Book review: Boey Kim Cheng's The Singer And Other Poems hits all the right notes

2 days ago 43

Senior Culture Correspondent

The Singer And Other Poems

By Boey Kim Cheng Poetry/Cordite Books/ Paperback/85 pages/A$20 (S$19.20)/Buy here 5 out of 5

It has been 10 years since Singapore-born, Australia-based Boey Kim Cheng's last poetry collection.

The Singer And Other Poems, published by an Australian press, is thus hotly anticipated.

It does not fail, delivering some beautiful surprises along with the familiar tropes that fans have come to expect from Singapore's most thoughtful parser of change, memory and loss.

The first two pieces in the book are short prose works rather than poems. But any notion that these are not poetry soon fades as the music of his words kicks in. His lyric voice - introspective, insightful and melodic - is unmistakable.

Little India Dreaming and The Singer are worth the price of admission. They are virtuosic riffs on themes that have haunted Boey since the beginning of his writing career. But there is a new note - a deceptively loose-limbed jazzy ease to the writing that can come only from a master craftsman who has spent countless hours honing his skill.

The opening piece, Little India Dreaming, is a demonstration of what poet-academic Shirley Geok-lin Lim characterises in her introduction as "a flaneur's sensibility". It opens with a bluntly declarative: "To begin."

That stop-start statement is a conductor's attention-grabbing double tap, a flourish, a fanfare before the reader is swept up into lithe, longer sentences that blur the line between prose and poetry.

In classic Boey fashion, the itinerary is dominated by lost landscapes, familiar people and vivid memories. In less accomplished hands, the recap of names and places might have degenerated into a grocery list.

Boey's pen, how...

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