Yong Shu Hoong
Yong Shu Hoong (b. 1966, Singapore - ) is an award-winning Singaporean poet and literary advocate. He has published four collections of poetry to date: Isaac (1997) Isaac Revisited (2001), dowhile (2002), and Frottage (2005) which won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2006. He is also the founder of subtTEXT, a series of monthly literary readings which ran from 2001 to 2008, and which is now held on an ad-hoc basis. He is also the coordinator of the National Arts Council’s Mentor Access Project. Yong currently works as a freelance writer and his articles have appeared in newspapers such as The Straits Times and My Paper.
Early Life, Education and Career
Born in Singapore in 1966, Yong belongs to the generation of post-independent Singapore poets. His father, a Hakka, was born in Malaysia, and his mother, a Hokkien, was born in Fujian province, China. He did not come from a particularly literary background: his father was a teacher, and his mother a bank cashier. Raised in a bilingual environment where the family spoke a mix of English and Chinese at home, Yong is proficient in both languages. He grew up reading the standard fare of “Enid Blytons” and “Hardy Boys” which were borrowed from the library, as well as Chinese novels, short stories and folklore bought from Chinese bookstores. Little known to most, Yong’s his first published story was in Mandarin, and appeared in a student literary magazine entitled Students’ Literature.
Unlike what most would expect, Yong’s formal education was not in the languages or humanities, but in science. At the Raffles Institution, he took subjects such as physics, chemistry and geography, though he did read English Literature as an “O” Level subject. He continued with the Science stream at Raffles Junior College, and majored in computer science at the National University of Singapore. After graduating in 1990, he worked as a programmer with the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) for two years.
In 1992, he enrolled to the Texas A&M University at College Station, USA for his Masters in Business Administration. When he returned to Singapore, he worked for the Singapore Computer System, and later made his career in website development, web journalism, online marketing and promotional writing. Yong is presently a full-time freelance writer and regularly contributes movie reviews, as well as cultural commentaries to newspapers such as The Straits Times and My Paper.
Comparative to his peers, Yong discovered and developed his gift for writing later in life. He first dabbled with writing during his second year in university where he wrote feature and lifestyle pieces for the campus newspaper. He also posted some of his writings on the university’s internet bulletin boards which garnered some responses. In this period, he wrote rhymed poems that were heavily influenced by verse song lyrics of New Wave Bands from England such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Depeche Mode.
Yong only began to delve into the craft at a deeper level during his time in Texas when he joined a writers’ group in his university. The group had a magazine called the Inkshed Press. Being away from home gave him both time and creative space to explore poetry. It was around this time that he started to experiment with free verse, having been inspired by the lyrical poems of Jim Morrison in the book Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison.
Yong returned to Singapore in 1994. In response to a call for entries for the Singapore Literature Prize, he submitted a manuscript of some 40 to 50 poems which he had written in America and upon his return to Singapore. The anthology, titled Pangs of Hunger, was one of 10 works shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize 1995. This modest success affirmed Yong’s ability to write poetry and encouraged him to continue writing.
The turning point in Yong’s literary growth came when he became reacquainted with Enoch Ng, a writer whom met while serving his National Service. Ng had intended to start a publishing house. The two discussed about publishing Yong’s shortlisted manuscript. After several rounds of editing, Isaac, Yong’s first collection debuted. This collection of poems is also the first imprint from Ng’s publishing house, FirstFruits, which is today, one of the leading publishers of literary works in Singapore.
Since Yong did not receive formal instruction in literature or creative writing, his initial foray into writing was primarily guided by instinct. His craft was later honed through reading the works of other authors such as those from the Beat Generation, and through his editorial consultations with Ng. Known to be a scrupulous editor, Ng had rejected many of Yong’s poems during his early years as a poet. Through the continual process of discussion and refinement with Ng, Yong developed a keener and sharper sense of what makes good poetry, and the number of rejected poems dropped.
Yong’s first work, Isaac, is largely based on his encounters and observations of America and Singapore. The collection, which was warmly received, led to the publication of his second book, Isaac Revisited, which is a thematic rearrangement of the poems in his first collection with an addition of eight poems. His third volume, dowhile, is organised around the concept and metaphoric use of computer language, and it explores various themes ranging from terrorism to the commerce of life. In Yong’s latest offering, Frottage, which won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2006, his reflections and contemplations return to a sense of place that was prevalent in his first collection. This time, he turns his poetic eye to Australia and makes connections between Australia and Singapore. A number of poems in Frottage were inspired by the titles of Max Ernst paintings which Yong saw in an exhibition during his visit to Australia for the Queensland Poetry Festival 2002. Yong has a new book of poems titled, From Within The Marrow, that is due to be published by end 2009.
