One Thousand and One Nights

July 18, 2014

Written by Gwee Li Sui

Published by Landmark Books, 2014

Nominee for the Singapore Literature Prize 2016

From the Preface:

When love ends, what do you keep? Some autumns ago, I met a remarkable woman and we fell in love. She is a Korean novelist, I a Singaporean poet. Across oceans of differences and the habits of age, we forged a way to love and to keep faith. Then, as mysteriously as it all started, it ended about a thousand and one nights later.

Modern storytellers beguile us. They bring such freshness to the endings of tales that we willingly hold our breaths in a promise of them. But the best bits are in the middle where often it feels like the adventure can never die. Every day is vast with possibilities as the heart marvels at the new way it beats. These are what I keep.

G. L. S.



The book that has touched me the most for 2014 is Gwee Li Sui’s One Thousand and One Nights (Landmark Books). Gwee has never shied from being contrary to any semblance of the norm, whether as a poet, graphic-novelist, critic, etc. From writing funny “nonsense” verses in his first collection, Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems?, to his latest volume of love poems, one never knows what he is going to write about next, or how he is going to write it. Compared to his first book, as well as any other book of poems published this same year (in my opinion), Gwee’s poems are shockingly tender, even heartbreaking. They represent the best parts of a romance that has actually lasted, curiously enough, one thousand and one nights in total. The trope of storytelling is obvious from the start, but meta-literary aspects are not as worthwhile unpacking as the emotional artistry of the poems. The end of the relationship is always in sight, but never dived into, rendering such moments that have come before as even more precious, miraculous, and poignantly remembered.

Cyril Wong

“A Singapore title I enjoyed tremendously this year is One Thousand and One Nights by Gwee Li Sui (Landmark Books). His online persona is a smarty-pants humorist, but really he’s a pussycat. The poems chronicle his love and heartache, and you feel the smithereens in every bone-crunching syllable.”

Yeow Kai Chai

“Good love poems are beautiful to read but more difficult than poems about death and war to write. That is why Gwee Li Sui’s One Thousand and One Nights is such a rare work. There is not a forced or false note. The words emerge out of a deep place of love and hurt, shimmering with longing and loss, but without any echo of sentiment or self-pity. They offer humbly, and tenderly, the gifts of love and memory, in arresting, hard-won language that reads so gracefully. That is why I love it.”

Boey Kim Cheng

“My book for 2015 is Gwee Li Sui’s One Thousand and One Nights: Love Poems (Landmark Books, 2014). It’s not easy to write love poems when one has just broken up but Gwee’s collection demonstrates the poet’s ability to calibrate his emotions whilst crafting his thoughts into poetic gems. Either you have some distance and perspective, or you may be drawn into uncreative indulgence. But Gwee, whilst writing about his pain, seems to re-organise his emotional and psychological landscapes, gaining distance and perspective as he documents his pain. His impeccable measurement of emotion, surprising use of words and relentless clarity of thought produced a deliciously rich collection of poems that vividly transmits images of moments of a being in love, evident in “Arrival Hall” and “Room 505, Adieu.” That clarity undercuts or counterbalances the sentimentality so that the reader experiences the poet’s memory of tenderness, which in turn inspires the reader to recall his or hers parallel love experiences. That for me is when a piece of art work is dialogic and the poet is not just wanking or writing solely for therapeutic purposes. Whether it is the poet sharing his vulnerability in “Lost Photograph,” or baring his pain during departure/separation in “Soul Bus,” Gwee’s writing remains uncompromisingly bold in its honesty. It reminds me of Thomas Hardy’s 1912-1913 love poems when his wife Emma Lavinia was sick and their marriage was not what it used to be. Hardy’s memories of the places they visited during happier times were captured with great poignancy in this collection of poems. Love poems, through deep reflection, a poetic eye and inspired imagination, capture the universality of two souls connected and sharing a life-flow. They are usually highly accessible and therefore can be easily dismissed because of the potential for cliché. But Gwee keeps familiar moments fresh while providing new insights into two people sharing a moment in this mortal life; enriching one another’s being; and then ebbing away into oblivion.”

Alvin Tan

The Singaporean book that I’d greatly enjoyed is: One Thousand and One Nights by Gwee Li Sui (Landmark Books, 2014). For readers more familiar with Gwee the humorist (or, at the other extreme, the thoughtful essayist or literary critic), this poetry collection shows a tender and more sensitive side to the all-rounded writer. The lovelorn poems of heartbreak, inspired by a past relationship, recall this line from a Pablo Neruda poem: “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” Gwee’s poems in One Thousand and One Nights linger on with poignancy and quiet contemplation, and never let us go.

Yong Shu Hoong


Purchase the book here!

One Response to “One Thousand and One Nights”

  1. […] Chinese translation of “Arrival Hall”, from One Thousand and One Nights (2014), is made by Andy Ang, also known as 孤星子. It appears here with his permission. The […]

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