Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Eileen Chong
By Yong Shu Hoong
Eileen Chong was born in Singapore but now calls Sydney, Australia, home. In a review of her 2016 poetry collection Painting Red Orchids in the Sydney Review of Books, the poet Boey Kim Cheng writes: "In her fidelity to the real, and her attentiveness to the quotidian, to what can be grasped, experienced, and perhaps known, she stands apart from many of her more experimental contemporaries with their avoidance or fear of narrative, or anything with a whiff of sentimentality... Chong boldly embraces the empirical with her vivid mappings of experience and memory."
Chong's other poetry collections include Burning Rice (2012) and Peony (2014), the latest being Rainforest (2018). Her books have been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Anne Elder Award for a first book, the Australian Arts in Asia Award, the Victorian Premier's Literary Award and the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Award.
Her poems have also been featured in Australian and international anthologies, including To Gather Your Leaving: Asian Diaspora Poetry from America, Australia, UK and Europe (2019), edited by Boey Kim Cheng, Arin Alycia Fong and Justin Chia.
Even when Chong is physically away from Singapore, it is never too far from her mind – for example, she has collaborated with photographer Charlene Winfred on Map-Making (2018), a limited-edition hardcover book of photographs and poems about Singapore. And she stirs a very Singaporean obsession with food into The Uncommon Feast (2018), which collates food-inspired essays and poems alongside recipes. In an interview for Centre for Stories, she said, "To paraphrase Wittgenstein, the limits of the world I grew up in were very much defined by the language of food."
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I…
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three words: border, pillar, home.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. Your latest poetry collection, Rainforest (2018), is divided into four sections: East, South, West and North. How do you think poetry can help to chart directions in the current unsettling times, in a world divided by the Covid-19 pandemic?
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?