Rachel Chan
Wed, Jan 13, 2010
my paper
Literary pioneer Goh Poh Seng dies

PASSIONATE visionary, pioneer and all-rounder - such were the epithets used to describe Dr Goh Poh Seng by the Singapore literati when news of his death broke yesterday.

The Kuala Lumpur-born and Dublin-educated poet and novelist, who practised medicine in Singapore for 25 years, died of pneumonia on Sunday at 9pm (Canada time), in the palliativecare ward of St Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. He was 73.

A Cultural Medallion recipient and activist who always pushed boundaries, Dr Goh was known for many firsts: He was the first to use Singlish on stage as a playwright in the 1960s, opened the country's first disco and live music venue in 1983, and brought the first David Bowie performance to Singapore in the same year.

Among his other initiatives were the founding of a symphony orchestra, a Chinese orchestra and Centre 65, a forum to promote the arts, said poet Edwin Thumboo, 76.

"Poh Seng was a pioneering spirit who did much for the arts," he added.

However, Dr Goh left for Canada in a huff in 1986 when the authorities shut down Rainbow Lounge after a member of the house band made a risque remark in Hokkien onstage.

He last returned to Singapore with his wife Margaret in 2007 for the Singapore Writers Festival, at the invitation of the National Arts Council.

Despite being stricken with Parkinson's disease, he attended readings, organised lunches and revisited places.

Writer Robert Yeo, 69, remembers Dr Goh fondly - the former's first poems outside of school had been published in Dr Goh's literary magazine, Tumasek, in the 1960s.

He recalls: "Dr Goh was a pioneer dramatist and I took inspiration from the fact that he was someone trying to establish an indigenous tradition in writing plays when there were none.

"He is someone who not only believed in literature, but also believed in lifting the cultural aspirations of Singaporeans."

Finance lawyer and poet Aaron Lee, 37, calls Dr Goh a person whose "spirit was larger than life" when they met in 2007, at the older man's invitation.

"He was in the midst of writing a trilogy, and he still had a lot of stories to tell.

"He had said: 'Aaron, if I'd known I'd be given this kind of warm welcome in Singapore, I would have come back earlier,'" said Mr Lee.





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