Melanie Cheng on Thuy On’s debut poetry collection
The launch of Turbulence, Thuy On’s debut poetry collection, was sadly cancelled this month due to the ongoing public health crisis. Here we share the speech that author Melanie Cheng would have shared on the night were the event to have gone ahead.
It gives me great pleasure to launch Thuy On’s debut poetry collection, Turbulence. The title alone is such an apt word for this particular moment in history. And while none of us will be boarding a plane any time soon, I suspect that right now many of us can relate to the feeling of being violently shaken while flying through the air at thirty-thousand feet. These are scary and uncertain times. We are anxious, and as a result of social distancing and home isolation, we are also lonely. This is not a healthy combination. And yet, while we do not have a cure or vaccine for the invisible pathogen that has led to all this solitude, we do have something to ease our claustrophobia and loneliness. Books. Poetry in particular.
Joyce Carol Oates said: “Reading is the sole means by which we slip involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul”. And this is a perfect description for how I felt, reading Thuy’s poetry collection. I may have been physically in my own home, curled on a beanbag, as I consumed her words, but my mind was discovering the intricate world Thuy had created. As her marriage imploded, I felt her rage and hurt and despair. As she ventured forth onto the dating scene, I laughed along with her at the absurdity and awkwardness of the situation. As people close to her were lost, I felt the enormity of her grief, the burden of her love. Thuy’s poetry provided an escape into another world but it was a world I soon came to recognise as my own.
In the next few months we will all be focused on limiting the destruction of this virus. On saving lives. The value of art and poetry are at risk of being dismissed or forgotten. But I want to stress that society does this at its peril. Because, as Robin Williams says so eloquently in Dead Poets’ Society, “We don’t read and write because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
And so now, at this time of crisis, I look to Thuy’s poetry again for solace. And I find it in the final stanza of the final poem in the collection:
I defy the clouds
into the day.