Traveling is an inherently bittersweet activity. With every new destination you reach, you know there are infinitely more places to explore. With every lit-up harbor you walk along at dusk, you realize you’ll never see the place in such novel beauty again.
The Traveller Series by Tiffany Teoh sighs and groans with the bittersweet longing that comes with travel and love. The collection is a romance story, consisting of 41 poems and 41 corresponding photographs.
It begins with a “craving” for a lost lover:
“If I can’t love you as you are,
standing in front of me,
I shall love you from afar,
craving you painfully.”
This longing evolves into a desire for a safe place, conflating home with the intimacy of a lover:
“My home is not made of sticks,
neither is it made of stones.
It is made of your flesh,
and your bones
and the echoes
of your laughter.
I miss you,
Throughout all of these descriptions, the speaker can never quite grasp what she’s looking for. The closer she seems to get to it, the farther away it feels. “I’ve fallen in love with a memory of a different time and place,” she says.
The fleeting nature of love, loss, and place are the essence of this collection, and they are bottled up in the photographs and in a number of the poems themselves.
But throughout the book, the use of non-specific descriptions and clichéd imagery robs the collection of its raw potential.
In a poem quoted earlier, the speaker says she’s “craving you painfully.” Why not describe this pain and internal craving? It’s left up to the reader to know exactly what the speaker means and instead of specific, lived experience, the reader only has a vague understanding of the pain, love and excitement the speaker is trying to describe.
Take another example, a poem that begins with a beautiful, original image and turn of phrase:
“I hang up my nomadic feet.
and slip on some bedroom slippers.
I roll up my coloured skies
and put on a light.
I wonder when temptation will call again.”
The contrast between “I hang up my nomadic feet” and “slip on some bedroom slippers” is brilliant, hinting at the two personas that dwell within the traveller, the nomad who must change into her house shoes.
But the final line of the poem feels trite, as it throws in an image that prizes catchy phrasing over authentic, specific experience:
“See, I consider my angels
to be strong,
but I need someone
whose angels are stronger.”
As with “craving you painfully,” the language in this ending is too direct, too open-and-shut.
In contrast, other poems manage to say quite a lot in subtler, less direct language, such as the following poem:
“We parted in pitch darkness.
I couldn’t see your face,
but I was sure
you wore the look
of rain clouds
Storms are commonly associated with dark emotions, so “the look of rain clouds” is not necessarily an original description. However, Teoh includes an original element, which is that the reader cannot actually see what is being described. “I couldn’t see your face,” the speaker says. An observant reader will question the speaker’s certainty that her lover is leaving in a stormy state of mind. This uncertainty may even spread to other parts of the story, a fitting twist to a collection which is deeply concerned with personal experience.
These subtler expressions in The Traveller Series indicate that Teoh has a great deal of talent and potential. If the poet can trust herself to listen to her original voice and not rely on easy rhymes and images, her next work will truly make the reader ache with the wistful longing she wants them to feel.
About Tiffany Teoh:
Tiffany is a Malaysian born Chinese, of Peranakan heritage. She was raised in Kuala Lumpur until the age of 17 and proceeded to live in Australia for 8 years until the age of 25. She is currently hitchhiking and traveling around the world with her fiancé and their puppy. For more on Tiffany, visit her website.
About The Traveller Series:
The series started from a longing to want to travel after hearing all the good and bad tales from long term backpackers.
Every single piece that made it and didn’t make it in this is book has a special place in my heart as they were the beginning of a journey of a memory that never happened, but a longing that was constant.
We all naturally have it in us to wonder and wander, it’s just a matter of allowing it to take you to places.
About Rebekah Lee Mays
Rebekah Lee Mays is an American fiction and freelance travel writer. Originally from Austin, Texas, she’s lived and worked in various parts of Europe for the past three years.
Rebekah’s short fiction has been published in Hobart, the Forge Literary Magazine, and the Still Point Arts Quarterly. Her travel articles have appeared in LinkedIn, France Today, and Misadventures Magazine.