives exist together, the life of two male lovers and the the loving actions of the main Hindu gods. Each of the ten titled poems takes its title from a musical term, specifically the act of singing. Music enters Cyril Wong's poetry in this volume at two levels: the literal, where a reader hears melopoeia; the metaphoric, where music relates to time and states of existence.
In this work, the lovers are described, not characterised, and exist as moods in a musical composition. Time is a key theme of love poetry and this volume in particular where seven of the sections relate to musical tempo. The central and defining moment in the lovers' narrative is when both are found to be HIV positive. Yet this is described as "the gift", not as a tragedy, or as the religious line would be: a punishment for homosexuality. Life is a death sentence, so AIDS paradoxically becomes an aid that allows the lovers to face mortality and the nature of their love. As Sontag argued in AIDS and its Metaphors, AIDS is beset by military and violent metaphors that run counter to healing. The battle against AIDS reduces an individual to a casualty in a field of war. The poems in this volume hit a therapeutic chord.
Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light is a volume about metaphor and how words bear life, support it and carry it across into understanding. In Western thought, the symbol for balance is the androgyne, the union of binary genders, two in one. Depth psychology would see this as the blending of Anima and Animus, vast cosmic archetypes. The closing of Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light suggests something else: the emanation Harihara, born as Shiva's maleness opens to Vishnu, creates a male-male archetype that opens a new understanding for the gay lovers and by implication: gay love.
Cyril Wong is a highly significant poet/gay poet. He writes with honesty and panache, but reveals an ability to write with the pedal pressed in this volume, sustaining desire from one poem to another and composing an original sequence of poems. Gay poet, like confessional poet, is not a reductive term when applied to Cyril Wong: it simply records one vital aspect of his creative universe.