Friday, August 2, 2013

Poets from Singapore and their critical biographies featured in The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry, the second edition edited by Jeremy Noel-Tod and Ian Hamilton and published by Oxford University Press in 2013.

[Photos featured below have been taken from the Internet and were not used in the original publication.]

BOEY Kim Cheng (1965- )
Born in Singapore, Boey studied English Literature at the National University of Singapore, German Studies at Murnau, and attended the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. He has indicated the importance to his work of a broad international tradition of poetry-as-wisdom, rooted in personal encounter with the world, from Seamus Heaney to Rilke, Cavafy, and Du Fu. Boey's early collections Somewhere Bound (1989), which won the National Book Development Councils Book Award for Poetry, Another Place (1992—both Time), and Days of No Name (EPB, 1996) were all well-received. But they also charted his growing disillusionment with modern Singaporean society. In 1997 he emigrated to Australia, where he teaches at the University of Newcastle. It was a decade until his fourth collection, After the Fire: New and Selected Poems (firstfruits, 2006). See also Between Stations (Giramondo, 2009), a collection of travel essays.

[Page 59, Written by Jeremy Noel-Tod]

LEE Tzu Pheng (1946- )    
Lee began writing poetry while still at school. During her undergraduate years at the University of Singapore her poems came to the attention of Edwin Thumboo, among others, and she was encouraged to publish. Essentially a private poet, she made a public impact with the appearance in 1966 of her 'My Country and My People'. Many Singaporean readers saw this piece as encapsulating the peculiar history of the nation in its convoluted progress from British colony to independent republic. Lee's later work is more personal. Both Against the Next Wave (1988) and The Brink of an Amen (1991—both Times) register emotional anguish, but they also celebrate the embracing of a religious faith which has intensified over the years, and now provides the secure emotional basis of her work.
          See also Prospect of a Drowning (Heinemann, 1980) and Lambada by Galilee and Other Surprises (Times, 1997). For criticism, see Felicia Chan, Silences May Speak: the Poetry of Lee Tzu Pheng (Times, 1999).

[Pages 344-345, Written by Kirpal Singh]

Chandran NAIR (1945- )    
Born in India but his family moved to Singapore when he was still a child. He was trained as a marine biologist, but his literary pursuits took him into the world of publishing where he remained for many years, eventually taking up an appointment as consultant with UNESCO.

          In Nair's first volume of poems, Once the Horseman and Other Poems (Singapore University Education Press, 1972), there is a recourse to Hindu myths and legends as sources of comfort and spiritual nourishment, but in his second book, After the Hard Hours this Rain (Woodrose, 1974), there is a shift away from Hindu themes; love is the central preoccupation. A later volume, Reaching for Stones (Ethos, 2010), collects Nair's poems from over four decades. See idea to ideal: 12 singapore poets on the writing of their poems, ed. Felix Cheong (firstfruits, 2004).
[Page 440, Written by Kirpal Singh]

Alvin PANG (1972- )    
Born in Singapore, Pang read English at the University of York. He has worked as a teacher, a civil servant, a journalist, a freelance editor, and an anthologist.
          His first volume of poems, Testing the Silence (1997), was at the forefront of a new wave of poetry that was unabashedly contemporary and urban, throwing aside the academic slant of previous Singapore poetry, yet in Pang's case not without a sense of the provisional in his style. City of Rain (2003—both Ethos), Pang's second volume of poetry, establishes a voice that is playfully sardonic yet confident to the point of assertive, along with subject matter that at once embraces the increasing cultural diversity of the city and laments its limitations. Among these is a sense of Singapore as a small market for poetry, motivating Pang to seek overseas exposure, for instance through co-editing with John Kinsella an anthology of Singaporean and Australian poetry, Over There (2008). His third volume, When the Barbarians Arrive (Arc, 2012), is a new and selected volume for an international audience.

