Cyril Wong

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Cyril Wong
Artistry Cafe (Singapore) on 19 September 2013.
Artistry Cafe (Singapore) on 19 September 2013.
Born (1977-06-27) 27 June 1977 (age 42)
EducationDoctoral degree in English Literature from National University of Singapore,
Temasek Junior College,
Saint Patrick's School, Singapore
Notable awardsGolden Point Award (Singapore, 2004),
National Arts Council's Young Artist Award (Singapore, 2005),
Singapore Literature Prize (2006 and 2016)

Cyril Wong (simplified Chinese: 黄益民; traditional Chinese: 黃益民; pinyin: Huáng Yì Mín; born 27 June 1977) is a poet, fictionist and critic.[1]


Born in 1977, Cyril Wong attended Saint Patrick's School, Singapore and Temasek Junior College, before completing a doctoral degree in English literature at the National University of Singapore. His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies around the world, including Atlanta Review, Fulcrum, Poetry International, Cimarron Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry New Zealand, MĀNOA, Ambit, Dimsum, Asia Literary Review, The Bungeishichoo (Japanese translation), the Norton anthology Language for a New Century, and Chinese Erotic Poems by Everyman's Library. He has been a featured poet at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, the Sydney Writers' Festival, and the Singapore Writers Festival. TIME magazine (10 December 2007) has written that "his work expands beyond simple embrace themes of love, alienation and human relationships of all kinds."[2] The Straits Times has described the poet like this: "Cyril Wong is a graceful slip of a man, with a quiet air about him. He reads his poetry without drama, like he's just talking to you. But when he reads, the words sent tingles down my spine. His performance made one participant confess he 'peed in his pants'."[3]

Cyril's poetry[edit]

According to International Examiner, "Cyril Wong mines the contradictions and frustrations of a broader existence with poems that shimmer with language, art, religion, disaster, death, murder, adultery and, of course, love."[4] He has been recognised as Singapore's first truly confessional poet, mainly "on the basis of the brutally candid sexuality in his poetry, along with a barely submerged anxiety over the fragility of human connection and a relentless self-querying; but the label understates Wong's constant evolution".[5] By turns "acerbic and tender, ironic and meditative",[6] the poet "has many styles, all of them limber, which combine the anecdotal and the confessional with the intuitive and the empathetic."[7] His poems are known for their "lyrical intensity" and for "training an almost anthropologically curious eye on the laws and customs of his own family: their strange taciturn ways, their gnomic references to disappointment and guilt, and their penchant for self-delusion."[8] In a way that makes him especially distinctive within the Singaporean poetry scene, his work possesses "a heightened awareness of the physical body, and a desire to probe its visceral materiality for emotional truths."[9] Ng Yi-Sheng describes that throughout the poet's career, "he has unashamedly presented himself in public as a gay man, winning himself a large LGBT fan base that identifies intimately with his writings on love, depression and antipathy towards his family."[10] Edwin Thumboo has praised Cyril's poems for their "remarkable inwardness" and how, "without exception, they leave us with the feeling of subjects – occasion, non-happening, an especially poignant experience – explored to unusual limits."[11] As regards Cyril's third collection, below: absence, and its play of presence and absence in the context of Singapore's urbanity and cultural memory, John Phillips described the poetry as offering "an affirmation of emptiness in a time and place where this is barely possible."[12]

Although Cyril has also been popularly known as a gay poet,[13] Singaporean critic Gwee Li Sui has stressed that readers need not perceive the poet's persona in terms of gay exceptionality: "his qualities of spaciousness and morphing images also manifesting an interest in a kind of New-Age irreligious spirituality."[14] This interest is fully expressed in Cyril's book, Satori Blues, in which the author "teases us out of our complacencies and directs/guides our thinking along the long, hard route to self-awareness...Hence 'blues'. Hence the extraordinary attempt to seduce the reader into somnambulance-via-rhythmic, rhymic language, the language of meditative poetry."[15] In closer connection to the poet's Confessionalism, Andrew Howdle writes of the poems in The Lover's Inventory as having "a sense of musical persona, a manner of singing, of intonation and expression, and are fully aware of how they confess through masks and make others reveal the masks that they wear."[16] In a review by the Southeast Asian Review of English, Cyril's work has been described as "an art that works simply from a personal plane, and from within such a plane we have some of the most sensitive, articulate probings into the nature of one's self that have never been seen before in all of contemporary Singaporean verse."[17]

Gwee Li Sui has suggested that political and non-political verse are "paradoxically saying the same thing in Singapore", their forms "too often conflated in poetic argument with their creator's bodiliness"; and as regards the supposedly "non-political" and inward nature of Cyril's verse, the poet has "landscapes that replicate so tightly his corporeal condition that his own poems become not just the means but also the ends of his self-transference. Wong regularly brings into his writing the empty space on each page in some performance of being more than words, embracing the word-space dichotomy as a version of a mind-body one... His poetry ends up filling books in a way that destroys their form to give shape to heightened interiority."[18] Tijan Sallah also writes: "Cyril Wong takes the ordinary and carries one on a meditative trance. There is a Buddhist mystique in his poetry, of the questioning self, trying to understand itself to free itself of desire, of the self in a Cartesian battle, which eventually ends in a state of awakened enlightenment, the state of rest."[19]

Other poets who have responded to his work include Timothy Liu, who has called Cyril's "transpacific sensibility a fine refreshment";[20] Lewis Warsh, with his description of Cyril's poems as "evocative and sensual" and "untainted by bitterness";[21] Margot Schilpp, who has remarked that his work shows "how great the divide between expectations and outcomes can be";[22] and Robert Yeo, who has commented on the framing devices in his work that "deliberately blur distinctions between the real (Cyril Wong) and the persona (the poet who 'wonders at his own existence'). The result is a distancing that layers the poems and renders them more fraught and complex and encourages, indeed demands, repeated reading."[23]


