The city is a port-
manteau that has not been worded yet,
the Smith is still not home
from the bay, the island is well-lit
so for years he stays in transit, settling
for familiarity flickering
in the distance, the tetris skyline
maintains constant flux
between east and west,
indistinctly changing day-to-day
its tessellation of buildings
melting into a new horizon.
Plot, Setting, Themes and Literary Devices
In Untitled, the persona seeks to find a portmanteau that will aptly describe Hong Kong. Referred to as Smith in the first stanza, the persona can be thought of to be a wordsmith who seems to be at a loss for words when describing Hong Kong. Additionally, Smith is a common British surname stemming from the suffix -smith meant to denote some sort of professionalism or expertise. Much like the term average Joe used in the context of America to denote the common man, the average Smith functions similarly, creating a faceless, nondescript entity.
The use of Smith also refers to the British colonisation of Hong Kong. Western influence is Hong Kong is reiterated in the third stanza, as a constant movement between East and West to mean an alternation between East and West cultures, and on a more literal level, the 2-dimension portrayal of an ever-changing skyline with the constant reconstruction and additions made to buildings, much like in a game of Tetris. “Portmanteau”, being the combination of two words/ concepts, refers to the fusion and confusion of these East-West influences, a key part of Hong Kong’s identity.
“Portmanteau” is also defined as a large travelling bag. This contributes to the idea of how people in Hong Kong are always on the move, reflective of the hectic lifestyles as well as Hong Kong as a port, with constant movement in and out, further highlighted by the movement in “constant flux”, “changing” and “melting”. Quite contrary to this movement, Untitled is written from a stationary moment in temporal space, highlighted by diction choice “stays” and “settling”. The persona is depicted to be in transit, which introduces a transience and a state of temporality that is commonly explored in Hong Kong poetry.
The concept of familiarity is debated in “familiarity flickering”, presumably the city lights in the distance, since Hong Kong is known as the City of Lights. The idea of light symbolises an array of things, one of which is safety. However, the image of familiarity flickering suggests instability in spite of a sense of stability. Light in the distance is also symbolic of goals and a tinge of hope, which is the reason why so many people flock to Hong Kong in the first place, in pursuit of career progression.
Being a port and business hub, it is hard for people like the persona who are here a prolonged period for business and maybe eventually for life, to find a sense of home (hence, “the Smith is still not home”) in Hong Kong. As such, staying in transit is an oxymoron that also suggests being stuck in a point of life, evoking a restlessness and underlying frustration of coping with unfamiliarity and familiarity of being in the interim.
I hope you enjoyed my attempt at exploring Hong Kong through the medium of poetry as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’d love to know your interpretations of Untitled– tell me what crossed your mind in the comments!