A Poet's Reading List — Cyril Wong

Posted on July 08 2017

Hi Cyril, tell us more about yourself!

I'm a poet, occasional fictionist, renegade countertenor, critic, writing mentor, editor, teacher, and meditator. I also enjoy taking Instagram photos of my Clementi neighbourhood, where I mostly loll like a tongue inside a closed mouth.

What are you currently reading?

Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask, which is about a literarily minded boy coming to terms with his homosexuality in Imperial Japan.

Can you recommend your best five titles to us?

In no order of preference,

The Ending of Time – J. Krishnamurti & David Bohm
Faithful and Virtuous Night – Louise Glück
Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems – Linda Pastan
The Same Sea – Amos Oz
Echolocation – Mani Rao

And why?

The Ending of Time
features a spiritualist philosopher and a renowned physicist discussing the meaning of time and the problems of being human – in such a "real-time", multifaceted and holistic way that I can read the book from one decade to another and discover something new.

Faithful and Virtuous Night depicts a series of anonymous personae and meditations about how to live, when life offers nothing but death and its constant revision. Trying without trying; living with passion and without being caught up in rigid beliefs and aesthetic values – the author provides persuasive insights into how we may exist without falling into despair.

Reading Carnival Evening is like sitting with a wise old aunt on the lanai, with a glass of wine or lemonade, while gratefully listening to her carry on about growing old, beauty, parenthood, and the lessons of the natural world.  

The Same Sea is a verse novel; it is also one of the best novels I've ever read. An enigmatic snowman becomes a representation of enlightenment and the ineffable; the author interferes with his characters and the whole work becomes by turns metafictional and metaphysical – but the work is also about mourning and loss. An unforgettable philosophical-cum-storytelling feat.

Echolocation is sharply imagistic yet lyrical. The book is made up of emotionally-jagged word-paintings. When Mani Rao reads her lines about desire and love aloud in public, I understand that the physical and the literary/internal voice should strive to be one and the same. She is a poet for poets.

What's one quote you live by?
"Hell is – other people..." Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit

Apart from forgetting your lovers’ names upon reading certain poems in both collections, what else about the older poetry most surprises you?

It's the reminder that there are parts of my younger self that I miss and love, even as there are parts that embarrass me – the guilt, sorrow, hurt, and the near-inability to recover from these emotions.

Complete the following sentences:

Below: Absence was written for loved ones, past and present.

The End of His Orbit was written for lovers, family members and friends (mostly) who eventually left or stopped caring about me.

More about Cyril Wong at
All books and more at



Leave a comment

Recent Posts

  • What's Your Idea of Teleportation?

    Feb 06 2018

    As you might know, our pop-up at Great World City is officially open! Since the start of Read To Teleport, we've been picking the brain...

  • Review: M Train

    Feb 04 2018

    “We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment , sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother's voice. I want to se...

  • Eve Yeo on Building More Grounds For Socio-Political Improvement

    Jan 30 2018

    Firstly, how would you describe your relationship with illustration and design? I enjoy drawing. I’ve always been a big fan of drawing a...

Instagram / follow us at @booksactually

@booksactually On Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Sign up for book recommendations !