About Goh Poh Seng
Goh reading for the launch of The Girl From Ermita; Havana Theatre, Vancouver, 1998.
GOH POH SENG
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, 1972
2nd Printing, Heinamann Asia Ltd. Singapore, 1994
3rd Printing, National University of Singapore Press, 2010
Heinamann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd. Singapore, 1977
2nd Printing, Epigram Books, Singapore, 2011
A Dance Of Moths
Select Books, Singapore, 1995
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