only lines

a mock cover for a book still waiting for its poems

Arthur Yap died on 19 June. The Straits Times wrote a eulogy for the "man of few words" who died of throat cancer, his vocal box removed and replaced with an artificial implant 2 years ago. Like Goh Poh Seng who passed away last year, I read somewhere that he was living apart from Singapore.

He is my favourite Singaporean poet, and after all these years, still the best. I re-discovered him only a few years ago, reading anew when SKOOB published his selected poems The Space of City Trees in 2000. (Arthur Yap is also a painter and the cover art below is his.)

He writes a measured line, but its syntax and cadence - natural, steady - belie an ambivalence - as if to preserve, still, another space, an invisible ellipsis, a hidden parenthesis. And it is these spaces which give his poems endurance, give an open invitation to stay, still, contemplate - perhaps - know. There is seldom a false note or an exaggerated gesture against a social or political narrative - the poems don't read like they need to prove their intelligence or their place in our thin literary history. If at all unreasonable, it is not angry youth. If careful, it is not from being studied, studious - but as Yap wrote in a poem, words are to be stilled, or we are to be stilled by them, whichever. Personal, but never screamingly inward. As from his first collection, this poem -

no stretch of darkened sky
would show a patch of red
a patch of sunset

where the sun will not stay
after dark
the skyline of houses
grows with the sky
and who can tell
what is this completion;
i cannot chew the month to days
masticate the days to hours
and line the hours each to each
saying, out of context, i die.
where once a single day
was a day and a night
it is now the amoeba of day
of night,
the line of sponge houses
soaks in the sky
as the sponge sky
seeps into the houses.
where once houses hung from sky
they now are clutches.
so one urban expansion
has to lean on another
or they die

while the tree of night grows and grows

(from only lines, 1971)


orangeclouds said…
Ahh yes. thanks for reminding me of that book; it's been sitting on my shelves. Sad innit when we only really discover artists after they've passed on.

N your Cambridge dream is spooky but rather stirring... oh what longings n tensions lurk in our subconscious!
Anonymous said…
=) My mother was once his student. She still speaks of how he inspired her with literature =)

A pity, a big loss...
ampulets said…
J was lamenting the same too. Especially sad and a giant loss in Singapore, since we really have very few artists worth celebrating. I know of so few artists alive on this island today who are big-hearted enough to influence/teach/inspire others.

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