Eileen Chong’s Diary for the Week

8 June 2016, Wed


It’s the birthday of one of my oldest friends, SH. I remember taking the bus with her to and from school and our many hours hanging out at the tiny suburban mall near our homes. Those days seemed endless, although of course, they were not. Perhaps the young women we were hoping to become were simply growing into themselves, enacting rituals ultimately destined for a larger stage. I’m glad that we are still friends. Okonomiyaki for dinner tonight: a Japanese cabbage pancake filled with carrots, mushrooms and chicken (for tonight), topped with mayonnaise and a Japanese-style barbeque sauce. C and I are still perfecting this dish. I read somewhere that okonomiyaki was invented during the war, where food shortages forced people to innovate. I wonder if the story is apocryphal. I am getting better at preparing okonomiyaki, refining and internalising the recipe. We have leftovers, which I pack for C’s lunch the following day.

Photo credit to Christopher Phillips photography

9 June 2016, Thu

My first blog post for Southerly is due to be put up tomorrow. Sent a preview off to J for his opinion. He tells me it’s ‘fluff’ and I get offended, mostly because I am worried that he’s right. I start to text a passionate defence of my writing: I’m having some fun with the interview mode and find it interesting to interview myself, mostly because I have internal conversations like this all day. I decide to erase my text and respond with a petulant ‘I hate you’ which elicits an explanation from J of how he hadn’t meant it as criticism and that my poetry speaks for itself. Good thing I put some poems at the end of the blog post then. At any rate, a ‘real’ interview of me is up on the Planthunter website, as part of the New Shoots project. So there. Roast beef, buttered peas and creamed cauliflower tonight. I didn’t have any kitchen string so used some red and white parcel string to truss the meat. Hope I don’t poison us.

10 June 2016, Fri

Chinese claypot chicken rice

Have had some lovely responses to the Southerly blog post from friends. Take that, J! Have also been sent some photographs from Chris Philips from the photo session in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Fantastic stuff – all I remember was being exhausted after the ABC interview and recording session of poems and worrying about spots on my face. It took Chris a couple of hours to get me not to grin at the camera every time the lens was pointed at my face. I’m impressed at how he brought out my personality in the photographs – apparently when I started to relax, I looked ‘so soft and gentle’ – Tamryn’s words. I don’t think of myself as soft or gentle so it’s a surprise when I see photographic evidence that I am indeed so, or look that way at least. I am pleasantly surprised to see that my eyes can indeed be visible in a photograph. C and I are having friends over tonight for dinner. M and R have requested that I make Chinese claypot chicken rice, which I feel a little embarrassed about serving as it’s home-cooking/peasant food. It goes down a treat, though. C and M have a little after-dinner jam session for their secret band. Not so secret now…!

11 June 2016, Sat

SSO program

We’ve a lovely and full weekend ahead of us – C off to mountain bike while I have a nice slow morning moseying around the markets and the neighbourhood. I found a great book a few days ago at the op shop for $2: the Lonely Planet Book of Everything: A Visual Guide to Travel and the World. It’s full of diagrams about how the world works, including the length of rivers, heights of mountains, and how to perform a tracheotomy. I finally understand something about myself – I’m not resistant to facts, I just need them presented to me pictorially. I recall that it took me forever to get through notes in school because I had to translate chunks of text into mind-maps. This doesn’t apply to road or city maps, however. I cook an early dinner of seafood pappardelle with garlic, tomatoes and chilli for before we head into the city for a concert. We are late leaving home and decide to take a cab. BAD IDEA. Massive crowds – up to 40,000, we find out later – have crammed into the city for Vivid. We end up stuck in traffic, and have to get out of the cab and walk. We make it for the show, barely, sweaty and harried. It was worth it, though! An incredible performance by the Sydney Symphony and the Chinese pianist Lang Lang, playing Grieg.

12 June 2016, Sun

Mexican meal, Part 1

We are too exhausted and crowd-adverse to go to Bjork’s exhibition at Carriageworks, even though we managed to score tickets months ago. We decide to skip it and spend the afternoon doing nothing instead. C makes some music while I read. M gave me a book on Friday, a novel called The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. I’ve never read any of his work. It’s a work of fiction about a poet. I gave M my copy of John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer in return, a book about music. I fall asleep reading, with the cat lying right next to my face on the pillow. My parents ask us to dinner at theirs, but we are not feeling social at all and ask them to lunch the next day instead. C wants to cook up a Mexican meal for dinner. I’ve never really enjoyed Mexican food, but I have great faith in C’s cooking. We go to the shops, where C grumbles a lot about not being able to find the right ingredients. I simply concentrate all my willpower on not buying chocolate, biscuits or ice cream. We decide that margaritas are in order and inadvertently end up paying $12 for a few limes. Ridiculous!! The margaritas are delicious though and we consume doubles while cooking. Dinner turns out to be amazingly delicious. I am thoroughly impressed and add Mexican to the growing list of C’s Specialities. I am still annoyed at how expensive the limes were, although the margaritas were very yummy and it wouldn’t have been the same made with lemons.

