Boey Kim Cheng’s Singapore

December 1, 2006

Source: Gwee Li Sui

This is the first known published essay on poet Boey Kim Cheng. It appeared in Dialogue, Volume 2.2 (2006) and is made available on with the journal’s kind permission.

No other writer from Singapore influences the country’s current batch of poets more than Australia’s new citizen Boey Kim Cheng. One may be tempted to suggest Alfian bin Sa’at – another poet who appeared on the literary scene almost a decade later in 1998 – but Sa’at’s clinical assault on Singapore’s socio-political life, through a series of performed scenarios, makes him a darling more of social observers, national educators, and lovers of drama. Stylistically, thematically, and atmospherically speaking, Boey reaches much further and affects even the poet in Sa’at, whose other acknowledged inspiration of similar place-origin is a Modernist craftsman, the late Arthur Yap. Like Sa’at, Boey’s genius has been recognised from the moment he began publishing, with his own mentor, the grande dame of Singaporean verse Lee Tzu Pheng, remarking that “[t]here is no denying the power of his poetry, a poetry so often, one feels, energized by its need to break through.” The younger poet Paul Tan Kim Liang hailed him in 1996 as “one of the leading writers of his generation in Singapore” and defended his poetry’s lack of familiar national markers against a general myopia that would judge a writer’s worth “based on whether he self-consciously creates a ‘Singaporean’ voice (whatever that may be).” Recently, all three finalists of the 2006 Singapore Literature Prize, the nation’s highest literary award, registered their own staunch admiration for Boey’s humane and acutely sensitive lines. Newspaper reviewers continue to be charmed after eighteen years: Koh Buck Song, in 1989, had found Boey’s maiden volume Somewhere-Bound “already a mature and accomplished work of art,” “marked by an insistent energy straining against the limitations of life.” In 2006, three years after Boey became Australian and in response to his latest fourth volume After the Fire, Kristina Tom confesses: “Only one Singapore poet – Arthur Yap – has made me cry before, but Boey made me weep.”


Gwee Li Sui

To read the full text, click here.


5 Responses to “Boey Kim Cheng’s Singapore”

  1. thepoetswife Says:

    Hi Gwee, thanks for sharing your very erudite essay here. I have only just begun blogging, and I have touched upon a couple of points which I see you have also made in your essay, though I have expressed them in a more personal, laywoman’s way. Hope it’s okay with you that I have provided a link to your blog (and essay) on

  2. Gweek Says:

    Hello! 😀 Sure – since you ARE the poet’s wife! Hope we’ll meet some day.

  3. thepoetswife Says:

    Thanks. I’m sure we will.

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