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From the opening image of a bushfire in Australia that triggers the eruption of memory into present day life, the interleaving of the migrant’s origin and subsequent destinations lies fanned open upon each page of this poetry collection. In the sequence ‘To Markets’, borders between countries and experiences dissolve under the poet’s finely crafted rhythm and the accumulation of objects encountered in journeys through different markets around the world. This is a collection full of the winding alleys and elegant structures of the poet’s Singaporean childhood, and at every turn, there is the potential to see some vanished architectural marvel or the elusive father whose absence and presence through memory and imagination becomes a focal point for the poet’s journey.
One of the most powerful aspects of this collection, elucidated beautifully in the closing image of ‘My Son Drawing’, is the way that it also casts its illumination on the other side of the migrant’s experience; the role that children play not only in creating a sense of continuity from what is lost but also in offering what is to be gained in the disruptions of migration; the promise of renewal. Kim Cheng Boey brilliantly captures the crossroads of memory and identity, the way in which the migrant’s experience of parents, ancestors and culture becomes both an identifying and dislocating force. Balanced against the delicate sense of loss and melancholy that finds a current in many of these poems, the ultimate joy in Boey’s work is in the discovery that the dislocation in the migrant’s experience can be both a liberating and a generative one.