[Page 468, Written by Toh Hsien Min]

Edwin (Nadason) THUMBOO (1933- )    
Born in Singapore, he read English at the University of Malaya. In 1967 he joined the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore), where he was head of the department of English language and literature. He took his PhD there, and rose to become a full professor in 1979, serving also as dean of the faculty of arts and social sciences until late 1991. He is now emeritus professor.
          His three volumes of poetry have established him as the Republic's unofficial poet laureate. Since the early 1970s Thumboo has had more influence over the course of Singapore writing than any other individual. Rib of Earth (Fernando, 1956), Gods Can Die (1977), and Ulysses by the Merlion (1979—both Heinemann) are marked by courageous social and political statement. Thumboo's verse has a strong sense of the nascent history of an emerging nation struggling to find new roots out of the soil of colonialism and a diverse multiracial immigrant culture. Gods and Ulysses won the National Book Development Council of Singapore Award for poetry in 1978 and 1980, as did his new and selected volume, A Third Map (Singapore University Press, 1993). Bring the Sun (Ethos Books, 2008) is a later selected poems. There is an online interview with Thumboo in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, 5:1 (October 2005).

[Page 618, Written by Koh Buck Song]

TOH Hsien Min (1975- )    
Born in Singapore, Toh Hsien Min read English Literature at Oxford University. He is the founding editor of the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, an online literary journal, and works in financial analysis and risk management.
     Mentored by the Singaporean poets Lee Tzu Pheng and Arthur Yap, Toh's first collection, Iambus (1994), appeared under the UniPress imprint of the National University of Singapore. His second, The Enclosure of Love (2001), showcased the work of an observant traveller and inventive formalist, adept at casual rhyme, colloquial phrasing, and poignant structural returns (see 'Grandmother Thng'). Means to an End (2008—both Landmark), which was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, broke forcefully out of this mould in flowing O'Haraesque verse paragraphs reflecting on the enmeshed existence of the poet as a global consumer ('Oil'). In 2010 he won the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council of Singapore.

[Page 619, Written by Jeremy Noel-Tod]

Cyril WONG (1977- )    
Born in Singapore, Wong studied English Literature at the National University of Singapore, eventually finishing with a doctoral degree in 2012. In between formal education, he has also worked in arts administration.
          With nine collections of poetry, Wong is acknowledged as the most prolific of the post-1995 generation of Singapore poets. His first collection, squatting quietly (2000), was tentatively received, but the end of his orbit (2001) and below: absence (2002) established him as a poet to watch. He has been most often labelled a confessional poet 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. With tilting our plates to catch the light (2007—all Firstfruits), Wong signals his departure from the personal lyric for a poetry of more ambitious scope, and that trajectory has led to Satori Blues (Softblow 2011), a sustained meditation that recalls turn-of-the-century Geoffrey Hill in its intricately patterned probing.

[Pages 662-663, Written by Toh Hsien Min]

Arthur YAP (1943-2006)    
Born in Singapore and educated locally, at Leeds University, and at the National University of Singapore, where he was a senior lecturer.
          His poems are original, but can also be demanding: elliptical, dense, dry, sometimes droll. At their best, they shuffle between playfulness and sobriety and are alert to the rhythms and contours of the natural and the peopled landscape, seasoning insight with compassion.
          Yap's stories can be sampled from Singapore Short Stories: Volume 1, ed. Robert Yeo (Heinemann, 1978). He was also an abstract painter. His poetry collections (all published in Singapore) are: Only Lines (Federal Publications, 1971); Commonplace (1977); Down the Line (1980); and Man Snake Apple (1986—all Heinemann). Some later poems appeared in The Space of City Trees: Selected Poems (Skoob, 2000). Collected Poems, edited by Jenny Yap, were published by the National University of Singapore Press in 2012. See 'Arthur Yap: Uniquely Singaporean?' by Thow Xin Wei in the online journal Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (July 2006).

[Page 669, Written by Rajeev Patke]

YONG Shu Hoong (1966- )    
Born in Singapore, Yong grew up speaking English and Chinese. He studied Computer Science at the National University and received an MBA from Texas A&M University at College Station. His first volume, Isaac (1997), which grew out of a manuscript of poems begun in America, was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. It established the characteristic themes of family and travel, and includes verse in both English and Mandarin. A revised edition, Isaac Revisited, appeared from Ethos Books in 2001. Yong's more experimental second collection, dowhile (2002), draws on his experience of working in the 'dotcom' economy ('do' and 'while' are 'used to execute instructions repeatedly while a given condition holds true'). Frottage (2005) responds to the painting of Max Ernst and travels in Australia. It shared the 2006 Singapore Literature Prize with Cyril Wong's unmarked treasure. His latest collection is From within the marrow (2010—all firstfruits).

[Page 673, Written by Jeremy Noel-Tod]

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