Sunny poet reflects on sad suicide

| Terence Chang 17 May 2018

The evening I met with Stuart Lau Wai-shing, he had just returned from Iowa, his face sunny and radiating joy, as if he had been lying on a beach for a whole day.

Lau didn't go sunbathing in Iowa - he was there to share experiences with other writers in an international writing program. His trip was paid for by a Robert H N Family Foundation grant for outstanding local writers.

I've met a few other recipients of the sponsorship in the past. Lau appeared unable to contain his excitement about the experience.

"I have had a rich creative journey in Iowa which filled me with lots of feelings. There is so much I want to say, and I have to write them all down!"

He said there are a lot of lawns at the University of Iowa, and he liked to lie on the grass to think. And when inspiration came, he would start to write.

He showed me a picture he liked, in which he was looking out of his dorm room window at the greenery outside.

"There is green grass and streams in Hong Kong too, but life here is hectic, with much work and little time for rest. In Iowa, writing poems is my work, and that is what I like to do the most."

During his time there, Lau completed nearly 50 poems, sometimes four a day, which is quite prolific.

One of the works he submitted for enrolment in the program was Ode to Quagga. He had researched the animal, and told me: "The quagga had gone extinct over a century ago. It had stripes like a zebra on the front part of its body, and a mud-color rear body.

"The one kept at a zoo in London killed itself by banging its head against the wall in 1860, and the animal went extinct when the last of its kind died in a zoo in the Netherlands in 1883."

In Ode to the Quagga, Lau described the quaggas as "sacred creatures, tearful as they stand unmoving amidst the undulating sea of weeds as the lion approaches, like they have broken the chain of reincarnation."

Lau said he didn't know why the quagga at the London zoo had committed suicide, like a human being, and no one would know.

Terence Chang Cheuk-cheung is the retired headmaster of Diocesan Boys School

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