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2023 - Winner
This is a poetry of diasporic complexity and grace, where locations are lodged in memory and recalled with elegance, but also at an immense cost. Throughout its poems The Singer conjures a series of places that are always doubly inhabited — from Little India in Singapore, (ghosted by glimpses of suburban Berowra), to the streets of inner-city Sydney with its multicultural refractions and possibilities. This is rhapsodic, restless writing, where wandering slides into wondering.
Kim Cheng Boey’s syntactical dexterity is evident throughout the book’s capacious lines, as well as in the long threads of its sentences. Like the Singer sewing machine of its title poem, Boey’s work incessantly gathers and joins those apparitions and experiences that attend upon place (‘memory in the image / image in memory’). The result is a book that understands the emotional weight of always being ‘from somewhere else’ and the urgent burden this places upon the poetic vocation.
Above all, The Singer is a ‘map of longing drawn under the arriving stars’ which undertakes the deep, human work of feeling, and of continuing love. There is a sense of each poem as a talismanic charm, of the words like luminous ‘tokens of the passage between the living / and the dead, keepsakes to keep you going, travelling.’ This is hard-won writing that attests to the transformative power of poetry, with words that seek to shepherd us through our lives’ journeys as we move toward ‘the border / where we wait, this no-place / between dream and waking, / between states of belonging and longing.’