Arthur Yap Chioh Hiong (Dr) (b. 1943, Singapore–d. 19 June 2006, Singapore1) was a second-generation Singapore poet who has won numerous awards for his accomplishments in shaping local poetry.
Yap began writing poems during his school days at St Andrew’s School for the school magazine.2 He continued writing while at the University of Singapore, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in English literature with honours. He then completed his Master of Arts in linguistics and English language teaching at the University of Leeds.3 He went on to earn his doctorate at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Yap also had a certificate in education from the Teachers’ Training College. He joined the NUS Department of English Language and Literature as a teaching staff in 1979 and left in January 1998.4
Yap is considered a second-generation Singapore poet and his contemporaries include Robert Yeo and Lee Tzu Pheng. His first collection of poems, Only Lines, was published in 1971.5 It won him the National Book Development Council of Singapore’s (NBDCS) inaugural NBDCS Book Award (Poetry) in 1976.6 His other two publications, Down the Line and Man Snake Apple & Other Poems, which earned him the same award in 1982 and 1988 respectively, consolidated his reputation as one of the literary greats of Singapore.7
In 1983, Yap was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Literature, the nation’s highest award for the arts.8 That same year, Yap also won the prestigious SEA (Southeast Asian) Write Award.9 Yap added another feather to his cap when he was bestowed the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award for English in 1998.10
Between 1992 and 1996, Yap volunteered as a mentor under the Ministry of Education’s Creative Arts Programme to nurture young local writers such as Toh Hsien Min and Alfian Sa’at.11
Yap’s poems, along with those of four other Singapore poets, were featured in a prescribed poetry anthology for Singapore’s GCE ‘O’-Level examination in 1996 and 1997.12 Entitled The Calling of Kindred: Poems from the English-speaking World, two of Yap’s poems were included – “In Passing”, about the restlessness of the modern world, and “Old House at Ann Siang Hill”, which looks at the personal history of Chinatown dwelling.13
Besides writing poems, Yap was also a painter who had held seven solo exhibitions. In 1972, his work represented Singapore at the Adelaide Festival of Arts. In the same year, he was invited by the British Council to exhibit his paintings in Bangkok.14
According to newspaper sources and staff at the NUS Department of English Language and Literature, Yap was a recluse who guards his privacy zealously.15 As such, there is not much published information about him. However, Yap spoke about his work in an interview with Kevin Sullivan published in the eighth issue of the Southeast Asian Review of English.16 There is also a series of recordings produced by the NUS department which included Yap reciting his own poems.17
Poetry and anthologies
1971: A Brief Critical Survey of Prose Writings in Singapore and Malaysia18
1971: Only Lines
1980: Down the Line20
1974: Five Takes: Poems (anthology)21
1986: Man Snake Apple & Other Poems22
2000: No Other City: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry23
2000: The Space of City Trees: Selected Poems24
1976: NBDCS Book Award (Poetry) for Only Lines
1982: NBDCS Book Award (Poetry) for Down the Line
1983: Cultural Medallion (Literature)
1983: SEA Write Award
1988: NBDCS Book Award (Poetry) for Man Snake Apple & Other Poems
1998: Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award for English
1. In memoriam. (2007, June 19). The Straits Times, p. 37; Peers and students pay tribute to Arthur Yap. (2006, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Bandara, L. (1979, November 4). He’s come a long way from those rhyming lines in the school mag. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Yeo, R. (1998). Parts of speech: A speculative note on Arthur Yap’s Commonplace. In Kirpal S. (Ed.), Interlogue: Studies in Singapore literature (Vol. 2). Singapore: Ethos Books, p. 132. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT)
4. Yap, S. (2008, April 6). A private person. The Straits Times, p. 70. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Yap, A. (1971). Only lines. Singapore: Federal Publications. (Call no.: RSING 828. 99 YAP)
6. Helmi Yusof. (2000, February 19). Poetry between mutter and stutter. The Straits Times, p. 16; Yeow, M. S. (1983, November 11). Poet’s success story. Singapore Monitor, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Teachers bag six of the seven 1982 book prizes. (1982, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 8; Let’s turn to reading for a change, says Kan Seng. (1988, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Chua, R. (1983, November 14). Arthur and his art. The Straits Times, p. 1; Yeow, M. S. (1983, November 11). Poet’s success story. Singapore Monitor, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. SEA Write Award past winners. (1991, July 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. You’re all write, here is a pen. (1998, October 3). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Ong, S. F. (2006, June 21). A man of few words. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Koh, B. S. (1995, March 21). Works of 5 S’pore poets in O-level text for first time. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Chia, A. (2007, November 30). Painting another picture of poet Arthur Yap. The Straits Times, p. 88. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Chia, A. (2007, November 30). Painting another picture of poet Arthur Yap. The Straits Times, p. 88. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Ong, S. F. (2006, June 21). A man of few words. His works. The Straits Times, p. 2; Lee, A. (2000, March 4). Poetic god of small things. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Sullivan, K. (1984). Achievement: The poet with an artists touch – Arthur Yap talks with Kevin Sullivan. South East Asian Review of English, 8(2), 20. (Call no.: RCLOS 820 SARE)
17. Patke, R. (Producer). (1998). Singapore poetry in English [CD recording]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, Dept. of English Language and Literature. (Call no.: RSING S821 SIN)
18. Yap, A. (1971). A brief critical survey of prose writings in Singapore and Malaysia. Singapore: Educational Publications Bureau. (Call no.: RSING 828.99 YAP)
19. Yap, A. (1977). Commonplace. Singapore: Heinemann Educational Books (Asia). (Call no.: RSING 828. 995957 YAP)
20. Yap, A. (1980). Down the Line. Singapore: Heinemann Educational Books (Asia). (Call no.: RSING 828. 995957 YAP)
21. Chung, Y. C., et al. (1974). Five takes: Poems. Singapore: University of Singapore Society. (Call no.: RSING 828.995957 FIV)
22. Yap, A. (1986). Man snake apple & other poems. (1986). Singapore: Heinemann Educational Books (Asia). (Call no.: RSING S821 YAP)
23. Pang, A., & Lee, A. (2000). No other city: The Ethos anthology of urban poetry.Singapore: Ethos Books. (Call no.: RSING S821 NO)
24. Yap, A. (2000). The space of city trees: Selected poems. London: Skoob Pacifica. (Call no.: RSING S821 YAP)
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Literature)
Yap, Arthur Chioh Hiong, 1943-
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