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Monday, January 25, 2010

Upcoming on Wax Poetic: A Tribute to Goh Poh Seng

On this week's show we honour a special man who will be very much missed in the local literary community - novelist, playwright and poet - Goh Poh Seng.


Goh Poh Seng has been hailed by Asiaweek as  a "top-notch playwright, novelist and poet" and by Asia Magazine as  certainly, one of Asia's finest living poets". Born in 1936, he received his primary education at Batu Road School and attended the V.I. from 1951 to 1953. He was secretary of the V.I. Junior Literary and Debating Society in Standard Seven. Poh Seng completed his schooling in Ireland. He began writing poetry at 19 while frequenting the pubs of Dublin where he met writers such as Patrick Kavanagh. Encouraged by the publication of his poetry in the university magazine, he aspired to be a writer and at one point dropped out of medical school. After a year, starvation and a love of eating drove him back to his studies.
He returned to Asia with a medical degree from University College, Dublin in the early sixties. He was one of the pioneers of Singapore drama in English, writing and producing three plays. In the early days of Singapore’s independence, Poh Seng was appointed Chairman of the Singapore National Theater. During his tenure, he laid the groundwork for the formation of the Singapore National Symphony, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, the Singapore Dance Company and the Arts Council.
The Seventies were a productive period for Goh. His first novel, If We Dream Too Long, published in 1972, received the National Book Development Council of Singapore Award for Fiction. It has been used as a text by the Department of English at the University of Malaysia, and is being used as a text in the University of Singapore and the University of the Philippines. His collection of poems, Eyewitness, was published in 1976. This was followed in 1977 by The Immolation, a novel set in Vietnam and, in 1978, by a second book of poetry, Lines from Batu Ferringhi. His third book of poems, Bird with One Wing, published in 1982, sold out within three months. One of modern Singapore’s most prolific writers, Poh Seng was awarded the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 1983 for his literary contributions.
After practising medicine in Singapore for twenty-five years. Poh Seng emigrated to Canada in 1986, He settled first in Newfoundland where he found the place exciting and professionally stimulating, taking care of the patients in three small villages in the Atlantic province. He was the only foreigner - and certainly the only Chinese - for miles around. He later moved to Vancouver, where, in 1995, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and had to give up his profession. He lived part of the year in Vancouver and the rest in Newfoundland.
Poh Seng’s works have also appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including The London Magazine, Poetry International, Commonwealth Poems of Today, New Voices in the Commonwealth, New Pacific Quarterly, The Poetic Language: An Anthology of Great Poems of the English-speaking World, Anthology of Asean Literatures, Many Mouth Birds, Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature, The Backyards of Heaven, An Anthology of Poetry from Ireland and Newfoundland & Labrador.
He has participated in writers conferences in Russia, the Philippines, Hawaii, India, Korea, America, Canada and Hong Kong. He has had poetry readings in England, America, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. His works have been translated into Chinese, Russian, Malay, Tagalog, German, Spanish and French.
The past decade has also been particularly productive years for Poh Seng. His third novel, The Dance of Moths, was published by Select Books of Singapore in 1995. In 1998, The Girl from Ermita & Selected Poems was published in Canada by Nightwood Editions. This was followed by a second collection of poetry in 2000 titled As Though the Gods Love Us.
Besides his reading engagements in Canada, Poh Seng has been guest reader in 1998 and 1999 at the San Miguel Poetry Week which takes place in the artist colony of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico every January. In 2000, he was invited by the University of California, Berkeley, to the Doe Library readings which are under the direction of Robert Hass, the former poet laureate of the United States. Only three readers are invited each year.
His fourth novel, a fable for grown-ups titled Dance with White Clouds was published by Asia 2000 and launched at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival in 2001. He was also commissioned by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to write a long poem on the theme "Home and Away" in celebration of Poetry Month in Canada.
A wonderful service was held in his honour last Sunday at the WISE Hall and attended by Canadian Poet Laureate George Bowering, Jamie Reid, Joy Kogowa and George Stanley, among others.
His sons, Kagan and Kajin Goh join us in studio, to talk about their father and share some of his work.

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