Kit Fan was born and educated in Hong Kong when the city was the last British colony, before moving to the UK at 21. He is a poet, novelist, and book critic. He lives in York.
His first book of poems Paper Scissors Stone (Hong Kong University Press, 2011) won the inaugural International HKU Poetry Prize.
His second book of poems As Slow As Possible (Arc) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, one of The Guardian's 50 biggest books in Autumn 2018, and The Irish Times Best Poetry Book of the Year.
He was awarded by the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon to be a Visiting Scholar in 2020-21.
He was awarded the Editors Prize for Reviewing by the Poetry magazine and Poetry Foundation in the US.
He is represented by the literary agent Matt Turner at Rogers, Coleridge & White.
‘Utterly straightforward and lucid, with an oblique dream-like undertow, Fan’s remarkable poems – that seem wholly original, even in their echoes of the various traditions that inform them – intrigue us with their haunting and haunted observations and atmospheres. The assurance of the voice in As Slow As Possible is often startling, partly because of the precision of its vulnerability, and partly because Fan seems to sense something in the language that gives his poems an uncanny momentum and coherence. There is wisdom encoded in these poems that is at once fleeting and revelatory. It is an extraordinary book.’
‘If there is something of Marianne Moore’s eccentric edginess in the formal accomplishment of these poems, there is also an elegant surrealism wholly Kit Fan’s own. His is an intensely visual imagination, generous and capacious of eye, but joining its manifold optical stimuli to a corresponding tenderness and complexity of emotional response. ‘How should we unimagine a thing once it’s been imagined?’ asks one poem, and the collection as a whole concerns itself with reversals, metaphysical shifts in gear permitting us a glimpse of origins, of possibilities as yet untouched by the immutable laws of cause and effect. Fan’s is in this sense a recuperative vision, at the same time too fiercely intelligent to be anything other than disabused. The resulting poems hum with intellectual tension like high-voltage wires. As Slow as Possible deserves to be read in the way its title suggests: this is a collection that will lavishly reward careful and attentive reading.’
Reviews of As Slow As Possible:
Winner of the inaugural Hong Kong University International Poetry Prize
“‘Then all things began twice.’ The poems in Paper Scissors Stone are moved by the forces of repetition and release, and are haunted by crossings (of borders, of people, of languages and their written characters). With wit and sorrow, precision and tact, the poems study the essential qualities of places, persons, and their arrangements, asking us what it is to begin twice. The book is a formally beautiful and complete meditation on transformation.”
“These extraordinary poems, so assured in their directions, so startling in their clarities, have an eerily dream-like wakefulness. Fan’s enigmatic lucidity is born of a confluence of traditions, both real and imagined. This is not simply a remarkable debut, but a brilliantly accomplished book.”
“Here is a collection of complex work, skillfully executed. The poems, each carefully measured and crafted, when taken together add up to a beautifully articulated body of work. This is the performance of a fully fledged poet.”
Shortlisted for the Guardian 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize 2017
Sheila, an immigrant divorcee and mother, works as a cleaner while her son Sunny receives private tutoring in the Hong Kong International Airport where a strange incident has taken place and thrown the mother and son into actions that they have never dreamed before.
Shortlisted for the Guardian 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize 2018
Mai, a teenage girl from a seaside northern city, lives with her absent mother and works in her grandmother's Chinese takeaway after school. In a wake of a family crisis, she struggles to find her voice while participating in her school debate on the EU Referendum.
Hong Kong and the Echo
What do we know but that we face
One another in this place?
– W. B. Yeats, 'Man and the Echo'
HK. I loved my mountains, rivers, and trees
long before towers and families, but if the only way
the sea can speak to the hills is through the moon
I will speak to you from the ink-dark
about the changing tides, the slow equivocal pain
of transition, how things are moving away
from the norm, the deceptive comfort
of a norm, the fading neon noises
on Mong Kok streets, the kind of blue and yellow
you’ll only find in my heart, the Lion Rock spirit
and the endangered species named after me:
the grouper, cascade frog, incense tree.
Echo. What do we know but that?
HK. What’s the meaning of life in numbers?
