Arthur Yap (叶纬雄; Yè WěiXióng) was arguably Singapore's finest poet, enormously influential amongst the later generations of Singaporean writers. He was also a painter. He won the 1983 Singapore Cultural Medallion for Literature. He died of nasopharyngeal carcinoma on 19 June 2006, bequeathing $500,000/-, part of his estate which included his apartment off Killiney Road, to the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCSS) where he was a patient. [1]


Arthur Yap was born in Singapore, the sixth child of a carpenter and a housewife. Yap attended St Andrew's School and the University of Singapore, after which he won a British Council scholarship to study at the University of Leeds in England. At Leeds Arthur earned a Master's degree in Linguistics and English Language Teaching, later obtaining his PhD from the National University of Singapore in the years after he returned from Leeds. He stayed on in the University's Department of English Language and Literature as a lecturer between the years 1979 and 1998. Between 1992 and 1996, Yap served as a mentor with the Creative Arts Programme run by the Ministry of Education to help inspire students and nurture young writers at local secondary schools and junior colleges. Yap was then diagnosed with lung cancer, and received radiotherapy treatment.[1]



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."

His first collection of poems Only Lines was published in 1971, when he was 28. Its whimsical, wordplay-based humour captured the hearts of poetry lovers, and it won the first poetry award from the National Book Development Council of Singapore in 1976. An analysis of the poems from Only Lines finds moments of both celebration and apology for the power of the written word. At times he begins his verses as if in mid-conversation with the reader: Template:Quotation The pun on the word 'plot' in this passage, denoting both a storyline and a piece of land, suggests a dimensionality in the language that belies the dismissive adjective 'only'.

Other signature features of Yap's poems include his choice of simple words, and the use of all-lowercase style favoured by American poet E. E. Cummings.

Yap's second collection Commonplace was published in 1972. The third collection, Down The Line(1980) was acclaimed and won Yap his second Book Council Award. In 1983 Yap was honored with the Cultural Medallion for Literature, and the South-East Asian Write Award in Bangkok. Translations of his books were published in many Asian countries, mainly in the Japanese, Mandarin and Malay languages.

A selection from each of Yap's previous books was compiled in The Space of City Trees: Selected Poems published in 2000. Extracts from The Space of City Trees were subsequently published in The Straits Times' Life! Books section.[1]

Yap dedicated the following poem to his partner, Keith:

your goodness

your goodness, i sometimes light

my anger with, is what you have. no one

can burn it away; it is not for my discussion.

i know, near you, i myself feel good.

& this is enough for me, my friend.

this is a life-time friendship; the poem

is short, inadequate &, except for a word,

totally redundant


Yap was also a painter. His passion for painting began in 1967 when he was working as a Pre-University English Literature teacher at the Serangoon Gardens English School. During the weekends he would pick up the brush, expressing himself through his abstract works of art. On 13 April 1969 Arthur Yap held his first solo art exhibition featuring 44 square abstract paintings at the National Library in Stamford Road.[2] Yap went on to have a total of seven solo exhibitions in Singapore, as well as participating in group exhibitions in Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. Yap's paintings were also chosen to represent Singapore at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1972.[1]


Unfortunately his cancer, which had been in remission, recurred in 2004. Yap underwent major surgery to remove his larynx. On the night of 19 June 2006, he died in his sleep at home after a two-and-half year battle with throat cancer. He was 63.



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