Poet Grace Chia explores the many faces of a woman

Mother-of-two and writer Grace Chia (above) says it is a constant struggle to juggle domesticity and creating art.
Mother-of-two and writer Grace Chia (above) says it is a constant struggle to juggle domesticity and creating art.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Singaporean poet Grace Chia wants to examine the different roles of women - from daughter to wife to mother - in her new poetry collection, Mother Of All Questions

Daughter, wife, mother and more - Singaporean poet Grace Chia wants to reflect and refract the multiplicity of womanhood in her third poetry collection, Mother Of All Questions.

Chia, 43, returns to poetry after venturing into prose in 2016 with her first novel, The Wanderlusters, and a short story collection, Every Moving Thing That Lives Shall Be Food.

"I want to look at what it means to be human, but bearing in mind also that I am a woman - a daughter, mother and lover, the complex bag of identities I possess."

Chia, who works in educational resources and is the mother of two primary schoolgoing children, notes that there are not many writers in Singapore who are also mothers, which she feels may be because juggling domesticity and the creation of art is difficult.

"It's a constant struggle, how much time a day to devote to your children, to your manuscript, to your job, to being in the kitchen," she says.

"A book is like a baby, jostling for attention," she adds.

"I've come to realise that love is infinite - if you have 10 kids, you can love all of them. It just takes more out of you."

Domesticity, she adds, is a tricky subject to tackle in writing and thus tends to be overlooked.

"It's not considered robust, like war and death."

Some poems cut close to the bone, such as Gwongdung Wa, in which she laments being unable to comprehend the Cantonese dialect of her mother, who died of aggressive lung cancer in 2016, three weeks after she was diagnosed.

In White City Wolf, she writes of watching helplessly as her Serbian husband Vuk Krakovic is stricken by the news of his homeland being torn apart by civil war.

"He couldn't go home," she says. "It was hard for me to understand that scale of world politics."

Chia ran away with the circus when she followed her husband, then a Cirque du Soleil violinist, around the world for eight years, returning to Singapore in 2011 to become the first National Arts Council-Nanyang Technological University writer-in-residence.

Their son and daughter were born on the road.

She drew inspiration from this period to write The Wanderlusters, about a circus diva whose marriage is on the rocks.

It has been more than five years since she published her last poetry collection Cordelia, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize in the English poetry section.

The prize was jointly won by two male poets - Joshua Ip and Yong Shu Hoong.

A Facebook post by Chia, in which she accused the prize of sidelining women's writing, sparked backlash online, even after she withdrew the post.

The two years that followed were depressing for Chia, who retreated from the wider literary community and also lost her mother in that period.

Once burnt, she is now twice shy of social media.

"Your ideas and opinions don't come out in a vacuum," she says. "I'm very, very cautious now about using social media to advocate strong beliefs."

She is both heartened by and concerned for the rising #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

"There are people like me who will think it is very courageous and there are people who will cast stones at this courage. I don't know how it will pan out.

"The invisible majority are the ones we should be fearful of."

• Mother Of All Questions ($16), The Wanderlusters ($22) and Every Moving Thing That Lives Shall Be Food ($19) are available from BooksActually at 9 Yong Siak Street or www.booksactuallyshop.com.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2018, with the headline 'See the many faces of a woman'. Print Edition | Subscribe