Heather H. Yeung (楊希蒂) was born in 1984 in Kirkwall. She grew up between Orkney, Hong-Kong, and Bedfordshire. She studied at Durham University with Gareth Reeves, and lived in North Yorkshire and Ankara before returning to Scotland where she now teaches at the University of Dundee. Her writing draws on themes, language and ideas from science (especially Botany), from material practices (such as the making of Porcelain, ancient forms of script and diverse materials as writing surface), from literary traditions (Chinese, Classical Greek and Latin, Norse, Early Modern Italian) and from myth. Translation, intertextuality and musical models also play key roles. In her poetry, subjectivity and voice are transformed or playfully mediated by these influences, and by formal experimentation, placing her work within the field of contemporary innovative poetic practice. The poems are nevertheless highly embodied, passionate, full of sense impressions, longings, regrets, celebrations and injunctions, with a powerful sense of direct appeal and address to a reader, listener or interlocutor. The language, formal or technical at moments, is energised by abbreviation, exclamation, punctuation, variations of speed and the torque of intricate form. Aural effects of chiming and echoing often carry elements of movement and feeling. The form in which the works are created also goes some way to support the mode of reading of the works.
A striking instance of the role of Botany in her work is found a series of works exploring Scotland’s native woodlands. One of these ripe, revolves around the twin needles of the Scots Pine; it was included in the herbarium specimen poems (2018), a series of card works created for an exhibition of the University of Dundee Herbarium Collection, but also appears in other forms: as a broadside print on mulberry paper, and as one section of a pining (2018), a handmade book with a pair of pine needles attached. Celebrating the precise observation of the scientific observer, ripe nevertheless warns that ‘too close observation / can trip you up’. It invites the reader to reflect on human experience (‘feeling’) in the context of the life and temporality of the more-than-human. In the longer sequence of a pining, the word play of ‘pines pining’ articulates an interweaving of human desire and arboreal life. Ashberys (again a handmade book), is a rubricated and illuminated work ‘out of’ John Ashbery; beith (poem fragments on birch bark) is an exploration into the Ogham early medieval alphabet, as well as ancient uses of birch bark as paper. The evolution of work around Scottish woodlands, and the Pine in particular, across various media, will continue, with a commission currently in hand for a work on stone, to be placed amidst a stand of Scots Pine in Dundee Botanic Gardens.
Echo: dropt sapphics is one of a number of work from 2015-18 which engage with the Greek tradition, particularly a feminine one (others being the art of epic, apolytkion and second century scraps); translating the sapphic line into English it also evokes the myth of Echo and Narcissus, while second century scraps is a translation and re-versioning of a Sappho fragment (a part of an ongoing project of translation or ‘re-mediation’ of Sappho’s works by Yeung). In these two poems the fragmentary, the reflexive and the musical, while recalling elements of modernist poetics, are imbued with the intensity of écriture féminine.
The keynote of her rapidly-evolving work is perhaps the crossing of boundaries and borders: a creative energy which interweaves discourses, registers, lexicons, cultures, genres and materials, whilst always retaining a scrupulous, precise and refined attention to the specificity of a particular medium and form.
Andrew Roberts (2018)