Correct Flavor

Arthur Yap Front cover

A major publishing event in Singapore literature: NUS Press has just launched The Collected Poems of Arthur Yap. Yap, who died in 2006, was one of the most significant early poets of independent Singapore. Collected Poems includes poems from all four of his individual poetry collections–only lines (1971), commonplace (1977), down the line (1980), and man snake apple (1986)–as well as his section from the anthology Five Takes (1974). Collected Poems also includes the “vignettes,” published in the Straits Times Books Tabloid in 2001, and four other poems, some of which were published in the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore.

SP is pleased to bring you one of the later “vignettes.” Its style is more conversational than the coded play of the earlier poems, but it displays Yap’s characteristic intelligence and interest in language.

the correctness of flavour

waiting for the lime sherbert to arrive
mother turned around to her vacuous child:
boy, you heard what i said earlier?
nowadays, they emphasise english.

boy rolled his squinty eyes to the ceiling.
waitress returned, flustered, and started
on her own emphases:
lime sherbert today don’t have.
mango got. strawberry also don’t have.

mother, upset and acutely strident:
today DOESN’T have
today DOES NOT have.

boy, beyond any mitigation of flavour:
mango can, anything can.
any anything also can.
the glass of the shop amber-tinted;
boy, facing a tall window, looked malarial
mango and, it being a sunny day,
didn’t help the spectrum of quiet light.
strawberry-faced waitress went on mouthing
and serving. mother glared and glowered
over whatever else needed emphasised.
courtesy — nowadays, they emphasise courtesy.
eat healthy — nowadays, they emphasise it healthy.

so mother continued to be trenchant,
boy’s squint refused to concede acceptance —
an impasse in an icecream cafe
in which one would endure no let-up
and the other for which immediate realia
hold no truth.

First published in Life! The Straits Times, February 12, 2001.
Used with the permission of NUS Press.

In a bold recent essay, Singapore poet and novelist Cyril Wong recovers the homosexuality in Arthur Yap’s poetry, a dimension that has been ignored in discussions of the work of this important pioneer.

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Reading For Singapore | Not one Word Wasted

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