Born in 1943, Arthur Yap was regarded as one of the most influential second generation Singaporean poets. After obtaining a BA Hons in English Literature at the University of Singapore, he went on to obtain an MA in Linguistics and English Language Teaching at the University of Leeds in UK, before returning to Singapore to obtain his PhD at the National University of Singapore.
Known for incorporating simple language, humorous wordplay and Singapore colloquial English in his poems, Yap published his first volume of poetry, Only Lines, in 1971. The collection was awarded the National Book Development Council’s inaugural award for poetry in 1976. He went on to publish 3 other poetry collections — commonplace (1977), down the line (1980), and man snake apple & other poems (1986), with down the line and man snake apple & other poems also winning the National Book Development Council’s award for poetry. In 2000, a compilation of poems taken from his previous collections was published by Skoob Pacifica, titled The Space of City Trees and Other Poems.
Two of Yap’s poems, In Passing and Old House At Ann Siang Hill, were included in a poetry anthology used for the O Level Examinations in Singapore. To date, his works have been translated into Japanese, Chinese and Malay.
In addition to his poems, Yap has also written short stories and in 2014, the first combined publication of his short stories was released by NUS Press under the title, Noon at Five O’ Clock: The Short Stories of Yap Yap.
Yap was an avid painter and held seven solo exhibitions, with his first exhibition in 1969 showcasing 44 abstract paintings at the old National Library. He also participated in group exhibitions overseas, in places like Malaysia and Australia. In 1972, he was selected as the Singapore representative for that year’s Adelaide Festival of the Arts and was previously invited by the British Council to feature his paintings in Bangkok.
Yap was a volunteer mentor for four years, between 1992 and 1996, under the Ministry of Education’s Creative Arts Programme and helped nurture young local writers. He also taught at the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore till 1998.
In 2006, Yap passed away from laryngeal cancer at the age of 63. The National Cancer Centre held an event to commemorate him, featuring an exhibition of some of his paintings and recordings that Yap had made reciting his poems. Known for being reclusive, he had given only a single interview talking about his work, to Kevin Sullivan, which was later published in the 8th issue of the Southeast Asian Review of English. In 2013, NUS Press released The Collected Poems of Arthur Yap, a comprehensive collection of all of his poems, with an introduction by Irving Goh.
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