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March 19, 2018 | by  | in Arts Poetry |
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He’s So MASC

There’s an animal urgency to Chris Tse’s latest collection of poetry, He’s So MASC. Wrought of thrumming heartbeats and silken nights, his poems are songs: some of lust, some of love, all of light.

He’s So MASC is angry, and justifiably so. Tse’s Chinese identity is a theme in all his poems, as he references all of the struggles and the shame over hiding his identity as a poet, and his parents’ reaction when he confessed his creativity. This comes to a head in ‘Punctum’ where Tse is aware of where he’s supposed to fit, he knows that to “study[…] to be a capitalist” is to be “a good Chinese boy”, yet seeks to rebel and break the mould.

Perhaps the best thing about He’s So MASC is that it feels utterly contemporary. Lines like “love songs […] built with gender-neutral pronouns”, and its references to dating apps and selfies are not snide, but part of the fabric of the everyday. Tse is writing about, and for, the present.

Then there is the underlying contemplation of masculinity from which the title is drawn. Tse characterises typical masculinity as “Coltrane, oil change, accidentally brushing a breast”, while the masculinity of his book is “Madonna, selfies, inability to grow a beard.” Tse’s real strength as a poet becomes apparent, as he expertly juggles, and considers, his many identities: as a man, as a Chinese man, as a gay man, without fetishising any of these.

He’s So MASC has repeated motifs of cities and wolves, and the mediums which unite them: the moon, stars, neon, and things you abandon in the sky. Tse manages these transformations stylishly, pulling you through into his world. Perhaps this is poetry for poets; but a poet can be anyone, and the melody of this book is one easy to follow.

I suggest reading this book in a city at night, when you want to find music amidst roaring.

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