Kim Cheng Boey
(Singapore, 1965)   
Kim Cheng Boey

Kim Cheng Boey’s poetry memorialises the past as a way of understanding experience, which for this poet has been one of ferrying between continents and cultures, between loss and recovery, present and past. His early collections Somewhere Bound, Days of No Name and Another Place announced him as a leading poet in Singapore, one of Asia’s youngest countries. His restless spirit embarked on a self-inscribed odyssey to India, South East Asia and the United States before he established a home and an academic literary career in Australia.

Boey’s memoir Between Stations is a poignantly interleaved series of essays on a changing Singapore, on travel as a geographic and creative pilgrimage. His lyrics in After the Fire and Clear Brightness are nostalgic, disillusioned with modernity, the persona ambulatory, positioned as transnational rather than as a postcolonial hybrid. With a Straits Chinese heritage, his cultural legacy is inextricably traced to northern Asian and Anglo-American aesthetics, and though he may be cast as a cosmopolitan the dogged individuality of his poetry unpacks their recurring themes of travel, mourning and exile almost hypnotically.

There are often labyrinthine and paradoxical flows to his narrative verse suggesting diasporic contradictions, the convolutions of history, a tendency for reversal or inversion that at times over determines the dialectic, saturating the experience with an itinerant mood that appears to evade their lived truth. Yet the tropes of eating and writing are woven with intricacy, exceptional skill and a characteristic imagistic piquancy (“La Mian in Melbourne”, “Wonton with James” evidence this.) A reader of Boey will marvel at this perspicacity and be persuaded by the rhythmic force of his lyrics, by what Judith Beveridge describes as the “strict imperative, the pressure cooker that brings his breath to song.”

Boey’s recurring themes, their predilections and autobiographical lapses may appear impenetrable but they mediate a space of restoration. This existential and spiritual quest is imaginatively and powerfully yearned, the spectre of his errant father imbuing the past like “giddy petals that swirled/on the updraft, flared/into incandescence before curling into papery/ash.” Despite their misgivings and diasporic ambivalence, Boey’s poetry bespeaks gain as much as loss: “the elusive lines unlocking/a whole library of meaning . . . .”

© Michelle Cahill


Interview with Desmond Kon in Cerise Press Vol 1. Issue 3 Spring 2010
“Vanished Selves, Times and Places”: Karen Rigby’s review of Between Stations in Cerise Press Vol 1. Issue 3 Spring 2010
Yeow Kai Chai “Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Boey Kim Cheng”, Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore Vol. 11  No. 2 2012 
Angelia Poon “The ‘swaying sense of things’: Boey Kim Cheng and the Poetics of Imagined Transnationalism”, Postcolonial Text, Vol 5, No 4 (2009)


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