Special Focus on Arthur Yap - The Leeds Poems (Part 2)

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. The series presents the poems in two parts, followed in Part 3 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. Read Part 1 here.


a scene

the car eats scenery as it goes along.
in the car we eat sandwiches, coughdrops,
& into each other's nerves.
outside, bigger backdrop
darkening. at one spot
a large tree marvellously
bilocates night & day.
its trunk, tangentially at a seen distance,
beckons night to come in from one side.
meanwhile, day drains away from the other.


lunch-hour concert, leeds town hall

the drizzle of the piano fills not the hall.
in the rain, let your notes swim to us.
a spray of fingers rises & falls,
everything else still as a mask.

it is said you have 10 fingers plus one.
but they have grown fat, a soggy hotdog rap.
tight & clumsy, a spluttering bunch.
o a p's are quick to snatch a nap.

the drizzling rain drowns not the hall.
in the rain, a dying swimmer
swims to the piano, surfaces & then falls,
clutches at the lid, distributes the keys

in a, in b, sharp, flat. sudden fortissimo.
regaining, hair over flying fingers
describing & outlining a buoyant piano
with a stream of notes that lingers & lingers


a summer funfair

the stall-keeper calls out : candied apples,
& seems not at all to mind a mouthful of dust.
the man from the shooting- gallery
gazes at other stalls, all just as empty,
& walks carefully over uneven ground
for a chat & check with the owner
of the merry-go-round. he spins it intermittently :
children are few. for whatever reason
there are very few funfair bodies.
commercial travellers in transit, undergrads
preparing for an examination, are less likely
to materialize than that the magician,
billed as 'the great wiz' can pull lions
out of his trick-bottom top-hat.

in fading light, the field with its stalls, streamers,
& tents pale into gestalt stripes,
a factory of vague anxiety.
but, whatever it is,
with so many changes & resitings,
no passer-by would regard it
as merely a product coincidental to a practical scheme.



daybreak. arms & legs.
breakfast. day lengthens : commonplace
situations & people. you say :
let's meet for lunch.

afternoon's 2nd movement, andante,
as if groaning a bit.
everything has happened before
but there is nothing to compare it
each time, with each time that it recurs;
& i should never whip the commonplace
for the meaning of its opposite,
especially at daybreak, with blue
shadows to protract into a shadowless noon.
2 o'clock : 2 stained blobs on a clear canvas,
3 o'clock : 3 fingers tapping a tattoo on the table
are 3 upwind gulls, sliding, side to side,
wings hung out still. now and then a small shrug,
only to gather lift for this weaving, unweaving,
white & grey shuffle, as playing at cards,
writing a letter.
4 o'clock : like yesterday's glance,
still holds true. this morning's streets
are already rattling cars & buses back
into younger & less immediate parts of the city.
commonplace evening, the place is the same.
when night comes, it will come in neonlights.
when night comes, will it come in darkness
or will it bring its own light to a well-scrubbed day?
will there be doubt that commonplace is?


gaudy turnout

if i were you, i would walk the dark night
into some brightness, a lamp-post or lit shop-front,
& stop at the door. adjusting shoelace or smile
i wish i could find the doorsteps of the cellar-club,

the quick of your heart. how i wish i could
know for sure about tomorrow's party :
how many, who, won't be there. sensitive is the ear
of night & hears a loneliness for miles.

will there be dancing cheek-to-cheek? will someone
be recounting minutely his peculiar operation?
& is someone keeping score? will you
shut the door? why do you groan & groan?

if I were you, a gaudy boy afflicted with joy :
sensitive is the eye of day & sees a leer for miles.


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