Updated: Apr 17, 2021
For a second time in a month, I've been able to attend a poetry night/afternoon, something that was unthinkable last year. This time, Eileen Chong's new collection launch "A Thousand Crimson Blooms" released by UQP.
Held at Harry Hartog Books in Bondi Junction, around fifty of us were treated to a great night of poetry with special guest speakers, Roanna Gonsalves, Sara M. Saleh, and Eunice Andrada.
I first met Eileen in 2017 when she and Kirli Saunders visited for a Red Room Poetry Workshop with our Year 10 students. As a teacher and poet, Eileen held the attention of the room with grace and ease, imparting her special views on the importance of poetry in telling stories through objects. It was for the Red Room Poetry Object competition I would go on to win in the teacher category—the start point of what has been such a special journey. To also share it with a long time friend and fellow teacher/poet/children's author/playwright..... (insert many other titles here) in Kirli, makes for quite a nostalgic moment. Check her out, she is one of the great leaders emerging in our country and an exceptionally talented writer.
Last night, it was a privilege to hear from such an amazing cast of writers who are all winners of national and international awards. It was made more special to hear Sara's Peter Porter Prize Winning poem 'A Poetics of Fo(u)rgetting' and to learn of Eunice's second collection coming from Giramondo in September. It must be said that all speakers shared of their personal relationship with Eileen, who has been a great support and encouragement to them in their writing. Roanna's QandA with Eileen's own poetry lines was filled with such humour and poignant reminders of why so many of us were gathered to for the launch.
Eileen spoke with poise in her generous and uncompromising manner. She thanked many of the people who have travelled with her work across nine books and five full collections of poetry. Hearing a poet read their work is always memorable, so it was, as always, a joy to hear her read a number of works from the collection. Her poems, "My Mother Talks in Numbers", "Ghazal for My Grandmother" and "A Thousand Crimson Blooms" were exceptionally beautiful in all of their themes of love, family, relationships, belonging and heritage. Whilst they are all moments and ideas unique in her own experiences, they speak to the universal in all of us. Eileen is quite often referenced as a poet in the imagist school, her poems and lines economical in their length and word choices. Yet, here she is branching further into new forms and lines, whilst still maintaining the sharpness of her images that capture daily moments in such rich and varied detail. It has always been a pleasure to read her work and again here, there's much to learn for a young poet. Having been shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award for Poetry twice and the NSW and Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, Eileen remains one of our nations great poets and this collection carries that legacy!
Boey Kim Cheng says of the collection, "These are sustaining, necessary poems for our desperate times. Their uncompromising honest and beauty question, confront, praise, uplift and celebrate human life in all its bewildering complexity.
A little more on the time I've spent with Eileen... At the beginning of 2018 I also spent some time with Eileen as one of her students, something she reminded me of last night. I have to acknowledge her with correcting the early errors of a mixup poet. She help to set me on a path that has helped me to publication of many of my poems. We have kept in touch sporadically and it was a special moment last year when I shared with her an early version of "Fibro Daze" which was published in Westerly 65.2 in November last year. It was really nice to hear her praise of the poem, but also, her continual guiding. A similar experience shared by Sara Saleh of her winning poem from last year as well. What a wonderful teacher she is!
My earnest congratulations on her new collection. You should buy it here: