Skip to content

About Goh Poh Seng

Goh Poh Seng Reading at Havana

Goh reading for the launch of The Girl From Ermita; Havana Theatre, Vancouver, 1998.



Novelist, Poet, & Playwright

1936 – 2010

Regarded as a pioneer of Singapore literature in English, Goh Poh Seng was born and educated in Malaya, and graduated in medicine from University College, Dublin. He returned in 1961 to Singapore, where he practised for 25 years. Goh set up Island Press, founded the literary  magazine Tumasek, and formed Centre 65 to promote the arts. Goh chaired the National Theatre Trust and was vice-chairman of the Arts Council from 1967 to 1973.

Goh’s first play, The Moon is Less Bright (1964), is set in rural Singapore just before and during the Japanese occupation, and is strongly nationalistic and anti-Japanese in sentiment. His sympathies for the working class and the common man are also evident in When Smiles Are Done (1965; subsequently retitled Room With Paper Flowers) and The Elder Brother (1966). Whereas Moon has local characters incongruously speaking the ‘Queen’s English’, Goh’s subsequent plays were among the earliest attempt to use Singlish in drama.

Goh has published four novels. If We Dream Too Long (1972) won the inaugural National Book Development Council of Singapore Award for Fiction in 1976; The Immolation (1977), A Dance of Moths (1995; which won the National Book Development Council Award for that year), and Dance With White Clouds: A Fable for Grown-ups (2001). While self-actualization and fulfilment are presiding themes in Goh’s fiction, his poetry focuses on the lyrical and personal. Goh has authored five volumes of poetry: Eyewitness (1976), Lines from Batu Ferringhi (1978), Bird with One Wing (1982), The Girl from Ermita & Selected Poems, 1961-1998 (1998) and As Though the Gods Love Us (2000).

Goh received the Cultural Medallion for Literature in 1982. He emigrated to Canada in 1986 and continued to practise medicine until 1995, when Parkinson’s disease forced him to retire. He lived in Vancouver and Newfoundland and was working on the story of his family since their emigration from China to Malaya.

This write-up on Goh Poh Seng is reproduced with the kind permission of the Publisher of Singapore The Encyclopaedia – Editions Didier Millet, which is gratefully acknowledged.

Goh Poh Seng passed away on January 10, 2010, from complications due to Parkinson’s Disease, at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. He will be and is greatly missed by his family, and his many, many friends. Please feel free to visit our ‘Tributes’ page to leave a comment, tribute, poem, or any remembrance in honour of Goh Poh Seng.

– a message from the Goh Family



National Book Development Council of Singapore Award for Fiction, 1976

Singapore Cultural Medallion
, 1983

National Book Development Council of Singapore Award for Fiction
, 1996


If We Dream Too Long
Island Press, Singapore,
2nd Printing, Heinamann Asia Ltd. Singapore,
3rd Printing, National University of Singapore Press, 2010

The Immolation

Heinamann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd. Singapore,
2nd Printing, Epigram Books, Singapore, 2011

A Dance Of Moths

Select Books, Singapore,

Dance With White Clouds
Asia 2000, Hong Kong, 2001


Heinamann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd. Singapore, 1976

Lines From Batu Ferringhi
Island Press, Singapore, 1978

Bird With One Wing
Island Press, Singapore, 1982

The Girl From Ermita & Selected Poems
Nightwood Editions, Canada, 1998

As Though The Gods Love Us
Nightwood Editions, Canada, 2000


The Moon Is Less Bright • 1964, 1990, Singapore

When Smiles Are Done • 1966, Singapore
retitled Room With Paper Flowers • 1969, Kuala Lumpur

The Elder Brother • 1967, Singapore