The Walking Boy
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019
The Walking Boy is a quest novel set in early eighth-century Tang Dynasty China, in the final days of the rule of the first Female Emperor Wu Zhao. The ailing hermit monk Harelip sends his disciple Baoshi on a pilgrimage from Mount Hua to Chang'an, the Western capital; Baoshi is the "walking boy" charged with locating Harelip's missing former lover Ardhanari. Baoshi lives with a secret only his Master knows, and he is filled with fears of being discovered. On his journey, Baoshi crosses paths with both commoners and imperial officials, as well as others who take delight in their queer identities; in doing so, he is released powerfully from his past shame.
The Walking Boy, set in the years following Kwa's recent novel Oracle Bone, is a book of quiet subversion, upending classical Chinese tropes with contemporary ideas around gender and feminism. Filled with psychological complexities, magic and poetic allusions to classical Chinese literature, The Walking Boy explores the intrigue of inner alchemy while exorcising the ghosts of history.
This project revolved around sixteen instant film images I shot on 24th August 2015, of parts of a birch tree that had been cut down after succumbing to disease following a dry spell in Vancouver. Images were taken with an old Polaroid camera, using film from the Impossible Project.
Eight images were shot in the morning; then another eight in the late afternoon.
The image reproduced here is the third one in the morning series, and the poetic lines reprinted accompany the sixteen images in the chapbook tree shaman. Proceeds from sale of the chapbook will be donated to Pacific Wild Alliance. To order the chapbook, please email me:
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017
Life in seventh-century China teems with magic, fox spirits, and demons; there is a fervent belief that the extraordinary resides within the lives of both commoners and royalty. During the years when the empress Wu Zhao gains ascendancy in the Tang court, her evil-minded lover Xie becomes obsessed with finding and possessing the oracle bone, a magical object that will bestow immortal powers on him. Standing in his way is Qilan, an eccentric Daoist nun who rescues an orphaned girl named Ling from being sold into slavery; Qilan takes her under her wing, promising to train her so she may avenge her parents' murders. In another part of the city, a young monk named Harelip questions his faith and his attraction to other men as he helps the elder monk Xuanzang to complete his translation of the Heart Sutra, the sacred Buddhist scripture. Meanwhile, as the mysteries and powers of the missing oracle bone are revealed, it remains to be seen whether Qilan will be able to stop Xie from gaining possession of the magical bone, and at what cost.
This extraordinary magic-realist novel by Singapore-born author Lydia Kwa employs and subverts traditional tropes of Chinese mythology to tell a tale of greed, faith, and female empowerment with a wickedly modern sensibility.
linguistic tantrums — 2nd edition
The second edition of linguistic tantrums is now available as a 32-page bound chapbook. Please contact me:
Or order online through xxxzines.com
Turnstone Press, 2013
Through the mind's eye Lydia Kwa charts the path of the stranger in a new land, the immigrant seeking escape, and transformation from the suffering of the past. sinuous is a journey toward self-realization and acknowledges that through the fiery trials of life it is possible to find renewed strength and purpose for the future.
Praise for sinuous:
"In this fresh suite of poems, Kwa brings great intelligence and sensitivity to bear upon the shock-absorbing process of embodiment, and troubles with integrity. Multiple trans-Pacific passages, roles of persons, and conceptions of divinity and reality, come together through Kwa's work. Braiding poetry with prose Kwa highlights possible pathways to freedom, and to wholesome."Joanne Arnott, author of A Night for the Lady
"sinuous is a map that charts both a poetic and psychological journey, a full topographical internal map from Jomon to the culture of the 'endless, continuous onslaught of trauma' that colonialism has been for the world. It is a map of the journey from our alienation to our connection with the universe and from one another. More poignantly it bares our alienation from our personal internal world. The incredible poetry in this book will walk you into the light where you may re-connect with self and the world outside."Lee Maracle, author of First Wives Club
linguistic tantrums is a set of 12 visual poems — mixed media images created using mostly letter type, ink and paper — accompanied by 12 non-rhyming couplets on the reverse side. Two front cards introduce the project. This loose, unbound art/text chapbook is packaged subversively in a pedestrian, non-descript Ziploc bag for convenient storage and travel. You the peruser may choose to upset the order of presentation of the work, shuffle both the viewing and the reading, or even throw the cards up in the air for a chance encounter with gravity.
Set of 12 cards, images plus text, with 2 front cards.
$30 in Canada and US
First edition of 50 sets, printed September 2013.
