By Eileen ChongPoetryPitt Street Poetry

Painting Red Orchids

Eileen Chong’s new collection continues her exploration of the contemplative and the personal within subtly shifting contexts of food, love, history and culture.  Lovers of her poetry will find much that is familiar and much that is new.  Over the three volumes of work represented on this page the reader can map a transition from a precocious apprenticeship to a mature voice, through moments of light and happiness mixed with hints of grief and foreboding.

As always her technical confidence and linguistic sophistication allow her to offer poems which appear simple on the surface, transparent enough to appreciate at a first reading and yet which contain depths and resonances which repay repeated attention and thought. Through this combination of beauty and depth, Eileen Chong commands a wide and devoted following.

Portrait of Eileen Chong

Eileen Chong

Eileen Chong is a Sydney poet. She won the Poets Union Youth Fellowship in 2010 and was an Australian Poetry Fellow for 2011–2012. Her first book, Burning Rice, was shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award 2012, the Australian Arts in Asia Award 2013 and the Prime Minister's Literary Award 2013. Her other books are Peony and Painting Red Orchids, from Pitt Street Poetry.

Judges’ report

Eileen Chong’s third collection is language dressed in its Sunday best. Words are pressed and presented with perfection. There’s an effortless simplicity matched with deep sophistication and timeless style. Eileen Chong ventures deep into both ancient and modern history. The retelling of Hua Mu Lan’s story in ‘Magnolia’ is acutely personal and precise. Chong’s work is unpretentious yet every subject is exquisitely executed. Each piece in this book demonstrates immense skill and poetic confidence. Overall, a riveting read.


Painting Red Orchids

Last night, red orchids in the thatched hut burst into blossom.
Worrying about the wind and rain, unable to sleep.
‘Red Orchid’, Huang Shen

My brushes hang in stillness on polished rosewood.
Weasel hair, wolf tail, mink fur. This one, an eyelash
from a leopard. The inkstone was my father’s: slate

quarried from the lake where my great-grandfather
drowned himself one spring night. I scoop well-water
onto the stone and grind the inkstick back and forth.

Pine oils diffuse into the room. My wife has made
this paper with mulberry from our gardens. I lift
 my brush, pull back my sleeve and saturate the hairs.

One stroke, one breath: leaves give way to blossom.
More water – rain and cloud above the trees.
Cochineal paste, jade seal – red orchids bloom on white.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist