we explain they are apple-
pears, I explain them like I explain myself:
like one thing, like another
but neither, you must taste it to know it
(‘Apple-Pears’, Andy Quan)
Born in 1969 in Vancouver, B.C., Andy Quan is a third-generation Chinese-Canadian and fifth generation Chinese-American with roots in the villages of Canton. He is the author of four books. His first collections of poetry, Slant, and short fiction, Calendar Boy, were released in North America in 2001. Calendar Boy was published in Australia by Penguin in 2002 and was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. In 2005, Six Positions: Sex Writing by Andy Quan was published.
Quan was recognised as the Charity Erotic Awards Writer of the Year 2005 and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association Writer of the Year 2005. In 2007, his second collection of poetry, Bowling Pin Fire, was published through Signature Editions of Winnipeg, Canada. After living in Toronto, London, and Brussels, Quan is currently living in Sydney, Australia, where he works as consultant on regional HIV issues.
From the exuberance of childhood memories as a migrant in ‘Quiet and odd’, to the realisation of his sexuality in ‘The Leg Crosser’, from travels through Canada, Sydney and Malaysia, to love, mourning and the erotic, Quan’s lyricism lets loose life in its heterogeneous demands and desires, unapologetic and unabashed. In a poem on Sydney, the speaker notes:
unlike this city
I am incapable of hiding secrets
my words are open like the
deep blue night shedding
obscurity, a white dawn
before colour fills sky.
Quan’s poetry details lived experience and allows the reader to discover the layers of identity and insight through which any self comes to be articulated. Quan’s poetry is perhaps most powerful, however, in its ability to illuminate a “capacity for happiness” and the contemporary need for this deceptively simple and oftentimes overlooked state of being.
In ‘Apple-Pears’ the drawing-out of ancestral origins and their transplantation is encapsulated in the metaphor of the sah-lay, the apple-pears given by the parents at the child’s departure. In the refrain of the naming of the fruit, there is the sense that the word sah-lay itself becomes, by degrees, exotic to the speaker, both a link to and a separation from his cultural origins.
What is striking here, and in Quan’s poetry generally, is an exploration not so much of hybridity and identity politics, but of the lived and sensual. Quan’s work emphasises the phenomenal over the ideational while creating work that is at times as political as it is experiential, as deeply thought as it is felt. While his work ranges over identity and belonging in terms of ethnicity, migration and nation, homosexuality, family and culture, at the centre of these divigations is the rich texture of the lived moment and the speaking voice. There is little room for smoke and mirrors. Quan’s poetry is remarkable, not so much for its negotiation of the theories and conflicts in identity politics, but for the poised and sure-footed way it offers lived experience, to be tasted and known.
Slant, Nightwood Editions, Madeira Park, 2001
Bowling Pin Fire, Signature Editions, Winnipeg, 2007
Calendar Boy, New Star Books, Vancouver, 2001
Calendar Boy, Penguin Australia, Sydney, 2002
Six Positions: Sex Writing by Andy Quan, Green Candy Press, San Francisco, 2005
Andy Quan’s website
Article by Andy Quan: “Homosexuality saved me from nerd-dom”, published in Peril: Asian-Australian Arts and Culture Magazine
Links to reviews of Andy Quan’s books
Andy Quan on the Redroom Company website (includes ‘A word from the feral pigeon’)
Alan Woo’s review of Bowling Pin Fire on www.rabble.ca
Review of Slant in Live Journal