Arthur Yap

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Arthur Yap (Chinese: 叶纬雄; 1943-June 19, 2006) was arguably the finest poet to emerge from Singapore. He was educated at the University of Singapore and the University of Leeds in England, and obtained his PhD from the National University of Singapore. He taught in various institutions, including the NUS.

His first collection of poems, Only Lines, was published in 1971, for which he received the National Book Development Council of Singapore’s first award for poetry in 1976. He also received the Council’s award for Down the Line in 1982 and Man Snake Apple in 1988. In 1983, he was awarded the S.E.A. Write Award in Bangkok and the Cultural Medallion for Literature in Singapore. His poems have also been translated into Japanese, Mandarin and Malay, and were collected in The Space of City Trees: Selected Poems in 2000.

Yap’s poetry is distinctive for an unusual linguistic playfulness and subtlety that is able to bridge the rhythms of Singlish with the precision of acrolectic English. Unsurprisingly, the craft of Yap’s voice has the admiration of other writers. Anthony Burgess has written that he encountered Down the Line "with elation and occasional awe", while D. J. Enright has praised Yap’s "sophisticated cosmopolitan intelligence". The Oxford Companion to 20th-Century Poetry describes Yap’s poems as "original, but... demanding: elliptical, dense, dry, sometimes droll. At their best, they shuttle between playfulness and sobriety and are alert to the rhythms and contours of the natural and the peopled landscape, seasoning insight with compassion."

Although never as public a figure in Singapore literature as Edwin Thumboo or even Lee Tzu Pheng, Yap has been influential among the younger generations of Singapore writers, including Heng Siok Tian, Toh Hsien Min and Cyril Wong; the former two were students under him.

Yap was also an artist who held seven solo exhibitions in Singapore, as well as participating in group exhibitions in Malaysia, Thailand and Australia.

He passed away in his sleep, at home, after two and half years of battling with throat cancer, on the night of 19 June 2006.

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