Writers from China's diaspora Getting published overseas and persuading your government to foot part of the bill is no small achievement. So, Eddie Tay's second volume of poetry must have something going for it. For the first time, Singapore's National Arts Council awarded a grant to a publisher based outside the country: Hong Kong's Sixth Finger Press published Tay's A Lover's Soliloquy in March. The collection continues the interest in reworking and interpreting Tang dynasty literature that Tay showed in his first collection, Remnants. It also contains his musings on love and the loneliness that he feels is peculiar to city dwellers, particularly people in modern cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong. Born and bred in Singapore, Tay, 30, was educated at a bilingual English-Chinese school. After years spent trying to escape from Chinese literature, he later discovered the beauty of Tang dynasty poets such as Li Shangyin, Li Po, Li Ho and Tu Fu. 'I felt all this Chinese culture was being stuffed down my throat,' Tay says of his schooldays. 'I felt guilt and I think this was a way of me trying to undo that resistance.' His childhood fondness for the likes of Charles Dickens meant he knew almost nothing about Chinese literature, so Tay began reading poetry from the Tang dynasty - the era said to have produced China's greatest writers. Tang poems are brief, with five or seven words per line. Through the clever placing of characters, poets conveyed great meaning in a few words. Tay began translating the poems into English. He soon realised that his hours poring over the dictionary yielded linguistically accurate but emotionless translations of major works. He decided to try 'free translation', in which he tries to catch the mood and emotion of the originals, and interpret them with his own understanding - even adding his own thoughts. 'Li Shangyin's text is so compressed,' he says from his home in Singapore. 'It's like a sponge. There's a lot of meaning within it. In English I try to put many things in one line and I try to squeeze it for meaning.' Tay - who says he thinks and writes in English - wants to bring to life the classic poems for those whose Chinese isn't up to being able to read them in their original form. Tay's interest in writing about city life is motivated by the fact that he lives both in Singapore with his wife and one-year-old son and in Hong Kong. He's studying for a doctorate at the University of Hong Kong on the literature and culture of Singapore and Malaysia. Studying the literature of the two countries from the 19th century to today gives Tay the chance to look at the contrasts between them and 'to look at how politics is embedded in literature. If you're in Malaysia and you're Chinese writing in English you're doubly marginalised,' he says. Once he's finished his studies Tay plans to secure an academic post 'anywhere in the world' - as long as it gives him the chance to continue his creative writing, which has taken him to festivals overseas, including the 2001 and 2005 Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival. Although academic work dictates a logical and analytical approach to writing, Tay says his poetry can be free from such restrictions and he seeks a balance of definition and lyricism. 'I pay attention to the musical quality of the poem. Poetry is music, so I look at the meter and I try to negotiate a meaning with sound.' One theme he returns to is love, often unrequited or unclear in terms of the resolution of affairs. Perhaps mindful of the cheesy songs love can inspire, Tay says his greatest challenge is to avoid sentimentality. 'Most poems about love end up being very cliched. To me the challenge is to write about it in a fresh way.'