Painting Red Orchids
About the book
Eileen Chong’s new collection continues her exploration of the contemplative and the personal within subtly shifting contexts of food, love, history and culture. Lovers of her poetry will find much that is familiar and much that is new. Over the three volumes of work represented on this page the reader can map a transition from a precocious apprenticeship to a mature voice, through moments of light and happiness mixed with hints of grief and foreboding.
As always her technical confidence and linguistic sophistication allow her to offer poems which appear simple on the surface, transparent enough to appreciate at a first reading and yet which contain depths and resonances which repay repeated attention and thought. Through this combination of beauty and depth, Eileen Chong commands a wide and devoted following.
About the author
Eileen Chong is Sydney poet who was was born in Singapore. She moved to Australia in 2007 and took a Master of Letters at the University of Sydney. She won the Poets Union Youth Fellowship in 2010 and was the Australian Poetry Fellow for 2011-2012.
Her first collection, Burning Rice, was published in 2012. It was shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award 2012, the Australian Arts in Asia Award 2013, and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award 2013. Her second collection, Peony, was published by Pitt Street Poetry in 2014. Painting Red Orchids (2016) is her third volume of poetry. A selection of poems, Another Language is published in the Braziller Series of Australian poets by George Braziller, New York.
Eileen Chong’s Painting Red Orchids reveals an introspective poet whose acute command of form and painterly sensibility deftly capture both the quotidian and intimate worlds and larger questions of cultural belonging, history and home. Travelling between the balconies of Sydney, Singapore Harbour and Hong Kong ferries, Chong’s poems delight in sensory and tactile detail, which the poet renders with precision and restraint, whether she is describing chefs making fresh dumplings behind a sheet of glass “dressed like surgeons”, or the notes of a zither that “shiver in the night air”.
Underlying the sensual pleasures of food, alcohol and sex, however, are deeper griefs: here, a mother’s miscarriage, funerals, intergenerational loss and change jostle for attention alongside the pleasures of the flesh. The poet also occasionally turns her eye to history’s silences and omissions to great effect, examining a black and white photograph of a Chinese miner during the gold rush, and the twin drumbeats of war and adolescence in the mind of Hua Mu Lan as she advances across a battlefield while posing as a man.
Overall, what impresses most about Chong’s poems is their music, imagery, formal control and sense of craft; this is a poet with a keen eye and ear who finds deep meaning in fleeting moments.