Special Focus on Arthur Yap - The Leeds Poems (Part 1)

Singapore Poetry’s “Special Focus” series highlights an important aspect of the work of an established Singapore author. By making available a substantial selection of work, SP hopes to encourage both readerly and critical engagement with the author. We begin to see connections, reiterations, and reformulations that are missed in reading just one work. The inaugural series looked at the extraordinary gardening poems of Leong Liew Geok. The second series brought you the searing brand of truth-telling in the writings of Justin Chin. 

This third series focuses on the enigmatic Leeds poems of Arthur Yap (1943 - 2006). Born and educated in Singapore, Yap went to the University of Leeds, UK, in 1974, at the age of thirty-one, to study for a Masters Degree in Linguistics and English Language Teaching. Inspired by his experience living in that city, his Leeds poems are arguably pivotal in his poetic development. We present the poems in two parts, followed in Part Three by the first-time publication of an illuminating essay by British critic and Leeds resident, Andrew Howdle, on Yap's relationship to the city of Leeds.




when he passed the quadrangle, there might

have been in him the desire to be a statue;

aloof from supposition or conjecture :

to be accessible to all,

whatever the weather,

at some plane beyond the clouds.

in the gloomy theatre, an immense face

composed of many insights,

prefacing a lecture with 'if & only if'.

if only we could care,

if only we could understand.

this we do learn, with his charisma,

prof m is entitled to recycle

bullshit as bullion.



north hill road, leeds


the few 11 pm lights are busy exchanging signals

with, above, the glinty stars :

little poke-holes on a large black tarpaulin

pegged down by nerveless wintry branches.

the frosty road raises itself up one hump

before dissolving in a flight of steps.


i'm already in my room

wallpapered with a few numbed thoughts;

all the books piled high on the shelf

make me think only of hot coffee.

looking out of the window, i see myself

walking up the road, down the steps :


this image i seem to see continually

as if it demands a profile

now that i'm no longer there.



new year 75, leeds


we wandered into a new year, as if by error.

at the chinese restaurant, my vietnamese friend & I,

the only asians, ordered 2 bowls of noodles. '

the waiters served graces & teeming dishes

& the good laodiceans smiled warmly & scrutably.

our noodles finally arrived,

steaming under a turned-up nose.

vu's cossack-like cap still on his head,

my ears belonged once again to me in the warmth;

our cheer our tea, our leedsfraumilch 75,

kitchen-fresh vintage.


earlier, we had been to the plaza where x-rated films

are !ined up each week, cheek by jowl. no psychological

reality, vu's comment. i forget if i had a rejoinder.

leaving the resturant for our hostels, we passed

austicks, bookshop & frequent haven from the cold,

brotherton library, one side of woodhouse moor :

all somewhat remotely outlined in a thin swirling snow.

his hostel first, half a mile more for me :

everything behind were already soft-focal—

snow, steaming noodles, celluloid close-ups,

& night's myopia. next day, next year.





bilabial at the edge of earth & water

stepping-stones like giant molars

grow old, grow dead.


under an aestival sun

daffodils have bloomed, dead

now, keening in a heap.


side-stepping these stones, people grow tired.

scattered images, mossed stones,

a fallen tree, annual rings felled :


sudden flare of an evening,

supposition of night blown by a slight breeze

right here, right now.





so easily forgettable :

this baleful sky hangs like grey felt,

one rusty-toned star & defined silhouettes

of tall buildings nail in a large loom of despair.


slowly, with your umbrella,

you do not even talk of the weather.

rows of orange lamplight appear & dissolve,

move away to other eyes.

suddenly there is a screech of brakes,

or there isn't; a rude word in pedestrian collision.

swiftly, snowflakes are swirling down.

the sparkle of a little boy's eyes,

his brown mittens, sprinkled white,

are stretched out right into the sky.

the rusty-toned star drops out of sight.

the sky has swallowed the city

in one unforgettable gesture.




a patch of yellow cabbage flowers


none. at the supermarket, 12 p per cabbage

flowerless. late autumn already.

i want to say : this year's cold comes too early.

suddenly i have a desire to return home.


flux of ventilation in small puffs across the hall.

player's have gone up by 7 p.


nearby, at woodhouse moor,

gardeners dig up weeds in rented lots.

a patch of fading sunlight,

a patch of yellow cabbage flowers,

a patch of garden, cabbageless,

conjuring a juxtaposed pattern

of leaves, autumn's diary entries,

very real; today.


Reprinted by permission of NUS Press, the poems appear in The Collected Poems of Arthur Yap (Singapore: NUS Press, 2013).