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Goh Poh Seng, 1936 – 2010

January 12, 2010

Poh Seng and Margaret, dancing in the kitchen of their Vancouver home, Christmas 2008

Dear friends, family,

Some of you may know that my dad has been very sick these past few months, battling a series of life-threatening bouts of pneumonia he contracted in November. He’s been fighting for his life, but sadly, the infection spread critically over the Christmas holidays, and Dad passed on last night at 9 pm, January 10th, 2010, in the palliative care ward of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

His spirit remained strong through most of his illness and he continued to express so much of his characteristic warmth, humour and kindness (and familiar to those of us who knew him best – occasional bouts of combativeness and chutzpah), even when he was in a lot of pain. Towards the end he lapsed often into delirium, but even so there were many profound exchanges of love and affection towards visiting friends and family. For everyone who knew him, I know he held a huge amount of fondness and love for you, though he might not have been able to express it directly to so many at the end.

In the day since he passed it’s become clear how many lives he has touched, and I find it impossible not to feel that he is still with us in so many ways, not just in memories and words but in spirit.

I was with him when he died, and that spirit was very large in the room as he passed on to the other side. I know he’ll miss many of us as much as we will surely miss him.

Please feel free to post messages, tributes, memories, and poems in the comments section below. If you have photos or other media you’d like to send you can e-mail them to me at this address.

Also, there’s a (15 min) short film made two and a half years ago, directed by Almerinda Travasoss (with interviews by our dear friend Stephanie McKenzie). Called ‘Goh Poh Seng: Poet In Newfoundland’, the film looks at Dad’s close ties with Newfoundland and the landscape (and people) who inspired so much of his later poems. The piece was filmed in and around Mom and Dad’s beloved home in Lark Harbour, Newfoundland, where they spent each summer from 2003 til 2008.

The family is organizing a celebration of Poh Seng’s life somewhere in Vancouver, tentatively set for the 24th of this month. We’ll keep you posted…

Dad, we’ll miss you. With much love, Kajin




O My beloved ones
Watch how
I  spring into
The sunlit day,
Swim into
The moon drowned night
So full of joy.
There’s no cause for grief.

Goh Poh Seng
Apr. 8th, 2002



At the Wise Hall, Adanac Street, in Vancouver – January 24th, 2010

Checking out the tributes and poetry wall at the memorium
The crowd joins in a spirited ‘Yam Sing!’ toast led by Poh Seng’s son Kakim

(Photos courtesy of Tim Mah)

Thanks to everyone who managed to make it out for Dad’s memorial at the lovely Wise Hall…it was an amazing turnout, with lovely food, poetry, music, and closing out (appropriately enough) by a joyous round of dancing.

Am attaching a clip of the slideshow we screened that night, to the tune of Nat King Cole’s ‘My Sweet Embraceable You’. Mom and Dad danced to this tune at the Grandview Legion Hall shortly before he entered hospital…we listened to a lot of N.K.C. together in the ward at St Paul’s. Dad would often sing along to these favourites from his youth, sometimes conducting an invisible orchestra with pleasure from his hospital bed.

Also, we’d like to thank the many people whose outpourings of warmth and condolences have been overwhelming. Please feel free to add comments to the previous post in commemoration of Goh Poh Seng.

Dad in the Singaporean and Asian presses:

A Man For All Seasons – Straits Times Singapore


The Writer, The Dreamer, My Friend – Robert Yeo in Meltwater News


Literary Pioneer Dr Goh Poh Seng – Asia One


In Memory of Dr Goh Poh Seng – Blog To Express


If We Dream Too Long soon to be published by NUS Press

Have been working hard on editing Dad’s last piece of writing, his introduction for the forthcoming reprint of his classic novel If We Dream Too Long, published over 40 years ago. Dad laboured hard on this over the past year, constantly revising and rewriting a number of different versions, so it required some real suturing and moving around to get it all to hang together. But I think (after burning the proverbial midnight oil) I finally managed to get it to say what he wanted to express, recounting his journey from student days in Dublin back home to Singapore in the early 6o’s, and how he found his voice as a writer. Also, his fondness and attachment to Singapore itself and recollections of the heady ‘nation-building’ days.

