Agnes Lam spent her afternoon with us again in Kubrick. It was the second time she did a reading with us, and this time, she sparkled with her words as well as her white cotton dress. To celebrate this third book, A pond in the sky, many of her friends including Xu Xi and Yvonne Loong came to give their support. As a reader, I could not help asking her why it took her so long to publish a third poetry book. She responded by saying that, in the last few years, she became quite valuable to the university as an administrator; she was Acting Director of her Centre and was then promoted to Associate Dean of the Arts Faculty. It was a time when she became extremely occupied with administrative work. She admitted that she was not a prolific writer. By writing less, she was able to retain a certain purity and softness in her language. Chris Song, one of the translators of this book, confessed a degree of difficulty in translating Agnes’ gentle and feminine pieces such as "Sakura sakura" from a male perspective. The Chinese translation is excellent as it embodies the same purity, simplicity and elegance in the original. Agnes said she would clarify with the translators only in terms of the literal meaning of her works, and she was careful not to interfere with the translators' Chinese interpretations. She sees a Chinese translation of her poem very much as a new poem on its own.
What is the secret to living such a fulfilling life? She became a professor and is an internationally known poet who has traveled to so many different countries, and who has won the thorough support from her family. She is doing what she likes and is successful at it. She smiled and replied without a second thought that she owes her success to the people around her. The meaningful connection with friends creates meaning and a sense of satisfaction in everything she does. Another secret, she said, is to avoid focusing on mistakes. Her easy-going personality makes people around her feel very comfortable.
Being Chinese and growing up in a Cantonese-speaking family, Agnes found her voice in English writing, partly because, as she humbly admitted, that she felt her Chinese was not good enough for creative writing. Despite relatively few book publications, her works weigh heavily in artistic merits. Respected and loved by all, Agnes is considered Hong Kong's poet laureate for English poetry!
(photos by Eric Luk)