  • The Lover's Inventory (Math Paper Press, 2015/2018) ISBN 978-981-09-4560-2
  • Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and Other Stories (Epigram Books, 2014) ISBN 978-981-46-1508-2
  • After You (Math Paper Press, 2013) ISBN 978-981-07-7274-1
  • The Last Lesson of Mrs De Souza (Epigram Books, 2013) ISBN 978-981-07-6232-2 | (Turkish translation: Alabanda Yayinlari, 2017) ISBN 978-605-9158-72-5
  • The Dictator's Eyebrow (Ethos Books, 2013) ISBN 978-981-07-6950-5
  • Straw, Sticks, Brick (Math Paper Press, 2012) ISBN 978-981-07-3385-8
  • Satori Blues (Softblow Press, 2011) ISBN 978-981-08-7361-5
  • oneiros (Firstfruits, 2010 | Math Paper Press, 2018) ISBN 978-981-08-4580-3
  • Let me tell you something about that night (Transit Lounge, 2009 | Ethos Books, 2012) ISBN 978-0-9805717-1-4
  • tilting our plates to catch the light (Firstfruits, 2007 | Math Paper Press, 2012) ISBN 978-981-05-9385-8
  • Excess Baggage and Claim, co-authored with Terry Jaensch (Transit Lounge, 2007) ISBN 978-0-9750228-5-6
  • like a seed with its singular purpose (Firstfruits, 2006 | Math Paper Press, 2018) ISBN 981-05-5930-5
  • unmarked treasure (Firstfruits, 2004 | Math Paper Press, 2012) ISBN 978-981-05-0408-3
  • below: absence (Firstfruits, 2002 | Math Paper Press, 2017) ISBN 981-04-7592-6
  • the end of his orbit (Firstfruits, 2001 | Math Paper Press, 2017) ISBN 981-04-4329-3
  • squatting quietly (Firstfruits, 2000) ISBN 981-04-2826-X


  • Fires (Book Merah, 2009) ASIN: B002P8MPK8, Kindle Edition


Anthologies (as editor)[edit]


Awards and acclaim[edit]


  1. ^ Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  2. ^ TIME Magazine (Asia Edition). Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  3. ^ The Straits Times. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  4. ^ International Examiner. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  5. ^ Toh Hsien Min. "Wong, Cyril (1977– )." The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English. Ed. Jeremy Noel-Tod and Ian Hamilton. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 662.
  6. ^ Cheong, Felix. "Out in the City." The Edge, Singapore. 28 July 2003. 45.
  7. ^ Patke, Rajeev S. and Philip Holden. "Contemporary poetry 1990–2008: Singapore." The Routledge Concise History of Southeast Asian Writing in English. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2010. 185.
  8. ^ Holden, Philip, Angelia Poon and Shirley Geok-lin Lim, eds. "Section 2 (1965–1990): Introduction." Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature. Singapore: NUS Press/National Arts Council, 2009. 370–371.
  9. ^ Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature. Singapore: NUS Press/NAC, 2009. 370–371.
  10. ^ Angelia Poon and Angus Whitehead, eds. Singapore Literature and Culture: Current Directions in Local and Global Contexts. New York: Routledge, 2017. 259–.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Thumboo, Edwin. "Introduction" IN Cyril Wong's Squatting Quietly. Singapore: Firstfruits, 2000. 9.
  12. ^ Phillips, John. "The Future of the Past: Archiving Singapore." Urban Memory: History and Amnesia in the Modern City. Ed. Mark Crinson. London and New York: Routledge, 2005. 160.
  13. ^ TIME Magazine (Asia Edition). Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  14. ^ Gwee Li Sui. "The New Poetry of Singapore." Sharing Borders: Studies in Contemporary Singaporean-Malaysian Literature II. Ed. Gwee Li Sui. Singapore: NLB/NAC 2009. 250.
  15. ^ Singh, Kirpal. "Poetic Meditations: Two Singaporean Poets and a Personal Reflection." Kunapipi. Vol. XXXII No. 1-2 December 2010. 109–110.
  16. ^ Singapore Unbound. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  17. ^ Jeyam, Leonard. "The Poetry of Personal Revelation: Reviewing Cyril Wong's Unmarked Treasure." SARE. No. 47 April 2006/07. 99.
  18. ^ "The Body of Poetry Broken For You." Whatever Happened to Politics in Singapore's English-Language Poetry? Ed. Michael Schindhelm and Damian Christinger. Hong Kong and Zurich: Connecting Spaces and Zurich University of the Arts, 2017. 73.
  19. ^ Tijan M. Sallah. "A World Assembly of Poets: Introduction." Re-Markings: A World Assembly of Poets. Vol. 16 No. 4 November 2017. India: Authors Press, 2017. 37.
  20. ^ Liu, Timothy. "Praise for previous collections" IN Cyril Wong's like a seed with its singular purpose. Firstfruits, 2006. 7.
  21. ^ Warsh, Lewis. "Praise for previous collections" IN Cyril Wong's like a seed with its singular purpose. Firstfruits, 2006. 6.
  22. ^ Schilpp, Margot. "Praise for previous collections" IN Cyril Wong's like a seed with its singular purpose. Firstfruits, 2006. 6.
  23. ^ Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  24. ^ Moving Poems: The Best Poetry Videos on the Web. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  25. ^ TODAY. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  26. ^ The Straits Times. Retrieved 31 March 2016.

External links[edit]