Finding Francis: A Poetic Adventure

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by Eriko Ogihara-Schuck and Anne Teo

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Synopsis

Who is Francis P. Ng?

This question consumed the mind of Japanese scholar Eriko Ogihara-Schuck as she read F.M.S.R. A Poem by Francis P. Ng in her study of how the poet T. S. Eliot had influenced Asia with his modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land.

Eriko had found F.M.S.R. A Poem (published in 1937) which describes a train journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur on the Federated Malay States Railways (FMSR), and which had been claimed to be the first published book-length English poem by a Singapore author. It had also been described as “a pastiche of T.S. Eliot.” At its heart, Eriko says that F.M.S.R. “… clearly inherits from The Waste Land its post-World War I pessimism about human deeds and progress …”

The trouble was that the author had disappeared at the outset of the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942. And even as Eriko sought to locate the poet, she stumbled across the astonishing fact that Francis P. Ng was the pseudonym for Teo Poh Leng.

This is the story of Eriko’s search and her efforts to resurface one of Singapore’s lost literary treasures. A Singapore poet who had been published alongside the likes of Robert Frost and W.B Yeats. A poet whose poems had won the approval of British poet Silvia Townsend Warner and Cornish poet Ronald Bottrall.

When Eriko finally decided that this search had to be made public, The Straits Times very helpfully put out a call for Teo Poh Leng’s next-of-kin. And Anne Teo answered that call, adding another interesting layer to this poetic adventure.

Eriko’s persistent detective work has now uncovered not just a Singapore poet lost in the chaos of the Japanese Occupation, but an incredibly moving story of brother-poets and a family bound by love and literature.

Singapore owes a debt of gratitude to Eriko and all who assisted in her search to resurface a formidable pre-war Singapore poet, and in the process uncovered a rich literary trail for others to follow.

About the Authors

Dr. Eriko Ogihara-Schuck, originally from Japan, is a lecturer in American Studies at Technische Universität Dortmund, Germany.

She is the author of Miyazaki‘s Animism Abroad: The Reception of Japanese Religious Themes by American and German Audiences (2014). She spent her teenage years in Singapore before continuing her studies in Japan, the United States, and Germany.

Anne Teo began her career as a Private Secretary at age 20. She worked in the manufacturing, petroleum and financial sectors for two decades before running her own advertising agency. Four years later, she decided to call it a day for the sake of her young children.

Anne continued to undertake various short-term assignments, including quality control, teaching English to migrants and foreigners, making stained glass and running a children’s play group.

Review

"This book would be particularly enjoyed by scholars interested in Singaporean literature, especially poetry, readers intrigued with the art of biography and anyone who likes a good story."

—Carol Leon, Asiatic: IIUM Journal of English Language & Literature

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ISBN: 978-981-09-7271-4
Published: 2015
Dimension: 148mm x 210mm
Extent: 60
Finish: Paperback

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