Author Tags: Physician Author, Poetry, Theatre
NAME: Goh Poh Seng
DATE OF BIRTH: 1936
PLACE OF BIRTH: Singapore
ARRIVAL IN CANADA: 1986
EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: Physician
AWARDS: National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Prize for If WeDream Too Long (1976); Cultural Medallion Award for Literature (1982); NBDCS Fiction Award for Dance of Moths (1996)
Dance With White Clouds: A Fable for Grown-ups (Asia 2000, Hong Kong, 2001)
As Though the Gods Love Us (Nightwood Editions, BC, 2000)
The Girl from Ermita: Selected Poems (Nightwood Editions, BC, 1998)
Dance With Moths (Select Books, Singapore, 1995)
Bird with One Wing (Island Press, Singapore, 1982)
Lines from Batu Ferringhi (Island Group, Singapore, 1978)
The Immolation (Writing in Asia Series, 1977)
Eyewitness (Writing in Asia Series, 1976)
If We Dream Too Long (novel, 1972)
The Moon is Less Bright (1964)
When Smiles are Done (1965)
The Elder Brother (1966)
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS: Goh Poh Seng (Dr) (b. 1936, Kuala Lumpur, Malaya -) physician, poet, laureate, prize-winning writer and entrepreneur, played an active role in Singapore arts following the country's independence. He was a pioneer of Singapore English drama as well as the author of the first Singaporean novel, If We Dream Too Long. It won the National Book Development Council of Singapore's Fiction Book Award in 1976, and has been translated into other languages like Russian and Japanese. He was the Cultural Medallion winner for Literature in 1982, and currently lives in self-imposed exile in Vancouver, Canada.
Goh Poh Seng was born to a middle-class family. He was educated at Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur, and went on to study medicine at University College, Dublin, Ireland. Dublin was also significant because Goh's passion for writing began and blossomed in this literary city. By the time he was 19, he was writing poetry while frequenting the pubs of Dublin where he met writers Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan. His poetry was also published in his university magazine. Encouraged by this, he left medical school for a year and devoted himself to writing. Ever the maverick, he lived out his passion in London, as a struggling writer. Eventually, starvation was a main factor that drove him back to medicine. A weakened physical condition was not the best motivation for writing. Upon receiving his medical degree, he moved to Singapore in the early 1960s to become a doctor, and stayed in this profession for over two decades.
The writer Goh was among the pioneer Singapore writers who attempted to define post-independent Singapore literature. In the 1960s, he started English dramas, producing and writing three plays of his own; The Moon is Less Bright , When Smiles are Done and The Elder Brother.
His fascination with the question of self amidst the dreariness and aimlessness in an increasingly urbanised and materialistic Asian society was a theme explored in his first novel, If We Dream too Long. It was considered the first true Singaporean novel, apart from it being set in Singapore. He was to feature such theme, man's endless search for self-realisation, prominently in his future works.
Goh's first novel, If We Dream Too Long, has been used as a text by the Department of English at the University of Malaysia, National University of Singapore and the University of the Philippines. His poetry have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies and translated into many languages including Chinese, Malay, Tagalog, Russian and German.
Goh also formed his own publishing company, Island Press, which published his poetry collection, Bird with One Wing. He felt the need to set up his publishing company as he wanted to have control over its editorial slant. In addition, he wanted to publish the works of other local and Asian writers to bring them to the attention of a wider readership within and beyond Asia.
In 1995, Goh was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and had to retire from medicine, his other great love. Since then, he had turned to writing full-time. Despite his illness, he was able to produce two collections of poetry and novels. With physical difficulty also, he started on his four or five volumes of "loosely-based fictionalised autobiography". He lived part of the year in Vancouver and the other in Newfoundland, and did not return to Singapore since his self-imposed exile in 1986.
He participated in art activities like writers' festivals outside of Singapore. In 2000, he was invited to the Winnipeg Writers' Festival. In 2001, he read at the Doe Library of the University of California at Berkeley under the direction of Robert Hass, a former poet laureate of the United States. He was also a participant at the Standard Chartered International Literary Festival in Hongkong, where he read his work alongside Timothy Mo.
The physician, in 1986, Goh decided to emigrate to Canada, a decision partly influenced by his disillusionment with the state of cultural politics in Singapore at the time. Together with his family, he went to Vancouver, Canada, and then moved to the remote shores of the Canadian province of Newfoundland. He worked as an outpost doctor, attending to patients of three small villages. After receiving his Canadian medical license, he returned to practice in Vancouver.
He died in January of 2010.
Excerpt from the complete article by Nureza Ahmad (2004)
[BCBW 2008] "Poetry" "Theatre"
Goh Poh Seng: 1936-2010
from Harbour Publishing
It is with regret that Nightwood Editions announces the passing of Goh Poh Seng, who will be missed deeply by BC's writing and publishing community. Nightwood Editions published two volumes of poetry by Goh, The Girl from Ermita (1998) and As Though the Gods Love Us (2000).
Goh was regarded as a pioneer of Singapore literature in English. He was born in Malaya and graduated in medicine from University College, Dublin, and practised medicine in Singapore for 25 years. During this time he wrote poetry, novels and plays (all published in Singapore and Hong Kong). Among his many other accomplishments, he also founded a literary magazine, a literary publishing company, and was vice-chairman of the Singapore Arts Council from 1967 to 1973. He was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Literature in 1982.
Goh emigrated to Canada in 1986, spending time on both the east and west of Canada's coasts in Newfoundland and Vancouver. He practiced medicine until 1995, when Parkinson’s disease forced him to retire. He passed away in Vancouver on January 10, 2010. For more information about this remarkable writer, please visit www.gohpohseng.com.