Plans to post that piece of writing, as well as many of Dad’s late poems, are forthcoming. Poh Seng had a number of works in progress at the time of his passing, and has left behind one complete unpublished novel about his student days (part one of a projected, but sadly uncompleted 4-part memoir entitled Bite The Bitter Wind), part two of the aforementioned memoir (detailing his family’s multi-generational history moving from China to the Nanyang aka Malaya), as well as unpublished poems and short stories and his ambitious re-telling of the Ramayana. It is my hope that publishing excerpts here online will generate enough interest to finally move many of these works into print, as well as his other novels and collections which have been unavailable for some time.

One of Dad’s dreams of recent years was to re-awaken Island Press, the publishing company he formed with my mother, Margaret, to publish his first novel (If We Dream Too Long). He was especially excited by recent developments in electronic publishing and made-to-order presses. This is something the family is examining as a way of promoting his work (while pursuing conventional publishing routes) and I’m hoping to use this website to gauge interest and promote his writing. So please feel free to forward this link or spread by word of mouth news of this website. Or better yet, subscribe (just press the button on top right menu) to this site for updates and news on Goh Poh Seng. In the coming months there’ll be more direct links to purchasing his books, plus the fleshing out of archives and selections of previous writing. If you have any inquiries, please feel free to email or get in touch with us.

Many thanks,

Kajin Goh


33 Comments leave one →
  1. eckkheng permalink
    January 12, 2010 11:59 am

    I have only spoken briefly to Goh Poh Seng, but I have for the longest time known of his vision, courage and tenacity, his love for this Singapore that did not fully appreciate him. It is bitter sweet, but with his passing, I think that last will change. He will be remembered.

  2. Philip Jeyaretnam permalink
    January 12, 2010 3:49 pm

    Dear Margaret, Kajin and Kasan, I cherish the chance I had during the 2007 Writers’ Festival to get to know Poh Seng better. As Margaret knows, he made a great impact on readers and writers alike, with his generosity of spirit, his insight and his gentle humour, and of course those trademark flashes of combative assertion. My deepest condolences for your loss. Philip

  3. Adrian Fowler permalink
    January 12, 2010 7:48 pm

    I am very sorry to hear this news. Poh Seng was a man of great originality and creative power — a true artist. To spend time in his company was to be in awe of the value he placed on the life of the imagination and the workings of the human spirit. He was also a man of great warmth, and Joanne and I will treasure the occasions when we were privileged to be welcomed by him and Margaret in Lark Harbour. Our hearts go out to you and the family.

  4. Philip Holden permalink
    January 13, 2010 12:23 am

    Poh Seng was a remarkable man in many ways, and it was a privilege to have known him. I remember in particular coming over to his and Margaret’s house in Vancouver in 2005 for a party: the relaxed, creative, and convivial atmosphere, and later interviewing him, upstairs with the silkscreen posters produced for his plays in Singapore in the 1960s still on the walls. Talking to him, I realised that his life had so many dimensions: Kuala Lumpur, the years in Ireland as a young man, Singapore, and then Newfoundland and Vancouver.

    I’lll be teaching _If We Dream Too Long_ this semester at NUS, and the continual delight that a new generation of readers find in this and his other writings is the best possible tribute he could have.

  5. January 13, 2010 12:26 am

    I first met Poh Seng when he returned from Dublin and invited me to tea to talk about poetry. We became friends and in the turbulent years that followed I was often glad that he was there to champion writers, challenge orthodoxy and create forums where literary and artistic expression could flourish.

    I will always remember the tilted quizzical smile, the conviction with which he engaged in argument.

  6. Bernadette Mah permalink
    January 13, 2010 1:16 am

    I will remember my uncle Poh Seng as the ‘renaissance man’ of our family. Always full of humour and spirit, he enjoyed lively conversations, music, good friends and special times with family…we have fond memories of the impromptu evening sing-along in the back garden at his birthday celebration. I’m sure he is still composing wonderful poetry. Sending our love as you journey onwards…peace.

  7. January 13, 2010 5:51 am

    Dear Margaret & Family

    My deepest condolences and sympathy.
    I first met Dr Goh Poh Seng through his novel, If We Dream Too Long, which I read when I was a young teacher. As I must have told you and Dr Goh when you were here for the Singapore Writers’ Fest, he inspired me. Because he wrote, I had the courage to write in those days when the literary arts were not appreciated in Singapore at all. Singapore has lost a great son.

    Suchen Christine Lim

  8. Aaron Lee permalink
    January 13, 2010 7:24 am

    Dr Goh’s indomitable spirit was larger than any of life’s constraints. I was privileged to fellowship with him in late 2007, during which I expressed my admiration for his work and artistic perspectives. He said that he had received a warm welcome in Singapore, and that if he had only known earlier he would not have stayed away for so long. I felt that we were beginning a special friendship. It is my loss that this will not come to pass. My deepest condolences to Margaret and family. Rest in peace, Dr Goh.