Mexican meal, Part 2

13 June 2016, Mon

Chicken pie, Part 1

The Queen’s Birthday today, which doesn’t mean much to me, save that C gets to be at home instead of at work. C is making a chicken pie for lunch. I get to roll out the shortcrust pastry, which is great fun, but am told that I was working too slow and the pastry was getting far too warm. My parents are thrilled at home made chicken pie, and everyone descends into a post-lunch food coma. We have heaps of filling left over, which we save for pasties for dinner. My parents go home, and I get down to the business of submitting new poems for various competitions. It’s always hard in a year when I’ve had a book published, as I feel like new poems are so thin on the ground, or haven’t had a lot of time to ferment. Sharon Olds says that she writes a poem and it goes straight into the bottom drawer in a folder labelled ‘Resort’, replete with a drawing of a cocktail with a paper umbrella. It’s always scary and exciting putting poems into competitions, for me, anyway. Still, you’ve got to be in it to win it –not that I’ve won anything as yet, but it’s good practice. It’s better odds than winning the Lotto!

Chicken pie, Part 2

14 June 2016, Tue

Poetry reading at Sappho tonight. It’s good of Toby (Fitch) to have me. I’ll be reading alongside Andrew Taylor, Joel Deane and Evelyn Araluen. I’m excited; I’m not familiar with the work of any of these poets and I love discovering new work. I spend a couple of hours trying to decide which poems to read tonight. My mother made me some ginseng chicken soup yesterday, which I have for lunch with somen noodles. It’s the bomb!! I head to Sappho. It’s very busy, a great turnout. Evelyn Araluen is young, beautiful and doing very interesting things with language. She is writing at the intersection of identity, and one of her poems speaks of the act of naming – a fascinating, powerful subject. Joel Deane reads a devastating poem about (mercy) killing a fox. Something about his work reminds me of some of Anthony Lawrence’s poems. I’m on after the break. The young man sitting next to me asks if I will be reading a poem this evening. I say Yes. A lovely lady named Rachel says hello to me, and that she found my first two books in a garage sale at Bundeena, and that she came tonight to hear me read. I am so moved by this, and also very tickled at the fact that she probably bought these books from a friend of mine, T, who has since moved up north. My poem, ‘Rusa’, in the latest edition of Meanjin, is set in the National Park. These coincidences blow my mind. I read five poems, all from my new book Painting Red Orchids. My poem about Scotch broth (‘A Winter’s Night’) gets some applause and even a whoop or two. I am absolutely devastated when C tells me later that a word (‘shiver’) in the last line of one poem was repeated in the first line of the next poem that I’d read. The two poems were not even remotely close to each other in the book. I decide it is not a huge deal, although it kind of is. Andrew Taylor closes the evening with some fine poems, mostly set in Western Australia, and reads his elegy for his cat. I had read my cat elegy poem too – Andrew and I chatted before the reading and agreed we would both read our versions – cat people unite! Joel Deane and I trade our books. It’s a great night.

Evelyn Araluen at Sappho

15 June 2016, Wed

Teaching poetry workshops today at a girls’ school. It’s always freezing in the early morning walking to and from the train station. When I got on the train I realised that I had forgotten my phone, which is frustrating as I am dependent on it for time-telling, email-checking, poem-storing and fact-searching. I spend my train journey reading Joel Deane’s Year of the Wasp instead. I had told Joel about a(nother) poet I had read a few weeks ago which his reading had reminded me of, and uncannily enough, threads of this poet’s writing is in Joel’s work. I love how poets often work with and around similar themes and obsessions, but make it our own, telling and re-telling. It’s a joy to see the faces of my sometime-students, and to share my love for poetry with them. I have two very fun sessions and have hopefully planted some poetic seeds. I think of one of my students, CC, whom I taught in Singapore more than a decade ago. She’s now a poet, which I am so very happy about. Back on the train. I finish Joel’s book – a powerful, moving finish – and look up to see that the train is crossing the harbour bridge. Liminal spaces, between stations – my mind is swimming with ideas. I get home and catch up on my email and go through my notes for the day. With a start I realise that I’d better get my soup on – it’s pea and ham soup tonight. I make it with a whole ham hock. Lately I’ve taken to cooking it with a soup mix, which has barley in it. A perfect winter meal.

Pea and ham soup