An engaging new collection from the author of Burning Rice.
In Peony, Eileen Chong deals with a range of themes, from the nature of family and ancestral roots and traditions, to death, friendship, travel, fear and, of course, love.
Throughout the book, her voice is a consistent one. The poems often seem very personal. These attributes can be positive, and many of the poems made me think deeply or inspired feelings. However, I admit I am more drawn to the range that seems more common in prose – see, for example, my review of Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke. (That might be an unfair comparison, though, as Clarke’s range is just so large.)
I loved many of the poems, and thought the first chapter especially strong in this regard. Particular favourites included “Chinese Singing”, “Musician”, “Tank Man”, “Rice-dumplings”, “In Paris We Never”, “Mid-air Disaster” and “Map-making”. However, one note of Chong’s style comes across as a bit affected: many sentences cross not only lines, but stanzas. Where this works, it’s fine and sometimes great, but in other poems it seems unnecessary and a little as if Chong is saying “hey, look what I can do”. Similarly, the long run of poems all for someone in Chapter III seemed a little as if Chong had been given an assignment to write poems for her friends.
Overall, my enjoyment outweighed the criticism expressed above – and that’s the nice thing about a book of poems, you don’t have to love them all for it to be a good book. This is a book of poetry which is well worth a look.
This is a review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.