To order, please email me at
Ethos Books, 2014
Pulse is a whydunnit as opposed to a whodunnit — the novel begins in the summer of 2007 in Toronto when Natalie Chia receives a letter from her childhood friend and first lover Faridah in Singapore, informing her that Selim, her son, has killed himself. This propels Natalie toward investigating her own past growing up in Singapore as she prepares to visit Faridah. Natalie's childhood, Singapore in the 1960s and 70s, and the secret connection she shares with Selim — these are the clues that lead her to discover the intricate entanglements of her past with the present day tragedy that has beset Faridah and her family.
In the novel, I explore the ways psychological denial manifests at the individual and collective level. There's also the theme of how people use kinbaku (Japanese erotic rope bondage) to express their deepest truths — secrets from their past as well as the pulse of their current desire.
Natalie is an acupuncturist who has a clinic in Toronto's Chinatown. She reminisces about her childhood days spent in Singapore, particularly at Cosmic Pulse, her maternal grandfather's shop which sold Chinese herbal medicines. In addition to creating the atmosphere of such a shop set in Singapore during Natalie's childhood, I also included references to Natalie's use of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine notions at various points in the story.
As you can imagine, I had to do quite a lot of research on various topics to write this novel!
Originally published by Key Porter, 2010
- Japanese Bondage (Wikipedia)
- Yin Yang House (Acupuncture and Alternative Medicine Information Resource)
Buy the book
The Walking Boy
Key Porter Books, 2005
I call The Walking Boy a trans-historical novel, because it's a quirky and queer novel set in early 8th Century China, during the Tang dynasty. A young innocent Baoshi is sent on a pilgrimage by his master Harelip to search for his former friend Ardhanari. Baoshi is both male and female; "he" is the Walking Boy in this novel. This term refers to acolytes who set off on an assigned pilgrimage.
Baoshi encounters a host of fascinating characters, to finally get caught up in the intrigues of Nü Huang's court. "Nü Huang" means Female Emperor and refers to Wu Zhao, the only woman to have ever crowned herself Emperor after being an empress, in China's long imperial history.
I had to do a lot of research, and I've used a lot of facts in this novel, but I've written it all in the present tense, as if it's happening in your imagination as you read/create it. I use some classical Chinese conventions, such as a prologue where the "author" introduces herself then signs off with a sobriquet/moniker. I had fun writing the replies to some poems in the novel, another nod to structure in some classical Chinese novels.
Check the occasional entries in the News section for little tidbits of info and background into the writing of this novel.
This Place Called Absence
Turnstone Press, 2000
This, my second book — and first novel — came to me first as poetic fragments. The writing quickly evolved into prose narrative. I didn't want to admit to myself that I was writing a novel until I hit page 110. It was exciting but difficult to enter such a dark, interior psychological landscape, using 4 women's voices.
I think of the novel in musical terms. Four voices weaving through the book, motifs or themes repeated and improvised by each woman. Two of them are ah ku, sex-trade workers in early 20th Century Singapore. Wu Lan, a contemporary protagonist originally from Singapore, discovers some facts about these women in a book in the Vancouver Public Library, and starts to imagine their lives. She and her mother — the fourth voice — are dealing with the suicide of her father.
A number of readers have understood the optimism beneath the outer gritty realism, as well as the emphasis on the power of the spirit and of the imagination to enable us to transcend suffering. I found myself incorporating some Chinese characters once again. In particular, the symbol for "contemplation" introduces the book. W.P. Kinsella referred to This Place Called Absence as "beautifully written, hauntingly poetic, with a cast of memorable characters, a tale that deals with the fragility of life, love and family ties." (Books in Canada, July 2001).
The Colours of Heroines
Women's Press, 1994
A collection of poems that I wrote over a period of about six years. George Woodcock, in his review of The Colours of Heroines, described me as "a memory writer of almost Proustian intensity, who has lived variously and remembered astonishingly." (BC Bookworld, Summer 1995). The poems include recollections of life growing up in Singapore, racism, the taints of colonialism, and violence in the home. There's experimentation in long poems such as Water, the first time in my writing that I used Chinese characters; or Translating Fortune: Cookie Wisdom where I deconstruct and subvert fortune cookie sayings. The poetry project I'm working on these days, Roadbook: Suite of Hands, is quite a departure from the earlier work simply because I've changed and so has my poetic voice. Some excerpts from this work-in-progress appear in an anthology called Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets (Persea: 2005).