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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

*

 

EPITAPH

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
Vancouver

 

POH SENG’S MEMORIAL

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

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Literary Pioneer Dr Goh Poh Seng – Asia One

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In Memory of Dr Goh Poh Seng – Blog To Express

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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

 

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Burento honours the spirit of Goh Poh Seng at Burning Man

September 29, 2010

My friend Burento went to Burning Man for the first time this year. When he came back he showed me this video he shot on his iPhone. I had no idea he’d brought my late father’s (late) poems with him to Nevada (these were printed for his memorial this January 24, 2010). I am beyond moved, and have the feeling that Dad’s spirit continues to soar – even now, in the ‘afterlife’ – touching souls and alighting hearts within so many folks, in so many places – including this desert which he never had the pleasure to experience (in this lifetime…though he did step far & wide onto a significant curve of the earth).

With love for my father, and gratitude to Burento. I love you man, K

At Anawhata

July 19, 2010

One of my favourites of Dad’s, ever. This is from  Bird With One Wing. He wrote this when he was 46 years old, staying at the poet Michael Neill’s (brother of the actor Sam Neill) cabin at Anawhata, New Zealand.

Happy Birthday Dad, wherever you may be. May your spirit be at peace.

AT ANAWHATA
(for Jan Kemp)

Here I am,
fallen on bad times,
the sky broken
over my own fair city,
and am driven,
at least for a while,
to this ancient land
whose true hierarchies
are the sun and the sea and the wind:
not the temporal powers
of politicians.
But can the elements
and all the myths of antiquity
expiate my pain,
or teach truth and wisdom
to a profane and ageing poet
who makes so much
out of his own unbelieving?

Anyway, here I am,
feeding the fire
in the old iron stove
inside a little hut
lent to me
by Michael Neill;
it was once
a railyard signal box
at a former station
named Swanson:
wherever that was
or is;
which some mad nut
brought all the way
out here
to perch
400 or so odd feet
above the water
at Anawhata!
Whata
perfectly
crazy
thing to do!

And I must
be crazy too,
( though not
perfectly ),
sitting in here
when I should be out
where the winter wind
might forage through my mind,
explore my face,
every line and crack of it:
to test this stranger,
probe his source.

O Western Wind,
HAUAURU,
wish that
you could
lay your fingers
upon me,
define me
for me!

Or alternatively,
pluck and toss me out
high over the sea,
over the smooth brow
of TANGAROA,
the Ocean God,
so that I might be cleansed.

Dear Michael,
this is truly
such a lovely room,
such a lovely little station
to cross
on my short journey
to find the gods.

Not only HAUAURU
and old TANGAROA,
but so many others
I can feel
lurking about
here in Anawhata,
here amongst the Waitakere Ranges.

And not only gods,
but ghosts
from those far gone days
before the pakeha came.

I have felt them already,
the mana of those ancient Maoris,
during the drive out here
through the deep reserve,
the nikau palms,
the toitois marking every curve
as the small track
wound deeper and deeper,
and farther and farther
away from the city.

From the range,
I saw some lonely knolls
by the sea,
some outcrop of rock
where a time-lost pa
might once have been sited.

I was expecting
not this little hut
but some tuaahu,
some sacred place for divination;
or to see a tattooed warrior
laying down his mere,
letting his woman
welcome me
with a karanga call
to the marae.

And now, dear friend,
I grow sad,
brooding on battles lost
by those brave warriors
to the musketry
of the pakeha:
your forefathers,
Michael Neill!

Forefathers
fathers
us

So many battles
lost

So many won
won and lost

I wonder
for those who won
what was their gain?

I can see only
cities and cities
squatting now
where spring green valleys
had once lain
fabulous in the sun
and in the rain;
where kiwis used to strut
in the rich darkness,
careless that man
call them half-blind.

While man
is often purblind,
especially about himself.

Out here,
I can hear
old TANGAROA
announce his domain;
tonight, he sounds
quite benevolent.
But HAUAURU,
how he howls
against this wayfarer:
O so proud, primordial,
blasting his haka all the way
across the Tasman Sea.

At my feet,
the flax
bows its stiff leaves,
protesting
in a shower of sound
like that of flickering rain.

From another hill,
a lone cow
moos unseen
in the cold night,
mourning for what
I do not know.

Only
I sense
the stars,
only fear the stars
would drop
into the sea.

At this remove,
on this very height
where sea and land and sky
conjoin,
I suddenly think
of my home,
my voyage
from my wife and kids,
and of why I’m here.

What is it I seek?
Another way of life?
Is there really
another way to live?

Is there a way to die?

Is there any choice?

And if there is:

Then, to live:
I want to live like now!
And to die:
I want only when the time comes.

And when my time comes,
it will be westward
to be engulfed by the sea,
like Hinerangi over the glittering
pathway of Tane
to the realm of
Hine-mui-te-po,
benign protectress
of Rarohenga,
the assembly place of souls,
where old Ra, the Sun God,
presides golden over a cloudless sky:
just like this late afternoon,
the way he set, spilling gold
over Anawhata.

Or I could go,
perfectly willing,
kneeling to bestow
a last kiss
upon this earth,
before giving back
this body
of little worth,
performing
the ceremony of tangi hanga
to help send
my spirit on its way.

Then my insides
will explode
to fatten the grass,
fatten the trees,
and then the trees
with their fat berries
will fatten the wood pigeons,
until, finally,
my bones, cleansed,
would be free
to thunder
their chant
to time.

* * *

And now, after sleep,
to find
yet another morning,
is a miraculous event,
as the light dances in
while the tiny room
is still wood-smokey.
Outside, through the wide windows,
I see the hills stand
against the light,
clad with soft green clouds,
daubed by the manuka scrub
and the taller ti trees,
and the surface of the sea
diamonded,
winking shafts of sun
back at me.

Warming these same bones,
once so cold,
tired with the hours,
into hot lava stone.

And I run out,
for there is
so much to know,
climb up a cliff-face,
clinging onto tough grass tufts,
crops of conglomerate
volcanic rock
up and up and up
like an intrepid goat
biting the substantial air.

I look down upon
a lush valley
breath-taking
from the top,
and especially
that one
particular tree
extending
its dead-white branches,
stripped of their bark,
reaching
like skeletal smoke
caught sculptured
to the sky,
while its roots
eagle claw
the earth,
digging deep in,
not letting go.

And I too,
at the summit,
will not let go,
will not, will not!

O TANGAROA
I hear your roar
Ha-ru-ru
Ha-ru-ru
Ha-ru-ru

O TANGAROA
I too
want to roar
Ha-ru-ru
Ha-ru-ru
Ha-ru-ru

O TANGAROA
I want to live
Ae Ae Ae
Ae Ae Ae
Ae Ae Ae

AROHA
AROHANUI
AOTEAROA

___

Anawhata, N.Z.
June 1980

Listen to Poh Seng’s reading of ‘At Anawhata’
– Recorded at the Havana Theatre, Vancouver BC, 1998, by Gerry Gilbert.

Click below