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Spinning droplets: non-first generation East and Southeast Asian Australian poets and the discourse of water
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posted on 26.05.2020by McFarlane, Rosalind Nicole
Poetry written by diasporic Asian groups in Australia has been gaining increasing attention, especially with the 2013 release of Contemporary Asian Australian Poets edited by Adam Aitken, Kim Cheng Boey and Michelle Cahill, the first anthology of this kind of work. This thesis aims to be the first instance of sustained critical attention paid to many of the poets included in this anthology, including Adam Aitken, Ivy Alvarez, Lachlan Brown, Lily Chan, Bella Li, Debbie Lim, Miriam Wei Wei Lo, Omar Musa, Vuong Pham , Jaya Savige and James Stuart.
The poets in this study were chosen because they represent a growing area in Australia: that of Asian Australians who were born in or moved to Australia as children, and who thus have a different perspective on the diasporic experience to those who arrived as adults. There has yet to be much critical attention paid to these non-first generation writers, and this thesis aims precisely to explore the unique perspective these writers may offer. Further, each of these writers has published at least one book or chapbook in Australia, demonstrating their ongoing commitment to their creative work and to being read by an Australian audience. This also allows the study to use an Australian literary perspective when considering how these poets actively engage with an Australian audience.
The choice to focus on poets who have a connection to East or Southeast Asia was made for reasons of focus and brevity, the same reasons the editors of Contemporary Asian Australian Poets limit their collection to poets with cultural backgrounds from specific parts of Asia, though this work draws the lines closer to East and Southeast Asia to allow a more in depth critical focus. I also chose to focus on this group because of the long history they have in Australia and their current creative diasporic community. Jacqueline Lo notes the centrality of this group when founding Asian Australian studies, and there has continued to be a growing conversation around them.
I chose to focus on the trope of water when reading these poems because it represents a connection between Australia and Southeast/East Asia, but also because it represents a separation at the same time. At various times Australia has seen the sea as a way to connect, particularly economically, with East and Southeast Asia. However, this same sea has also been seen as a form of insecurity that allows an invasion. I wanted to investigate the ways in which poets, who by being diasporic are both connected to and separated from the two spaces of Asia and Australia through and because of water.