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Thomas Moody

“to paint like picasso before 1904” by Grace Yee [Introduced by Thomas Moody]

Congratulations to Grace Yee who last week won Australia’s richest literary prize, the Victorian Prize for Literature, for her debut collection Chinese Fish (Giramondo, 2023). The collection traces the story of an immigrant family from Hong Kong living in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The judges comments noted that Chinese Fish “focuses on women’s experience; particularly, how migration tests the relationship between a mother and her daughter. (Yee) tells this story with sparkling humour, wit, and stylistic verve, while paying sustained attention to historical circumstance – particularly everyday racism and the discriminatory government policies which affected Chinese migrants.”


Grace Yee

In “to paint like picasso before 1904”, first published in Overland in 2019, Yee’s “sparkling humour, wit, and stylistic verve” are on full display, along with a beguiling mix of registers switched so seamlessly and effectively, it is near impossible to get one's bearings within the poem. In "to paint like picasso before 1904", Yee takes from us our sealegs so she can more easily steer us through the urgent and the absurd until we arrive, implausibly, at the poem's title.



to paint like picasso before 1904


        there is a species of tavern where drinkers make disparaging remarks about chinese

immigrants. it is patronised by a squadron of pirates of otherwise sweet temperament, who

truck their goods with whomever they please.

        baring dog-yellow teeth, they sit in plastic fold-up chairs in cheap t-shirts designed

by europeans unmolested in canton.

        each ship at the bar plays furiously, leaving a trail of wild colonial girls cruelly

strangled after the first wash.

        in the wake of their missionary grandmothers, the risk these women take is

calculated on trigonometrical principles. female players have the option of wearing cones so

they don’t get kissed for no reason.

        everyone looks for their partners online these days, including an entire class of

whining feminists for whom postpartum incontinence has never been a problem, but who

nonetheless kegel jade eggs at every opportunity.

    it’s hard for these women not to feel violated by the knowledge that their dna is

half-man, but the smarter chicks check their purses of emotional labour in (the taverns’) tiny

grimy bathrooms and suspend intercourse by returning to campus via the victorian roads.

        in high pollen weather, with abscesses fit to burst, they heroically collaborate in their

efforts to arrest the flames.

        after years of feckless liaisons, some of these women set sail for the orient. landing

in the earl’s court, they feel secure in their portion of comparatively uncontaminated


        with contempt in equal parts for men and aliens silently stoning their gallbladders,

they manage to live peacefully, albeit corpulently, by a calendar of saints for years under a

special licence to paint like picasso before 1904.

April 12, 2023

March 29, 2023

March 15, 2023

March 01, 2023

February 15, 2023

September 07, 2022

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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