  9. January 13, 2010 1:38 pm

    Hello and Dearest Poh Seng ,

    If we dream too long , your first novel, inspired me to love reading .

    When i saw how you named your 4 sons with ka , I could feel your pride .

    Goh Poh Seng , You have been my most inspired ,

    Truthful and Real , You are a Literary Asian Hero .

    You named Temasek and Gave Boat Quay its concept .

    Your life is an example of how artists and poets like you affect lives in Singapore ,

    even far away as you are .

    Your friend and fan ,

    David Lee

  10. Yun Sian permalink
    January 13, 2010 2:23 pm

    I didn’t know him when he was well. I first knew him in 2005 in Vancouver when he had Parkinson’s. I was also ill, and I was touched by his wanting to try to heal me even though he wasn’t at all well himself. He was a very generous man in heart and spirit, and I am very privileged that he shared with us all his hopes, dreams, and desires for Singapore. I want to say thank you to him, and thank you to Margaret. Thank you Poh Seng; thank you Margaret –for touching our lives.

  11. January 13, 2010 2:59 pm

    Thimbuktu is a Singaporean man in the street, ordinary guy to convey my condolence and respect to Dr Goh Poh Seng.

    Just say an individual at:

    A Son of Singapore to be remembered always.

  12. January 13, 2010 5:25 pm

    In my mind, Poh Seng will always remain an important pioneer of Singapore Writing. Even before I married Chandran Nair and visited him and Margaret in his town house in Singapore, I had heard so much about him from fellow students in KL, like the late Hilary Tham, and about all he had done to inspire young writers. In fact it was in a big gathering he threw at his grand seaside bungalow in Punggol (later acquired by the Government) that some of my KL friends first met my future husband, Chandran.

    Chandran was much saddened when he heard of Poh Seng’s passing. He called me from Singapore to pass me the sad news and to remark that he and Poh Seng were perhaps the only Singapore writers in self-exile.

    All my condolences to Margaret and the family

    Paris January 13, 2010

  13. Ilona Martonfi permalink
    January 13, 2010 6:32 pm

    To the family of Poh Goh Seng,

    My most sincere sympathies.

    My favourite poet.

    The first time I met him was at Ethnic Origins Bookstore on St. Jacques.

    He read last year at Noches de Poesia POW WOW in Montreal. And he gave each one of us a copy of the poem, Vietnam, 1967.

    Much love,


  14. George Bowering permalink
    January 15, 2010 12:36 am

    Anyone who ever went to a gathering in the evening in Poh Seng & Margaret’s back yard experienced an easy comradeship that involved bringing out the wine and the poetry. There was no better place to be. This doc had the best tree-side manner I ever saw. Vancouver is a better place because he chose to live here.

  15. marilee pittman permalink
    January 15, 2010 12:53 am


    My beloved friend Poh Seng died yesterday. He was a wonderful poet, doctor, husband, father and friend. Our friendship goes back to 1988 when I returned home from Law School. My husband brought him to our house. He had gotten Al’s name from a writer in Vancouver. Poh Seng had just moved to Cow Head from Vancouver and earlier from Singapore. His wife and family had not yet joined him. When they did, our families became friends. They had four sons and we had two daughters.
    We often visited them in Cow Head. We would forage for food, and prepare the most fabulous meals of fresh mussels, lobster, trout and what ever else we found. Our times together were filled with art, great conversation and merriment.
    They returned to Vancouver to live a year or so after we met them. We stayed in touch by phone and letters. When my eldest daughter married they returned for her wedding . They rekindled their love for Newfoundland. And within not too many years they had bought a summer home in a little village around the bay. For many years they returned to the Island in late spring and stay until mid October. They were much beloved by everyone in the small close knit community.
    They hosted many parties and poetry readings throughout the summer. Poh Seng turned an old garage into a wonderful studio. Margaret collected rocks and painted wonderful pictures.
    Then Poh Seng was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He didn’t let that slow him down. He still foraged for mushrooms and combed the beach everyday. He and Margaret never had a car, but managed to take wonderful trips to places like Burgeo and the Great Northern Peninsula.
    They were an amazing couple. Margaret was his editor. She typed out his manuscripts and help him look for publishers. He was a prolific and very discliplined writer with enormous talent. He was a modest man , a gentle man and a true friend. I am going to miss you my dearest

  16. January 16, 2010 5:25 pm

    Poh Seng fought so long and hard to keep his life and intelligence intact through all the trials of Parkinson’s disease. While continuing to work on his manuscripts, he was hosting parties in your family’s garden right up to his final days. Beneath that quiet, modest, and dignified exterior, there was a heart of deep passion and spirit for art, poetry and the life of the mind.