Although I count every second of mine
I remember nothing of those Crown-
appointed governors come and gone who said
nothing, did nothing, changed nothing.
What are the promises in a red flag with five stars
shooting out from one bauhinia?
Twenty-two moon-calendars since I was re-unorphaned
I stray and obey like a tree, half-crown, half-root,
branching out and bedding in, each growth year
a scar tissue erased by the smudges
of shared stocks, fireworks, new railways and bridges.
Echo. We face one another? We face one another?
HK. What am I but the high-rise windows
reflecting the sun and the lives below?
Come, look into every single one
and find millions of homemade voices in an impasse,
in fissures, in boxlike existences
where one language is never enough.
High above I see black kites, sometimes white-bell
sea eagles gliding between glass and cliff,
drones and signals, eyeing the quick chance
while larks, thrushes, and titmice are twittering
in bamboo cages, bird to bird, sharing
the captive sky with their distant counterparts
as one sun drops under the horizon
and a different one rises.
Echo. In this place? In this place? In this place?
(Published in World Literature Today, April 2019 issue)
for Ziad Elmarsafy
Months have passed and we have seen enough of death
this winter that even though seeing these chlorophyll
green leaves suckle on the sun again and tower over Russell Square
broadcasting C’est la vie on this one June day aren’t enough
for the sea-deaths, land-deaths and air-deaths un-extinguishing
somewhere else, not yet out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Not yet here too,
this corner kingdom we’ve elected to live within still seemingly
prospers like the summer holm-oak by the Hotel Russell
you’ll come to frequent in your new life in the capital.
People lazing about in the sun as in La Grande Jatte, children shrieking
in the fountain, a father carrying his bum-bare boy on his shoulders,
an old couple walking past, catching our eye, still walking
past. So many of us, I want to know every single life, what
brought them here today, who they are, and how long they will live.
We all have it, living it, re-living it, shaping this one-off malleable
thing over and over that even though all winter we’ve seen
what could happen to it, we still sit on the bench among the perishable
green, chattering about it as if it won’t leave us just like that.
(Published in the anthology Wretched Stranger (Boiler House Press, 2018) which commemorates the anniversary of the June 2016 EU Referendum and in solidarity through struggles ongoing and to come. Proceeds of the book will be donated to charities fighting for the rights of refugees.)
Links to a selection of poems published online:
Hong Kong and the Echo, World Literature Today
Vitreous Humour, The Poetry Review
The Painted Skin, The Poetry Review
June, by Bei Dao, Modern Poetry in Translation
The Burning of Books, Prairie Schooner
Rachel Whiteread’s Ghost, Soanyway
From The Bostonians, The Compass Magazine
Among School Teachers, Lacuna
Late, Poetry Book Society
Mother's Ink, Cha
Ghost Letter, Cha
Media and Interviews
Kit was interviewed by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Jason Eng Hun Lee back in 2018 as part of a project 'Anglophone City Poetics and the Asian Experience'. Kit 'talks about his first poetic influences, his migration to the UK as a young writer, his musings on Hong Kong and afar, and his perspectives on the evolving Asian cityscape.'
British Library Sounds
A recording of Kit's poems from his first book of poems Paper Scissors Stone including some Classical Chinese poems in English translations.
Chinese University of Hong Kong Digital Archive
Kit Fan "grew up in the shadows of the Sino-British negotiations distills the angst of his age. Upheavals, reaching back to the Japanese occupation, and forward to the handover in 1997 and beyond, imprint on his poetry. And yet a greater strength inheres, for the continuity of tradition, the persistence of the Chinese poetic thought in a poetry rendered in English, makes his writing rich with resonances that cross language borders." - Mimi Ching, Curator of 'A Grain of Sand'
The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester
Kit Fan read with Colette Bryce and Martin Kratz on 19th February 2019. He read a selection of poems from As Slow As Possible including 'Janus', 'Chapter 2' of GENESIS, 'As Slow As Possible', and 'My Mother in a Velázquez'.
Kit Fan read with Colette Bryce and Lucy English on 24th November 2018. He read a selection of poems, including 'A Chair from Buddha Mountain' from As Slow As Possible.