It is always a great privilege to review a book written by an upcoming poetic talent. This time, it is the poetess Lixin Tan, who wrote the book Before We Are Ghosts.
The book Before We Are Ghosts (publisher: Math Paper Press, availability: Books Actually (see for more information about the used sources the final section of this article) is written by the Singapore poetess Lixin Tan. This 25-years old creative writer has been writing since she was a child. Her love for poetry began when she was studying. When she is not writing, she is a tax consultant (something completely different) and also volunteers in an animal shelter in Singapore.
Analysis of Before We are Ghosts
We received the ‘raw’ transcripts of her book. On these transcripts, we base this analysis. In these, we see a poetess who explains why she started to write poetry and feels the need to express the importance of her words.
Her journey into poetry started one day. With the memory of her father. In the poem Evenings and Father’s Ghosts, we can read more about the influence her father had on her life and on her work.
My first poem was
not a composition
but a memory of my father
sitting quietly behind me,
watching me play out
the day in colours until
he sighed and smiled,
his hand smoothing
the top of my head,
urging me to look
as his feet carry him
out of the room into a silence
I tried to break and
love all at once,
a silence that still
turns my head to
joy and regret.
Lixin took it upon her, to share as much of her life as she could. Things that inspire her, thoughts that haunt her – even in the deep of night (in the beautiful poem 4.44AM). She also sends out a warning. A warning for this digital bubble we seem to be living in. It all starts with our cell phone. She considers this to be Another cage.
We all love social media, right? At times, we must ask ourselves the question: isn’t it too much? Our digital bubble seems to hold us in captivity and she writes about how it seems that her cell phone (or maybe just an app on her cell phone) stares, but sees nothing. Just like a ghost.
The cell phone
is an exorcism tool
that freed my father from possession
only to have him sucked in, trapped
in another realm, his fingers thumping
against the screen like fists
and now I want to hear his voice
turning my head a fraction every time
to see if he has smiled
i prefer his eyes when they were clouded
by smoke the shape of his pupils
or the colour of our faces
but he stares
through pixels and cells, unseeing.
Like any good poet, Lixin took it upon her to write about love. These aren’t the basic love poems. Not those bittersweet symphonies turned into words. No, here we are able to read what love can do to someone when it isn’t there or it is misplaced. In her poem Because of a wolf in sheep’s clothes, she tells about the true love that turned out to be anything but that. Lies are never a good basis for a relationship, this is made clear in this emotional poem. Doesn’t it all begin with listening to the right words?
Love is also about those who are close to you, without the physical attraction. There comes a time when these loved ones depart. In her poem Later, Lixin describes what happened to her when her grandmother died. These are the moments almost everyone can relate to. A loved one dies and you are searching for memories in every which way. As if you feel the need to hold them close all of a sudden. The fear of letting them go and not remembering them can be heartbreaking.
Grandma’s soul went home
so we stopped searching
to let her sing her songs.
There are letters to nobody we know,
lullabies in a seaside house,
a human carousel revolving to
the sounds of fair warning before
arms come apart and Grandma’s hands
hit the ground, laughter souring with
tears and her head continues whirling
A childhood’s day is gone, and
Grandma has gone with it,
winding and rewinding until
she turns and returns, spinning
old stories and wishing she had learnt.
Sunshine instead of rain
Don’t be confused when it comes to the poetry that this poetess writes. Yes, at times her words are based on so many sad events. There are moments when you are enlightened by her words. She manages to analyse something simple as laughter in a very poetic way. Combined with her very emotional outbreaks, this is the reason why she already published two books (Keeping skeletons and Before we are ghosts). So, sunshine instead of rain!
Currently, she is writing her third book. We cannot wait to read more about that one!
Before We Are Ghosts
And to conclude this review: the title. Before We Are Ghosts is also a poem, not just the title. This isn’t your typical poem (what poem is?) This is the need for someone, to be wherever the other is or was. Except, the other doesn’t seem to be there. The ending seems to be sudden, way too sudden to fully understand. The monstrosity of the unanswered questions after someone departed (presumably: died) leave deep scars. Yes, the poetess can talk bravely, but only to find herself not able to talk. The conversation has come to an ending.
Before We Are Ghosts
Sometimes, I lie where you have stepped before,
only a layer of cloth to shield me from where
cold air has settled, my eyes tracing the lines
on the ceiling just as your feet follow the fractures
in the marble floor, stamping and sliding like
children learning to dance. Once a milk bottle toppled
but what spilled was red hot iron that seeped into
these cracks where my fingers pause and
hover, afraid to stain themselves. Now my body
stretches slightly, calm and free of skin that scrunches
from cowering, and my voice speaks bravely
in a conversation that has ended. You stopped talking
when the blood dried, as if it also dried in your veins
and while I had hoped for silence, it became punishment
for a reprieve we did not deserve.
We are proud that we got the chance to promote this book written by Lixin Tan. We could not have done this with the help of Sarah and Schooling, who are responsible for the artwork for this book and Math Paper Press.
Interested in more of Lixin? Then follow her on Instagram!