    His acquaintanceship in the city and his own neighbourhood was very wide, not only poets and writers of every stripe, but also ordinary people who loved his work and were proud to know him personally, as I am. His contribution to the life of our city is deep and unforgettable, and you, Margaret, Kajin, Kagan, Kasim, Kasan, are all part of it. Condolences, yes. But most of all: Congratulations and thanks to all of you!

  17. geraldine permalink
    January 17, 2010 12:31 am

    good night, sweet prince, good night….( hamlet)

    and to my dear auntie margaret and cousins, I hope, even in your sadness, you will find sweet solace in the kingdom of the imagination that he has so lovingly created and left for you….

  18. theresa permalink
    January 21, 2010 2:22 am

    I remember Poh Seng, Margaret and their boys coming to stay with us here on the Sunshine Coast for a night and how wonderful it was to share a meal with them and drink wine and read poetry together. I always thought we’d have so much time to do more of it — and where did the years go? So sorry to hear of his passing. John Pass and I have many happy memories of Poh Seng and send the family our love and sympathy.

  19. Linda Codling permalink
    January 21, 2010 5:29 am

    In Singapore in the 1980s, Goh Poh Seng was firstly our caring family doctor, a good friend with the FOUR sons, a wonderful wife and who owned THAT lovely hut on Hujong off the East coast of Malaysia and who sometimes wrote poems. This HUT was the centre of soooooooooo many wonderful times where we wore practically nothing, ate a lot, laughed a lot, played games with the kids and watched the moon come out at night. It had an upstairs veranda where we all slept on the floor in a row like refuges, NO electricity, a well to bathe from and a long drop loo up in the jungle with a yellow loo seat! BLISS!! The sand was so white it was like snow and the sea was so clear you could see you feet if you went in at night in the moonlight.

    This is our memory of Poh Seng: always gentle and smiling.

  20. Angelika Ellerbrock permalink
    January 21, 2010 5:58 pm

    What wonderful memories I have of Poh Seng and Margaret in Singapore – their laughter, love and fearlessness. Their beautiful ideas, enriching the lives of so many people.
    It’s been so many years now and I still cherish his books and have kept them always, through all of my many moves around the world. His poetry touches me deeply and I feel honoured to have known him.
    Dear Margaret, my hearfelt condolences to you and your family and all my love.

    • March 13, 2010 8:18 pm

      Angelika – so wonderful to hear from you. Sad too at such a time. I really miss Poh Seng. He was not ready to go. Inspite of his Parkinson’s and all the difficulties, he enjoyed life so much, relished every good meal, every walk and outing and especially his friends.

      It was good of you to write to me. I have been trying to reply to the many letters that we received. I did not realise how many friends we had.

      The going is quite hard for me at the moment. So many memories of our life together. To quote his poem: “After losing them
      Their absence remains.”
      His absence is very large in my life now, and I am trying to cope with the change.

      I hope all is well with you. Where are you and what are you doing?

      Keep well, and all my best wishes,

      Margaret J

      • Kathy Snodgrass permalink
        July 5, 2010 7:17 pm

        Dear Margaret,

        I just learned today of Poh Seng’s death and wanted to tell you how sorry I am. You two had such a wonderful, wonderful marriage. Your love for each other was palpable. I wish you strength, peace, and contentment in the days and years to come.

        With love and sympathy,

  21. D'Arcy and Vicki and Camille Margesson permalink
    January 22, 2010 6:27 pm

    In memory of Goh Po Seng, friend for 24 years
    Where is our wild buccaneer sailing off to now? Another voyage filled with adventure, wildness and that quest for the Poem and Story just over the horizon in some strange and unexplored land. Sail on, Poh Seng. May language always fill your sails, and may the sun always shine on you as you steer your boat toward this new land.
    Farewell and Bon Voyage, Dear Friend, we will always miss you.

  22. D'Arcy and Vicki and Camille Margesson permalink
    January 22, 2010 6:47 pm

    In memory of Goh Poh Seng, friend for 24 years

    Where is our wild buccaneer sailing off to now? Another voyage filled with adventure, wildness and that quest for the Poem and Story just over the horizon, in some strange and unexplored land. Sail on, Poh Seng. May language always fill your sails, and may the sun always shine on you as you steer your boat toward this new land.
    Farewell and Bon Voyage, Dear Friend. We will always miss you.

