…the act of entering a new land is like stepping onto a tightrope of the imagination, in which neither past nor present has been deleted – because good imaginations pay their respects wherever it needs to be paid. These poems, it seems to me, walk such a tightrope. On the one hand, there are the memories of Singapore, of family – and on the other, poems of the new life – of preparing food with friends, of Europe and of love.
“A poem is a heavy thing.” Displacement, attachment, sweat, warmth and food, communion, aloneness, disquiet and longing – these poems coax shadows out of dark recesses, “layered like memory, like grief.” Their strength lies not in their settings but in their familiarity with the human spirit, “at our true selves, so far, yet so close to home.”
The colours, scents, tastes and textures of the variousness of generations are woven seamlessly into these poems. Eileen Chong creates compelling narratives that offer insights into love and loss, tradition and compassion. Her true gift is the ability to define, through memory and imagination, an almost tactile sense of place.
The poems in Burning Rice pull you in with their sumptuous images and seductive memories. Eileen Chong’s poetry is a gift of the interconnection of past and present, the personal and the communal. She has an astute ability to let objects and events assume emblematic implication, and she can incite the imagination through her remarkable ability to find the ore seams in everyday experience.
Prime Minister’s Award citation
At the heart of Burning Rice are delicately and meticulously crafted meditations on the complex web of attachments, loss and longing, so rich with imagery and narrative that they transcend the poet’s own ethnic, cultural and regional background. Here are portraits and stories rendered with snapshot clarity and compression, revealing a hard-won integration of heart, mind and soul.
Kim Cheng Boey
Mascara Literary Review 2012
In Peony, with even more impressive artistry than in her debut collection, Burning Rice, Eileen Chong conjures into words her finely detailed pictures of memory. With tact and precision and an eloquent simplicity of speech she leads us into these distilled meditations as into the presence of actual people and places. The images rest like sunlight in a pool of clear water.
Peony is a book of many strengths — vivid images, supple lines, and a lyrical control of thought and feeling. I find myself marvelling at Chong’s love poems — their seriousness, their alchemy and their truth. She is a poet who crosses cultures, from making rice dumplings to John Muir’s awe for the natural world. Eileen Chong is also a poet of the modern city, capturing the irresistible attractions of urban life. Enjoy this astute and intimate poetry.
Australian Poetry Fellow Eileen Chong interviewed on Eastside Radio
A conversation with Robert Wood at Liminal Mag
An interview with Tom Simpson at American Microreviews and Interviews
Eileen Chong was born in Singapore and grew up speaking English, Mandarin and Hokkien. She studied English language and literature at the National Institute of Education in Singapore and taught for three years in Singapore before moving to Sydney in 2007. She has a Master of Letters from the University of Sydney and is pursuing a Doctorate in Creative Arts at the University of Western Sydney.