from Ethos Books

The Orchid Folios

A poetry collection and documentary novella.

“When you take an orchid out of its pot, you must first loosen the roots’ hold on the soil. Late last evening as I unravelled the braids of the shattered Phalaenopsis, I saw how the ends were white and shriveled from neglect. You have to do it gently – it’s like combing hair, Mum had taught me. I remember Mum’s fingers running through mine, and mine through hers, until the final months when all of it started to fall.”

A pot shatters. An arrangement falls apart. A florist unexpectedly finds herself amidst the scattered leaves of history. At once a poetry collection and a documentary novella, The Orchid Folios ponders the orchid as a living, breathing document of history: a history that enmeshes the personal, colonial, linguistic, and biotechnological in Vanda Miss Joaquim, the symbol of Singapore’s postcolonial hybridity. This is an orchid that has been cut, pruned, repotted, arranged and rearranged to adorn our multiracial City in a Garden, a fantastical narrative that has come to shape our cultural consciousness and everyday realities.

Yet, as a living thing, the orchid continues to grow, adapt and bloom on its own terms. This is the organism at the heart of The Orchid Folios – by turns stark and unruly in times of dormancy and proliferation. 


Mok Zining is a Singaporean writer and poet obsessed with random things: orchids, arabesques, sand. Her work has appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Rumpus, and Witness Magazine, among others. She is the recipient of the Helen G. Scott Prize for Best Critical Essay on American Literature, a CLA award from the University of Minnesota, and an honourable mention from the Academy of American Poets James Wright Prize. Zining holds a BA from Northwestern University, an MPhil from the University of Cambridge, and is currently working towards an MFA at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches creative writing. Zining spends most of her free time dancing.

Praise for The Orchid Folios

“A fertile and kaleidoscopic meditation on hegemonic mythmaking.”

—Amanda Lee Koe

“Mok Zining’s breathtaking, debut collection The Orchid Folios almost defies description. It is a collage of disparate information; a book of lyric poems; a gathering of official documents and letters, interspersed with monologues of nameless women and florists; an informative guide to the history of orchids in Singapore, and includes a list of orchids “named after foreign dignitaries.” The Orchid Folios is dazzling, precise, sharp, playful, poignant, and engaging. Most importantly, it is a signal event marking the presence of a brilliant young writer who addresses global culture and the upside-down world we live in.”

—John Yau

“The orchid here is no mere motif. In its tropic desire and ambition, it achieves such compelling agency. This lyric authority is self-aware, a florid assemblage of texts that decentre, yet return to an appreciable heart. This heart is where Mok Zining’s collection is at, something alluring yet elusive, palpable yet only proffered in wisps, in whispers. What is being named, and what metaphors take root, take flight? In how cultivated its constituents remain, this very chic collection swells into a resplendent flourish. What a beautiful, entrancing strangeness!”

—Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé 
Winner of Singapore Literature Prize

With a voice both cutting and considered in its articulation, Mok intertwines technical floristry with lyric sentiment, then wields it to pry at questions of language, society and the body. Mapping personal disparagements and devastations onto a painstakingly researched, multitextual geography, she reveals a Singapore narrative as engineered as a commercial orchid. Like the origin of the Vanda Miss Joaquim, The Orchid Folios wrestles with uneasy histories, only to pivot into unexpected beauty.

—Marylyn Tan
Author of Gaze Back

An evocative book of intersections and entanglements about Singapore history and culture, done in charming and skeptical poems. Mok Zining’s The Orchid Folios centers on multiple, oblique stories about the national flower, colonial politics, policy and meanings. The work is serial, documentary and notational. The drama of orchids, their beauty, hybridity, and uses in cosmetics all together create allusive allegories, mingling cosmopolitanisms with backstories.

—Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Author of Drafts

Selected Interviews & Reviews

Interviews & Conversations

Imagineering Orchids: A Conversation with Mok Zining” at the Office of Core Curriculum at Singapore Management University, in conversation with Justin Tse

Orchid Folios is the new Singaporean poetry collection challenging our national narratives” in Vogue, by Chandreyee Ray

The Orchid Folios: A Conversation with Marylyn Tan, Fresh Off the Press, Singapore Writers Festival 2020

A Word is a Cutting: A Conversation with Mok Zining,” Ethos Books launch, in conversation with Arin Alycia Fong

A Bouquet of Thoughts: In Conversation with Mok Zining” in Mackerel Podcast, in conversation with Marc Nair

Art Is+” series, Singapore Unbound, in conversation with Janelle Tan

On Art-Making During the Coronavirus, from “Coronavirus: From losing weight to becoming a plant parent, they developed new good habits during the circuit breaker” in The Straits Times, by Venessa Lee