  23. Martin and Molly Ware permalink
    January 22, 2010 9:19 pm

    Poh Seng’s and Margaret’s home in Lark Harbour, Newfoundland still seems to beckon to us. It is almost impossible to believe that we will not share his presence and hospitality again.

    Who could forget those visits to Lark Harbour — gathering partridge berries in the graveyard above the town, plucking chanterelle mushrooms on the rough road out to the Virgin Mary Ponds, picking our way along the landwash, plunging into the ice-cold salt water (which Poh Seng loved).

    Poh Seng and Margaret were so very generous: sharing lobster and fishy feasts, introducing us to their many friends, bringing us into the circle of their family reunions. Poh Seng shared with us his passion for his current literary projects, especially his epic vision (almost an Aeneid) of his family’s coming to Malaysia, and the Dublin short stories, which record his coming of age. I so much hope that this work will find an appreciative publisher.

    We are so grateful for his life, and, in some sense, the continuing presence of his spirit among us.

  24. Hugh Hazelton permalink
    January 24, 2010 6:25 am

    My thoughts will be with you tomorrow as you celebrate Poh Seng’s life. Poet, doctor, novelist, playwright, traveller, creator, friend, innovator, explorer, father, searcher, husband, from Singapore to Malaysia to Vancouver to Cow Head, with how many people and cities in between: what an extraordinary person!

  25. George Csaba Koller permalink
    January 24, 2010 5:26 pm

    I remember when he first read at Black Sheep Books and I heard “The Girl From Ermita” from his own lips. I knew then I was in the presence of greatness. My contacts with him were few and far between, but his eyes were full of kindness and compassion each and every time, even when Parkinson’s made it difficult for him to communicate. Just heard Kagan’s tribute to him on CBC radio, and it was the most beautiful half-hour that was suffused with Poh Seng’s words and spirit. My condolences to the family and a reminder not to grieve his passing, but to rejoice in his life!

  26. January 26, 2010 9:42 am

    Dear Kakim,
    We were extremely saddened to hear the news about your father. He was a man whom I deeply respected and who gave me some beautiful evenings enjoying dinners and listening to jazz. I will never forget him, and these first experiences I had to join to another culture, after coming from a post communist country. It will stay with me in my heart forever. I remember how generous he was to your mother, your brothers and to me. I will be with you in thought and spirit to honour him.
    I’m sending you this with much love.

    your friend,

  27. January 30, 2010 6:44 am

    Into the light you have gone dear one
    and live in the hearts of us left behind
    Margaret complimented you so well
    for you were a rainbow crystal vase
    Delicate you reflected the inner heart
    Divine soul carrier of words of pain
    you enriched all who had the honor
    to meet and hear your heart voice
    melting the words into each other
    you captured the inside voice of man
    not afraid to speak the truth of life
    Go now to your rest in bliss and we
    will always see you with a halo of gold
    for surely you have become and angel
    Watching over your beloved Margaret
    and those precious sons of yours
    Blessed Be Goh Poh Seng blessed be

  28. Lee Gotham permalink
    February 9, 2010 4:12 am

    Poh Seng, by mere example, made me check my head when the others around let me run off at the mouth. I have the fondest memories of listening intently for Poh Seng’s anecdotes to unfold. I was unhurried and wiser in his company.

    Kajin, Kasim, do him proud. I know you have and will.

  29. April 14, 2010 1:46 am

    I am so sorry to say that I only recently learned of Mr. Seng’s passing while I was skimming through a local literary publication. It was such a shock.

    I shall always retain a fond memory of that late winter’s evening in 2001 where I had the privilege to experience the warmth and hospitality of your home, an atmosphere in which poets and musicians shared the magic of their creativity. There was no elitism, and no hierarchical pecking order. All were welcome.

    Mr. Seng expressed himself with such dignity, kindness, and humility. I send my condolences to you and all your loved ones.

  30. July 5, 2010 4:31 pm

    We were so lucky to have met him in San Miguel de Allende. The first year of the San Miguel Poetry Week Robert Haas introduced us and he was our guest reader.
    A great spirit and poet.


  1. Poh Seng’s Memorium and other updates « Crazy To Sing Strange Songs – The Website of Goh Poh Seng: Novelist, Poet & Playwright

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