Besides collected volumes, his poems have also appeared in anthologies and publications such as No Other City: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry, Love Gathers All: The Singapore-Philippines Anthology of Love Poetry, Rhythms: A Singaporean Millennial Anthology of Poetry and Norton’s Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond. In 1999, his poem “The Sobering Age” was selected for the National Arts Council’s "Poems On The Move" programme.
The Writing Process
Yong describes his creative process as beginning with a particular moment or thought. Time alone on public transport is one of the best settings in which these thoughts are sparked off. He tries to capture the beauty of a moment or an insight into words. The ambience, emotions or images or ideas are distilled into lines or random phrases which he notes onto a notepad or a personal digital assistant that are later transferred onto his computer. Sometimes he would create the initial draft directly onto his computer. What follows after are several rounds of revisions where he explores alternative expressions and line structures. He also reads the poem aloud to assess its flow. This process may take weeks, and even months. In some instances, poems are discarded, only to be picked up and completed years later.
Besides writing, Yong is also the founder and organizer of subtTEXT, a series of monthly literary readings which ran from 2001 to 2008, and which is now held on an ad-hoc basis. Together with Enoch Ng, they have set up mediaexodus, the company which coordinates and organises the National Arts Council’s Mentor Access Project. Yong also promotes Singapore literature at readings and literary festivals in Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia, England, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and the United States of America.
Yong enjoys the works of Jack Gilbert, an American poet from Pittsburgh.
2005: Frottage: poems
2002: Dowhile: poems
2001: Isaac revisited
2009: Eye on the world: Journeying home
2008: Eye on the world: Healing silence
2007: Eye on the world: Wiring heartlands
2006: Singapore Literature Prize for Frottage (Joint winner with Cyril Wong’s Unmarked Treasure)
Cheong, F. (Ed.) (2004). Idea to ideal: 12 Singapore poets on the writing of their poems(pp. 98-105). Singapore: Firstfruits Publications.
(Call no.: RSING S821.009 IDE)
Gwee, L. S. (n.d.). Yong Shu Hoong: Biography and brief introduction. Retrieved January 7, 2010, from Contemporary Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature in English Web site: http://www.postcolonialweb.org/singapore/literature/poetry/yong/bio1.html
Klein. R. D. (Ed.) (2009). Interlogue: Studies in Singapore literature, Vol. 8: Interviews II (pp. 232-251). Singapore: Ethos Books.
(Call no.: RSING S820.9 INT)
Khoo, E. (2001, April 2). Literary tonic for poets. The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Ho, D. (1999, January 23). Poems move into HDB heartlands. The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
McMillan, A. (2004, May 16). Chinese characters; Yong Shu Hoong. South China Morning Post. Retrieved January 7, 2010, from Factiva database.
National Arts Council and The Arts House. (2009). Yong Shu Hoong. Retrieved January 7, 2010, from Singapore Writers Festival Web site: http://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/writers-bios.php?id=169
Tay, E. (2002, April). On writing poetry in Singapore: Alvin Pang and Yong Shu Hoong drive head to head down the Central Expressway. Retrieved January 7, 2010, from Quarterly Literary Review Singapore Web site: http://www.qlrs.com/issues/apr2002/interviews/apysh.html
Toh, H. M. (2002, November 16). Poetry for the dot.com generation. The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Tom, K. (2006, September 24). Prized poet. The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Yap, S. (2006, November 19). Poets in motion. The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Yap, S. (2007, June 24). Partners in print. The Straits Times. Retrieved January 7, 2010, from Factiva database.
Yap, S. (2008, February 18). SubTEXT closes. The Straits Times. Retrieved January 7, 2010, from Factiva database.
Yeow, K. C. (2001, May 12). Book – Return of the native. The Straits Times. Retrieved January 7, 2010, from Factiva database.
Yong, S. H. (1997). Isaac. Singapore: Firstfruits Publications.
(Call no.: RSING S821 YON)
Yong, S. H. (2001). Isaac revisited. Singapore: Ethos Books.
(Call no.: RSING S821 YON)
Yong, S. H. (2002). Dowhile. Singapore: Firstfruits Publications.
(Call no.: RSING S821 YON)
Yong, S. H. (2009, September 10). Back to Mandarin. The Straits Times. Retrieved January 7, 2010, from Factiva database.
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Yong, Shu Hoong, 1966-
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature