A Thousand Crimson Blooms

Eileen Chong

A Thousand Crimson Blooms
University of Queensland Press
30 March 2021

A Thousand Crimson Blooms

Eileen Chong

Eileen Chong’s luminous poetry examines the histories - personal, familial and cultural - that form our identities and obsessions.

A Thousand Crimson Blooms is a deepening of her commitment to a poetics of sensuous simplicity and complex emotions, even as she confronts the challenges of infertility or fraught mother-daughter relations. Entwined throughout are questions of migration and belonging.

Viewed as a whole, this collection is a field of flowers, aflame with light.


Poetry can be so incredibly personal, and Eileen Chong’s A Thousand Crimson Blooms is no exception. As a writer, Chong describes needing poetry in order to process the world, and there is almost nothing off limits here as she works through her own experiences.

This collection drew me into the poet’s experiences of her grandmother’s passing, cancer, miscarriages, hysterectomy, but most of all, the complexities of love. The collection presents a story of family love – a love that often goes unspoken and is enveloped in cultural differences through the effects of migration and language barriers. At times I felt Chong’s immense anger and grief for the lives she wanted to live, but her carefully considered words also convey a sense of healing and acceptance: ‘my soul will find my body / and my body will wake’. In one poem, Chong says, ‘I am without shell’, and this vulnerability and exploration of self is true of the whole collection.

These poems are not needlessly complicated; while they reward rereading for the serious poetry reader, they are also inviting for the less confident or experienced reader. Perhaps this is because each image Chong presents is so layered in emotion that I cannot help but be held captive. In ‘Spring Festival’, Chong muses that she often writes poems in tercet form: one line for the past, one for the future, and one ‘for the hours / I do not notice as they pass’. Through this, Chong invites the reader to wander through these tenses with her and to perceive time and memory as she perceives them.

As a reader of poetry, I feel it is an immense privilege to be trusted with a poet’s life, albeit a curated presentation. A Thousand Crimson Blooms is a treasure, and has prompted me to read more of Chong’s work.

Clare Millar is from Readings online.

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